Chalmers Library has a new centerpiece: Beijing-based artist Zhan Wang’s Artificial Rock #85, a 10-foot-tall sculpture, catches every eye within the atrium — and every beam of light that touches it.
Zhan sculpted Artificial Rock #85 in 2005. Made from stainless steel and plated with chrome, the sculpture’s form is that of a massive rock riddled with crags and crevices. Its dimensions are 126 x 89 x 47 inches.
Graham Gund ’63 H’81, whose Gund Partnership architectural firm also designed Chalmers Library, provided the funds to purchase the sculpture. The statue’s plaque notes that it now is a part of the Gund Gallery Collection.
Located near the circulation desk, Artificial Rock #85 has a distinct presence. The highly reflective, silver material complements the abundant natural light let in by the building’s skylights. The sculpture is mounted on a large marble platform and attached to a black base cut into an amorphous, curved shape. Because of Chalmers’ open design, the sculpture is visible from all angles from the first floor to the fourth, each view revealing unique textures and highlights.
The chrome surface, scale and form of Artificial Rock #85 are typical of Zhan’s Scholar Rock series. Sculptures in the series take inspiration from scholar rocks, valuable objects of contemplation in traditional Chinese culture. For centuries, these rocks were thought to hold qi, an inspiring vital energy. Given the association of scholar rocks with intellectuals, the sculpture’s placement in the library is unlikely to be a coincidence. Zhan emulates the organic aesthetics that have fascinated scholar rock admirers for centuries by molding steel around original scholar rocks to capture their shape and texture.
Zhan has explained the modern chrome look of his works to be a way of squaring the realities of modernization with legacies of the past. “Placed in a traditional courtyard, rockery satisfied people’s desire to return to nature by offering them stone fragments from nature. But huge changes in the world have made this traditional ideal increasingly out of date,” Zhan has explained. “The material’s glittering surface, ostentatious glamour, and illusory appearance make it an ideal medium to convey new dreams.” The dual nature of these art objects, simultaneously artificial and organic, is frequently commented upon by curators and art historians.
Sarah Wagner ’23, who witnessed the sculpture’s installation on Oct. 25, was an immediate fan. She admired its tactile qualities, noting the ways that the object transitioned from rough to smooth, as well as the allure of its shine. “It’s visually inspiring to me. Maybe some people like libraries to be more toned-down,” Wagner admitted, mentioning discussions with classmates of other opinions, “but I love how bold it is.”
Thanks to the sculpture’s central location and distinctive look, Artificial Rock #85 will certainly draw the attention of Chalmers’s visitors as its muses have for centuries.