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Sculpture display at BYU

PROVO, UTAH

Summer is a playful time on the campus of Brigham Young University. The weather is warm and the grounds are filled with folks of all ages participating in one of the school's many seasonal activities. The first weeks of the summer welcome young people by the thousands who are participating in various BYU-sponsored sports and music camps. Later, adults in equal number settle in to enjoy the popular BYU's Campus Education Week.

Michael Whiting's "Buck" can be found in the sculpture garden on the south side of the BYU Museum of Art. The artist's exhibit "8-bit modern" includes several sculptures crafted to appear like the simple pixilated characters found in early video games.
Michael Whiting's "Buck" can be found in the sculpture garden on the south side of the BYU Museum of Art. The artist's exhibit "8-bit modern" includes several sculptures crafted to appear like the simple pixilated characters found in early video games. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen

Each day, legions of visitors walk past the sculpture garden on the south side of the school's museum of art. Even the most harried passerby likely slows down for a moment to make sense of the strange menagerie of statues that have made a home in the wooded gardens.

There among trees and gardens are the sort of sculpted objects you would expect to find in any peaceful, wooded, outdoor gallery: a pair of grazing deer, birds, and even the head of a cat that seems to gaze atop the grass. But something's not quite right. The animals included in the sculpture collection appear both incomplete yet oddly whole. In fact, each is crafted in pixilated form.

Fans of arcade games from the 1980s recognize the artistic style immediately. The large-scale sculptures found in the ongoing exhibit "Michael Whiting: 8-bit modern" are the minimalist first cousins of, say, the iconic Pac-Man character or the ever-descending aliens from Space Invaders.

Sculpture found in the exhibit "8-bit Modern" at BYU Museum of Art. Courtesy of BYU-MOA.
Sculpture found in the exhibit "8-bit Modern" at BYU Museum of Art. Courtesy of BYU-MOA. Photo: Photo by Jason Swensen

The light-hearted display is a continuation of the museum's commitment to deliver a wide range of art to the campus of the Church-owned school. The outdoor exhibit can be viewed through the spring of 2013.

"My current work explores the visual connection between minimalism and early video games," explained sculptor Michael Whiting.

The sculptures also serve as both a homage to that nostalgic era of electronic gaming and the celebrated art style of minimilism. Early video gaming images, according to the artist, are, at best, abstractions. They are minimal for lack of technology. Minimalism, on the other hand, created objects that were minimal by design and intention. These two separate movements, he added, had quite opposite intentions with very similar visual results.

The exhibit "explores this connection between pixel-based video games images," said the artist in a museum release. "I limit my image-making to the same constraints that governed early pixel based technologies."

The artist found inspiration for his subjects from the world and environments about him. His deer sculptures, for example, resemble the woven representations of bucks and does often found in sweaters. He decided to sculpt a pigeon while living in New York because, well, there were pigeons seemingly everywhere.

Visitors to the campus can find a dramatically different survey of artwork by stepping inside the museum. Ongoing major exhibits include "People in a Hard Land," a collection of paintings depicting the iconic images of the American Southwest and "Beauty and Belief," which offers hundreds of objects from the 7th century to the present day that celebrate art of the Islamic culture. All exhibits are free of charge.

The BYU Museum of Art is located on the school's Provo campus. Hours are Monday-Tuesday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Closed Sundays.

Call (801) 422-8287 for more information.

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