How Monochrome for Austin Came to Be

When students of The University of Texas at Austin went on winter break in December, they had no idea what was in store for them when they returned to campus. Over three weeks in early January, Nancy Rubins and her crew, with the help of the Beck Group, worked tirelessly to scale the heights of the 16,000 pound support structure to make Monochrome for Austin a reality.

Even with years of pre-planning and logistics, the final shape of Monochrome for Austin wasn’t realized until after each boat found its final home on site. Bit by bit the sculpture began to take shape. A battered metal kayak still tagged with the former rental company’s phone number juts in one direction; only hours later, a pristine flat-bottomed fishing boat protrudes from another. Each day new boats appeared. Weather permitting, the crew installed an average of five boats a day. Rubins directed the entire process and her crew—each wearing a distinguishing colored hard-hat—through walkie-talkies from the ground. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, she ignored the walkie-talkie and simply yelled directions from across the street.

Onlookers couldn’t help but stop and stare at this massive undertaking. Some freely offered their opinions to Nancy herself, while others slyly captured the unique in-progress moment with their smart phones. CultureMap provided exclusive access to a time-lapse video of one day of the installation process.



A canoe hanging from a crane

By 17 January, all boats and canoes were installed and secured and Monochrome for Austin was complete. The result is a sculpture assembled from 70 boats—50 feet tall, 52 feet wide, and 41 feet deep—flowering up and over the street. Once clean up is complete and outdoor lighting installed, art lovers will be able to enjoy Nancy Rubins’ work in its full glory.

Nancy Rubins' work is designed to turn heads and spark strong reactions. Dr. David Hunter of UT’s Fine Arts Library says that the sculpture represents "the unleashing of potential, whether that lies in persons, discoveries, materials, ideas, or activities. You could think of each of us here as a boat, riding the swirling currents of ideas, trying to stay afloat as we navigate the perils of discovery." Dr. Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, says that Monochrome for Austin "is a thought provoking, debate-worthy work of art and a perfect choice for a public art program on the campus of a premier research university."

The funding for Monochrome for Austin came from capital improvement funds provided by the new construction of the Norman Hackerman Building. No tuition money went to fund the piece.

For more information on Monochrome for Austin, read the artist entry by New York-based art critic Nancy Princenthal. 

On 5 March 2015, Landmarks will host a celebration in honor of Monochrome for Austin. Rubins will talk with Nancy Princenthal in a public Q&A, followed by an outdoor reception with music, drinks, and live music from Austin afrobeat group Hard Proof. Space is limited. Reserve your spot by 3 March.