The Irony of Smog

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The Irony of Smog

“Smog,” created by late Tony Smith, was constructed along with Bicentennial Hall in 2000. It resembles a smog molecule yet displays mathematical beauty. (Courtesy/Andrew Robinson)

“Smog,” created by late Tony Smith, was constructed along with Bicentennial Hall in 2000. It resembles a smog molecule yet displays mathematical beauty. (Courtesy/Andrew Robinson)

“Smog,” created by late Tony Smith, was constructed along with Bicentennial Hall in 2000. It resembles a smog molecule yet displays mathematical beauty. (Courtesy/Andrew Robinson)

“Smog,” created by late Tony Smith, was constructed along with Bicentennial Hall in 2000. It resembles a smog molecule yet displays mathematical beauty. (Courtesy/Andrew Robinson)

By Deirdre Sackett

“Smog,” the most expensive art installation on campus, is the name of the immense sculpture installed in 2000 to complement the McCardell Bicentennial Hall.

Installed after the death of its architect, Tony Smith, “Smog” became the little sister of “Smoke,” which stood taller and even made the cover of Time.

Many students have always assumed that the big black object was based on the molecular structure of a gas, but Smith was not seeking to be too exact. Real-world smog, for which the installation is named,  consists of many different particles, making it quite difficult to capture in sculpture.

Smog, the pollutant, is caused mainly by burning large amounts of coal — not a phenomenon celebrated at the environmentally-friendly Middlebury.

Smog is responsible for many health issues in humans and animals, as well as damage to the environment. It seems preposterous that such  a pollutant would be chosen to represent Bicentennial Hall.

However, Art in Public Places, the committee responsible for campus artwork, explained that the scultpure  and its complete metal form do not highlight the grit of harmful gas molecules.

“The sculpture is a lattice of positive and negative spaces,” said the committee. The complex metal form was also explained.

“[The form] possesses both the logic of crystals and the passion of living forms.”

Students echoed the sentiment that just because “Smog” represented a harmful molecule does not mean it is necessarily an anti-environmentalist statement.

“It’s a sculpture,” said Andrew Majek ’13. “The environment contains things that hurt it, so the sculpture is not that offensive.”

Mandy Kwan ’15 noted that the sculpture, while not her favorite, is a campus classic.

“I’m not particularly in love with it, but I couldn’t imagine Bi Hall without it,” she said.

Despite its magnitude and visibility, some students are unaware of the sculpture’s significance.

“I feel that the meaning of the sculpture, or even its name, isn’t made clear to this generation of Middlebury students,” said Dana Callahan ’13.

Works of art such as “Smog” were made possible by the College’s One Percent for Art Policy, which reserves one percent of money spent on architecture projects to go toward purchasing and constructing works of art.

“Smog” owes its existence to the construction of Bicentennial Hall, which cost $47.3 million in total to build. Because of this formula, “Smog” had a large budget.

“Smog” functions naturally as public art, although students have not been able to use it the same way they use the burgundy bench in front of Ross Dining Hall. However, it looks a little more at home than “LOVE” behind the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts or the notorious, anatomically correct “Frisbee Dog.”

In addition to the intricate message behind “Smog,” McCardell Bicentennial Hall itself features many “green” aspects. Certified, sustainably-harvested timber was used in the millwork, and the lumber was milled to make maximum use of each log. Another important feature is the energy-saving heat-recovery loop that extracts warmth before it is exhausted to the outside, and the massive window in the Great Hall is a source of natural light.

The sophisticated nature of the building complements the intricacy and beauty of “Smog,” which greets visitors as they walk to and from the energy-efficient building.

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