Art Donations to Campus
A recent installation of a statue donated to the university has resulted in frustration from some in our OU community. Concerns about the artist and about the artwork itself resulted in an open letter from some in the student body to the OU president requesting its removal. These concerns have been heard, and we are working to ensure all future art installations go through new processes that will be created under the new administration with approval by the OU Board of Regents.
The “Covered Wagon” sculpture was donated to the university last November from alumnus William M. Obering. Mr. Obering has donated artwork to the university in the past including the LOVE sculpture that sits in front of Jacobson Hall. President Boren and Mr. Obering agreed on the location of the “Covered Wagon” sculpture and signed an agreement binding the university.
Neither the donor nor the university were aware of the artist’s history when the gift was made and only just were made aware. “We were truly heartbroken to recently learn that such an act occurred and condemn it as reprehensible. My intent in donating “Covered Wagon” was to honor the university, its students and alumni with an artistic version of its mascot and to broaden the type of art displayed at OU,” said Mr. Obering. “My family and I are hopeful that the installation will serve the purpose of honoring the University of Oklahoma and its mascot, and promoting a healthy dialog about all of the thought-provoking issues surrounding this piece.”
Concerns raised about the statue have illuminated the need to establish a more thorough review process for gifts of art on campus beyond the president’s office. This will be remedied. Under the new executive team, the university will devise a campus plan to address the vetting of art/artists and locations of new art, signage, etc. OU Board of Regent approval will be sought in advance of acceptance of such gifts.
Additionally, it is important to remember that art is subjective in nature. “Public art is often a flashpoint for public discourse and provides a forum for the civil debate of the values and beliefs central to our social fabric,” said Mark White, director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
The “Covered Wagon” sculpture will remain in its place with the understanding that future gifts will fall under a more formal Board-approved process.