On a Friday evening during finals week, two second-year Yale School of Architecture students unveiled their new sculpture, In We Trust, on the mezzanine of the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Towering fifteen feet over the surrounding display cases the sculpture, by Davis Butner and Evan Sale, served as a sparkling golden focal point for a gathering of Yale community members.
The Beinecke commissioned the sculpture to mark the 50th anniversary of the student movements of 1968 as well as to pay homage to Claes Oldenburg’s Lipstick (Ascending) On Caterpillar Tracks, erected on Beinecke Plaza and gifted to Yale University in 1969. The unveiling event served as the culmination of a semester-long collaborative seminar on that historical year taught between the Beinecke, the History of Art department, and the architecture school. Co-teachers of the seminar—Beinecke curator Kevin Repp, architecture professor Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, and art history professor Craig Buckley—launched a design competition for the sculpture in January 2018 to which 13 teams of art and architecture students submitted entries. These entries were judged by the co-teachers as well as the deans of the schools of art and architecture.
Jurors wrote that they selected In We Trust from among the many compelling entries as it “builds on the legacy of Oldenburg’s powerful gesture with new concerns around the state of higher education, the instability of facts, the conflicted status of monuments, and the role of money in our public institutions.”
Butner and Sale delivered the following remarks:
In 1968, Yale architecture student Stuart Wrede and a group of classmates taking the name of the Colossal Keepsake Corporation of Connecticut collaborated with Claes Oldenburg to create Lipstick (Ascending) On Caterpillar Tracks. Installed on May 15, 1969 in Beinecke Plaza, it provided a speakers’ platform during anti-Vietnam War protests.
As architects, we can feel ill-equipped to take an operative role in this political moment, realizing that our expertise is just as often used to reinforce systems of power as to question them. We are sensitive, however, to physical manifestations of power, to the imagery used to convey legitimacy, and to the need for spaces that accommodate protest.
Form may not be inherently political, but it is often applied toward political ends, and the architecture of a space may advance systems of power that are inconsistent with its ostensible functions. Questions of ownership over spaces of assembly are not abstract, and the right to occupy them cannot be taken for granted.
We hope that amidst such contests over space, the university prioritizes molding leaders who can take critical views of the institutions they value. Such a community is defined by MORE than just the spaces that house it.
We hope for this project, like the original keepsake, to take on a life of its own and to become an emblem as much as an artifact, a focus for discourse as much as a spatial marker.