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New sculpture unveiled at Life Sciences Center

Tuesday, September 25, 2007 | 10:20 p.m. CDT; updated 9:04 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
The new sculpture at MU’s Life Sciences Center features eight discs that highlight new breakthroughs by researchers at MU. Al McQuinn, a 1954 MU graduate, commissioned the artwork.

COLUMBIA — The rain that fell Tuesday afternoon did more than just tap gently against the windows of the Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center. It also made the gray light coming through the panes flicker onto the colored glass of the newest piece of art on the MU campus.

About 50 people attended the dedication ceremony Tuesday for the Life Sciences Center’s new centerpiece sculpture, called “Joy of Discovery.”

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The sculpture was funded by Al McQuinn, a 1954 MU graduate. McQuinn said he donated the money for the project and the whole atrium because he wanted to give back to the university that he said gave him a good education.

“The McQuinns’ vision was to commission an award-winning work of art capable of drawing national attention to the Bond Life Sciences Center,” Chancellor Brady Deaton said.

The dedication ceremony for the sculpture marked the culmination of months of work for architect and artist Kenneth vonRoenn, whose team of 55 people designed and installed the piece during the summer.

VonRoenn, who was chosen to construct the piece out of a 158-applicant pool, has a master’s degree in architecture from Yale University and owns a studio in Louisville, Ky. He has designed hundreds of pieces of artwork all over the world, including the world’s largest glass sculpture, which crowns the top of Wachovia Bank in Charlotte, N.C.

The sculpture is a four-story tall, sharp-looking aluminum strand, surrounded by a corkscrewed design that arches from the south to the north side of the center’s atrium. It’s made of aluminum circles suspended along a curved spine with spirals of acrylic.

Compact sheets of glass attached to the metal are made of a dichroic acrylic material, which changes colors depending on the angle of the light it is reflecting.

“If the sun were shining today, you’d see it shining through the glass,” said Bill Bondeson, chairman of the sculpture committee. “We’ve had sun and scorching heat every day this week except the one day we needed it to shine.”

The sculpture is meant to be more than just beautiful. The spine represents the central role of the Life Sciences Center, while the corkscrew shape is an abstract image of a double helix. Eight discs are also spaced at intervals along the metal frame, representing images from the labs of some of the Life Sciences Center’s top researchers. With every new breakthrough in research, the images within the discs will be replaced to demonstrate the changing nature and progression of science. The next change will probably occur in five to 10 years, Bondeson said.

“It’s not as static as some art might be,” McQuinn said after the ceremony. “I hope it brings inspiration. Any time you can elevate people’s feelings or emotions, it has value.”

Although the afternoon rain added a different perspective to those viewing the sculpture, it actually kept the artist from enjoying his big moment. VonRoenn got stuck in Louisville because his flight into Columbia was canceled due to the weather. Organizers attempted to have vonRoenn make his speech through a speakerphone, but his voice was unintelligible.

“A failure in our attempt, but no failure in our pursuit of art,” Deaton said.

Inside a program given to attendees, vonRoenn wrote a message explaining the inspiration behind his work.

“I felt the sculpture should physically connect the two sides of the atrium by engaging both spaces,” he wrote. “I also wanted the sculpture to embody the enthusiastic, self-perpetuating joy of discovery woven into the fabric of MU’s Life Sciences Center.”

Designing the sculpture isn’t vonRoenn’s only contribution to the university. After completing his project, he took $25,000 of his commission to create an endowment to maintain the piece.

“Now that’s generous,” Bondeson said, smiling. “That’s one of the nicest gestures I’ve ever seen.”


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