The "Funambulist" stands in Snyder-Phillips courtyard. (Photo credit: Gennafer Musial)

The “Funambulist” made its appearance on MSU’s campus this June outside of Snyder-Phillips, and is already facing some pretty hefty criticism. Unfortunately for the new sculpture, and its artist John Van Alstine, its beholders do not seem to see anything other than a canvas for vandalism. Perhaps, however,  part of the criticism from students comes from a lack of knowledge regarding the sculpture.

Stacy Sutter, an arts and humanities sophomore and RA in Snyder Hall, admits that she was not initially a fan of the sculpture, and has also heard some complaints from her residents.

“There’s been a lot of confusion regarding [the sculpture] – it’s very abstract and most people aren’t quite sure what to make of it,” said Sutter.

Sutter has great memories of her freshman year as a resident of Snyder Hall. She especially enjoyed spending time studying, playing Frisbee or just hanging out with friends in the courtyard, which has been roped off this year and replaced with the sculpture.

Sutter recalls that her original attraction to the Snyder-Phillips residence halls was their “historic” architecture. She feels that “Funambulist” has a design that is too modern for it’s location, and wonders if a new location might help the statue be received better on campus.

“I know a lot of campus has been remodeled in a much more modern style, and the statue would fit in a lot better there,” said Sutter. “Snyder-Phillips was renovated carefully as to maintain the historical look and feel, [the statue] just looks a little out of place between Mason-Abbot and Snyder-Phillips.”

While the sculpture may not be exactly Sutter’s taste, she respects that it is someone’s art, and encourages her residents to do the same.

“I hope the Sny-Phi residents don’t come off as ungrateful when they express negative opinions. It’s just that the courtyard seems so empty and dead now. This building has been our home, and when the sculpture was put in without our consultation it felt a little invasive,” said Sutter.

While aware of some student’s complaints regarding the statue, Jeff Kacos, Director of Campus Planning and Administration, believes that those students are in a minority.

“I would say that overall the sculpture has been very well received by the campus community,” said Kacos. “It is an exciting piece that is visually stimulating from all angles.”

Kacos knows that the largest complaint surrounding the addition of the statue is its location, and he offers his own opinion regarding the issue.

“Much of the objection has centered around the placement of a very modern sculpture next to a ‘historic’ building, though if one looks closely at the new addition it is clearly a modern building,” said Kacos. “In my opinion, the contrast of the traditional architecture of the building with the very modern sculpture creates a much more dynamic setting than if a traditional, representational sculpture had been selected instead.”

The discussion surrounding the new sculpture is appreciated by Kacos. Although some of the discussion is negative, he feels strongly that students should have the opportunity to reflect on art.

“The discussion that has been generated about ‘Funambulist’ is welcome and appreciated. Passionate discussions, including those about art, are an important component of any learning environment,” said Kacos.

In order to aid in student discussion, Kacos feels that MSU students must understand the facts regarding the statue.

Kacos explains that Van Alstine was commissioned by the university to create an outdoor sculpture as part of the Snyder-Phillips Hall renovation project. The funding for the piece was a part of the project cost, decided under guidelines established by the Board of Trustees in 1999.

While its location has clearly been debated, the “Funambulist” was created specifically for its current location in the Sny-Phi courtyard.  This location was picked because the statue is visible from both the inside and outside of the renovated building.

Economics junior, Dan Zaharia, questions why this location was picked.

“I think it would fit better by the business college, or somewhere a little bit more modern,” said Zaharia.

While a different location may be fitting, as a general rule, the Public Art on Campus Committee does its best to place art close to the project that provides the funding, which in the “Funambulist’s” case is the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities.

This information is important to the statue, and Kacos believed that once students understood more about the new artwork they will foster a greater appreciation for it. What Kacos does not encourage, however, is the vandalism and property destruction.

“Cleaning the paint and magic marker off the sculpture permanently damaged the finish, which is unfortunate because it negatively impacted the viewing experience of everyone that sees it,” said Kacos.

Kacos is aware of two occasions where the “Funambulist” has been vandalized since the start of the fall semester. He does not see this as a reasonable way to express an opinion, and is disappointed by the permanent destruction that has been left.

There are many opinions surrounding the addition of the “Funambulist,” its location and what it means. The statue is doing its job as a piece of artwork by stimulating conversation for everyone who sees it. Not only does conversation raise awareness about the new sculpture, it also serves as a way for MSU students to express their feelings and foster discussions.

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