Light-sensitive sculpture set for pharmacy building

May 14, 2001

by Barbara Wolff

Construction on the new pharmacy building has rounded the corner from "shell" to "structure" now. Inside, it's possible to see how things ultimately will shape up, once the building is finished in time for its dedication this August.

Inside too, a light-sensitive sculpture is getting ready for the debut. Commissioned for the building through Wisconsin's Percent for Art program, which since 1980 has set aside two-tenths of one percent of the cost of selected new state buildings for works of arts created expressly for them.

"Vertus" will carry visitors to the intersection of light and math, according to artist Ray King of Philadelphia.

"It will use light in all its manifestations: natural, electric, reflected, refracted and prismatic. I hope to surprise viewers and appeal to their sense of wonderment and delight," King says.

The work uses advanced computer programs and mathematical computations. The Philadelphia-based King says "Vertus" draws upon principles of sacred geometry to render three-dimensional shapes and patterns found in nature.

"A major motif is the idea of sculptural beacons to attract and welcome the public, as well as ignite the imagination," King says. "I envision artwork as a sculptural element reminding viewers of their connection to nature through the phenomenon of light."

Mel Weinswig, dean of the School of Pharmacy, is much taken with the high-tech nature of the materials King uses in "Vertus."

"'Vertus' has a wonderful acrobatic response to light and reflection --It reminds me of particles floating in solution," says Weinswig. "The sculpture will serve as a beacon at this far western end of campus."

The work uses nearly 200 waterjet-cut glass facets configured into a curved framework of stainless-steel rods, cables and fixtures, and spans 30' high by almost 17' wide by 3' deep. King says the overall design recalls leaves, and for a specific reason.

"As plants are the basis of pharmaceuticals, 'Vertus' is vesica-shaped like a giant leaf," he says.

In addition to "Vertus," situated in the building's main entrance/atrium, King also has designed the School of Pharmacy's "Wall of Honor," recognizing the many contributors to the building, says Weinswig.

Artists are chosen for Percent for Art projects through open competitions. Manke says King was selected based on the quality of his proposal and its appropriateness to the intended site.