Arts & Culture

Gatton Student Center's Tony Tasset Sculpture Evokes 'All the Feels'

photo of 2 students passing by "Mood Sculpture" by Tony Tasset
photo of artist Tony Tasset on knee and others at installation of "Mood Sculpture" by Tasset

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 23, 2019) Emojis — they're everywhere. No longer are they relegated to texts between friends and family or social media posts, emojis are used in ads by major brands, have a dictionary and even were the subject of a movie.

And this week, a new sculpture from artist Tony Tasset featuring colorful versions of the emotive icons will make its home at University of Kentucky's Gatton Student Center.

With installation of Tasset's "Mood Sculpture" beginning Tuesday, UK invites the public to two events celebrating the new addition. A dedication ceremony will be presented 1:15 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at the sculpture just beyond the Gatton Student Center parking lot. That evening, join Tasset and UK Art Museum Director Stuart Horodner for a discussion of the artist’s history of making sculpture based on common American experiences like carving pumpkins and building snowmen, while using scale and materials in surprising ways. The free public talk with Tasset will begin 7 p.m. Thursday, in the Gatton Student Center Ballroom (212C).

Tasset's work often combines an immediate affability with more complex emotions, drawing on art history, especially the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi, Auguste Rodin and Michelangelo. His large public artworks are variously realistic, and include a giant bloodshot eyeball, life-size flowering magnolia trees and an exhausted Paul Bunyan.

Selected by the Student Center Art Committee last year, "Mood Sculpture" is a 20-foot tall work that will be placed in a grassy area between the center's parking lot and the botanical garden lining Patterson Drive. The committee, led by co-chairs Stuart Horodner and Melody Flowers, UK's executive director for strategic analysis and policy, also included Terry Allen, associate vice president for institutional equity; Miriam Kienle, assistant professor of art history and visual studies; student and artist Hayla Ragland; and Deirdre Scaggs, interim dean of UK Libraries.

After selecting several works for the interior of the Student Center, the committee hoped to find a large work for the exterior of the building. There were numerous factors to consider, but high on the group's list was to find a work by a distinguished artist that would occupy space in a dynamic way and could be appreciated by the students at UK.

"Mood Sculpture" was a natural fit for the vibrant student hub.

"We wanted something that would be visible from several vantage points, and that could become a destination on campus. Tony Tasset is known for public art that is both likable, colorful and provocative," Horodner said. "His 'Mood Sculpture' was immediately endorsed by members of our committee and other stakeholders, including faculty, staff, administrators and students. The colorful emojis that make up the sculpture signify a range of emotions, acknowledging that we are always feeling our way through life. We hope it serves as a marker of acceptance and belonging."

Tasset came up with the concept for "Mood Sculpture" while reading an article on happiness that included a chart depicting 10 levels or expressions to gauge a person's pain level.

"You see it in every dentist or doctor’s office and hospital," Tasset said. "I’ve even seen them used for indicating the level of satisfaction from a department store service. It struck me that we are in a new paradigm where everything is quantifiable, due to the increasing ability to gather big data."

Tasset, who used Brancusi’s "Endless Column," an abstraction of the assembly line, as an organizing structure, describes "Mood Sculpture" as his "attempt to make a similar monument to the communication age and with it the study of the mind."

In his own work, Tasset simplifies the chart to five emotions and colors — from blue at the bottom to a sunny yellow expression on top. "A younger generation will think of emojis — endless objects and emotions reduced to universally understandable signs. I thought maybe 'Mood Sculpture' could be used as an emotional temperature taker. As a viewer walks by, they can check where they rank on any given day, and act accordingly — if they are too close to the bottom it might be time to meditate, exercise or just go back to bed. A university campus seems the perfect location for such a test.”

Tasset is an acclaimed American artist and educator who was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1960. He received his bachelor's degree from The Art Institute of Cincinnati, and his master's degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He taught for many years at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

A recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and The Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, Tasset's work was included in the Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, Chicago River Walk Public Sculpture Exhibition and the Whitney Biennial, among others. His work is found in the permanent collections of San Francisco MOMA; Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago; Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Missouri; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and Museum Fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion two years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. The Chronicle of Higher Education judged us a “Great College to Work for,”  and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for three straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.