Monumental New Commission for the Museum Lawn

For nearly thirty years, the artists Doug and Mike Starn—identical twin brothers who are among the most acclaimed public artists of our time—have been making work that defies categorization, combining such media as sculpture, architecture, and photography in investigating organic systems and structures. Best known for a series of works they call Big Bambú—large-scale, often climbable sculptures that are at once durable and fugitive, stable and yet seemingly in motion—the Starns have been involved in a decades-long consideration of constancy, growth, and change. Full-scale models for (Any) Body Oddly Propped by Doug and Mike Starn. The final work, to be installed this summer, consists of six eighteen-foot-tall panels of glass and steel. The commission was made possible by Shelly Belfer Malkin, Class of 1986, and Anthony E. Malkin, and by the John B. Putnam Jr. Memorial Fund. c Doug and Mike Starn, 2015

Now the Starns are nearing completion of a remarkable new piece that will be a permanent addition to the Princeton campus, to be sited on the Museum’s front lawn this summer. This monumental sculpture of glass and steel continues the artists’ exploration of organic energy systems through root and branch forms that here also respond to the arboretum-like character of the Princeton campus. The glass used in making the eighteen-foot-tall panels is itself an innovation—an expressive way of digitally printing ceramic colors within the glass in multiple layers that are further layered with hand-painted backgrounds. As the visitor walks around and indeed through and among the glass panels, or as the sun’s position shifts, changing light effects emerge, reinforcing the sense of both ephemerality and permanence.

The Starns’ new commission follows on a long history of display on this important site—a kind of totem for the Museum itself. Picasso’s posthumously fabricated Head of a Woman occupied the site for three decades until construction necessitated its removal to the lawn near Spelman Halls in 2002. Since then, the site has hosted a variety of temporary installations, from Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Big Figures to Doug Aitken’s video projection migration: empire, to, most recently, two monumental abstract sculptures by Alexander Calder.

This important new addition to the University’s groundbreaking collection of campus art known as the Putnam Collection has been made possible by the exceptional generosity of Shelly Belfer Malkin, Class of 1986, and Anthony E. Malkin as well as by monies from the John B. Putnam Jr. Memorial Fund.


James Christen Steward

Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director