|Commissioning Entity||Jill Gansman Kraus and Peter Kraus|
|Owner||Carnegie Mellon University|
|ADA Services||A wheelchair accessible ramp can be found on Frew Street between the Tepper School of Business and the College of Fine Arts.|
Art patrons Jill and Peter Kraus first envisioned a sculpture garden on the Carnegie Mellon University campus; but they ultimately created a singular public place conceived by conceptual artist and university alumnus Mel Bochner, and landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh. Bochner, more familiar with paper and paint than with concrete and plants, was given the opportunity to implement his ideas in an outdoor setting.
The Kraus Campo (campo means field, or campus, in Italian) is an open space tucked between buildings where it serves as a green roof for Posner Center, a scenographic neighbor for Posner Hall, and a back yard for the College of Fine Arts. But Bochner envisioned the campo as a world in itself. Called a garden-as-sculpture or a sculpture-as-garden, the Kraus Campus incorporates topographical mounds, colorful plantings, curvilinear walkways, a key sculptural element, and an inscription on a contiguous wall. While it departs from Bochner’s comfort zone in many ways, it also reflects his artistic practices and foci.
The Italian city of Sienna, with its Piazza del Campo and radiating streets, was one model for the Krauss Campo. But here, bushes stand in for urban blocks; and a central space carved from the foliage flings pathways into the periphery of the site. The concrete pathways, painted with screaming orange paint, compose a labyrinth of sorts.
The key sculptural element is a raised platform shaped like a French curve—the old draftsman’s tool that resembles an artist’s palette. Its presence here symbolizes both science and art, the DNA of Carnegie Mellon, while it was used instrumentally to generate the arcs of the curving walkways. It is paved with black-and-white tiles that are cut and imprinted with numbers (one of Bochner’s foci) and allude to Roman mosaic floors.
The inscription is made with large black-and-white tiles, which are cut and imprinted with letters (another Bochner focus), and inlaid into a bright blue-painted wall. This installation, which Bochner has referenced as a separate artwork titled You Can Call It That If You Like (2004), consists of a quotation from the philosopher Wittgenstein (another long-standing Bochner interest) spelled out in reverse order. Its presence recalls and critiques the high-minded inscriptions that are commonly engraved on institutional buildings (such as the nearby Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall). When read (backwards) the text is a metaphor for the Campo.
Bochner designed the Campo to be a place of natural pleasures, and more importantly a place of escape and imagination. A place for encounters and ideas and intellectual stimulation, like the Greek Agora, where teachers and students of philosophy walked and talked. A place that addresses and enhances human movement and perception with undulations, meanders, and changing physical and conceptual experiences and orientations.
Carnegie Mellon celebrated the Kraus Campus in a 2004 exhibition at the Regina Gouger Miller Gallery titled “Dialogue in a Landscape: The Kraus Campo, A Garden for Carnegie Mellon University;” and in a 2005 symposium titled “No Stone Unturned: A Symposium on Artists & Gardens.” Yet the Campo was roughly received by some, foreshadowing a public art controversy that enveloped the campus a few years later. The most trenchant critique noted that the dense plantings of boxwood, azaleas, and Japanese barberry introduced a tenacious invasive plant (the barberry) in close proximity to Schenley Park.
In Pittsburgh, the Kraus Campo may be compared with Bochner’s Measurement: Plant (Palm) (1969) in the collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art, another rare work to incorporate plant life; and with Michael Van Valkenburgh’s Allegheny Riverfront Park (1998), in downtown Pittsburgh, and his landscape design for Carnegie Mellon’s Gates and Hillman Centers (2009).
By Martin Aurand, architecture librarian and archivist, Carnegie Mellon University
"The Garden According to Bochner." Sculpture 24:2 (March 2005), 12-13.
Mel Bochner. http://www.melbochner.net/
Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2012.
New York artist Mel Bochner (1940- ) was born in Pittsburgh and earned a BFA from Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, in 1962. He established his artistic persona as a conceptual artist, and contributed to the birth of the conceptual art movement, with his 1966 show, "Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed as Art.” His later paintings frequently incorporate words and numbers that emerge from his conceptual art practice. He has exhibited in a vast number of solo and group exhibitions.
Michael Van Valkenburgh is president and CEO of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., a landscape architecture firm in Brooklyn, New York and Cambridge, Massachusetts, established in 1982. He is also the Charles Eliot Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. MVVA’s designed landscapes include gardens, plazas, and other smaller projects, as well as large-scale master plans and landscape restoration projects.