Landmarks Installs New Work by Michael Ray Charles

21 May 2015

Congratulations to the latest UT graduates! Whether you’ve been here four years or 14, you’ve worked hard and Landmarks wishes you luck as you pursue your passions. This spring has been a busy one for Landmarks too! In January, we installed Nancy Rubins’ commanding Monochrome for Austin at 24th and Speedway. It was entertaining to watch reactions to a 50-foot sculpture made from 70 canoes that appeared to have sprung from nowhere! We’re closing out the semester with another addition to the collection. Last week, (Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations, a site-specific piece by former UT faculty member Michael Ray Charles, was installed in the atrium of the Gordon-White Building at 24th Street and Whitis.

The Gordon-White Building houses centers committed to studying the history and experience of minority cultures, including the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, the Center for Mexican American Studies, and the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. For the Landmarks commission, Charles designed the space as well as the work of art that would occupy it. The atrium joins the façade of a 1952 building to sleek, new construction.Charles preserved some of the original ornamentation to help link the old architecture with the new. The resulting environment represents progress, transition and transformation.

Wooden crutches combined into a spoke pattern hanging from the ceiling of an atrium

Like artists Kara Walker (born 1969) and Fred Wilson (born 1954), Charles’ work explores African and African American oppression and prejudice. He is best known for work that appropriates derogatory images in order to disparage racist stereotypes. For (ForeverFree) Ideas, Languages and Conversations, Charles departs from this mode and adopts conceptual representations of power through the symbolic use of wooden crutches. The crutches are joined together to mimic the spokes of a wheel, alluding to mobility and forward motion. In addition to the support of crutches in healing, here they also represent a coming together of many parts. The sculpture and its surroundings are the centerpiece of a thriving enterprise that champions multiculturalism and diversity.

New graduates and incoming students, as you begin this next exciting phase of your life, consider the important roles the university, your dedicated professors, and your fellow students played in preparing you for your incredible transformation!

Photos by Paul Bardagjy.