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Sentinel, The Design, Fabrication, and Installation of the Monumental Sculpture by Albert Paley at Rochester Institute of Technology

by James Yarrington, Editor
RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, Rochester, NY, 2005
128 pp., illus. Paper, $35.99
ISBN: 0-9759651-4-X.

Reviewed by George Shortess
3505 Hecktown Road, Bethlehem, PA


This book is about a large sculpture, Sentinel, constructed on site at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, U. S. A. To paraphrase form the Foreword of the book, the purpose of the sculpture is to symbolize and celebrate the fusion of art and technology that is the hallmark of the university. It is to be the guardian at the gate to inspire strength, beauty and grace. The book is intended to entice the reader to visit the campus and see the sculpture in its setting.

It is largely a coffee table book with many photographs of the work in progress. From the title I had assumed that it would contain much more technical information about the sculpture, but there is little beyond an overview of the process. It is designed to celebrate and promote the sculpture and R. I. T. as well. There is a description of the process of design and construction, but it lacks many details. While the photographs are presented sequentially with small captions that describe generally the processes depicted in the photographs, they too provide only general information. One can follow the construction process sequentially, but only at a superficial level.

It is, of course, impossible to get a complete sense of a sculpture without experiencing it directly. I have not visited the site, so my comments are based entirely on my review of the book. This approach is not without some validity, however, because the book is intended to introduce the sculpture and make the reader want to visit.

As an artist, I carefully reviewed the various photographs of the sculpture and the written materials that are presented in the book. I came away with the impression that the sculpture is out of place. There appears to be little or no connection between the piece and the nearby buildings or the general environment. While I can appreciate the artist’s stated goal of providing some contrast and distinctiveness, it seems to me that he has gone much too far. If it is to reflect the spirit of the university, it needs to relate to the university. As presented in the book, it is difficult to appreciate any relationship between the sculpture and the university. The writers of the book emphasize the size of the sculpture and the magnitude of the operation to build it on site. It is, according to the book, the largest sculpture on any American campus.

I found some interesting relationships of forms in the sculpture, but a number of the elements appear to be forced together, just like the whole sculpture appears to be forced onto the site, without an overall coherent structure. As presented in the book, the sculpture impresses me as a very large work that lacks some internal coherence and is out of place. If the sculpture appears in a different way when seen on site, the book has failed to present it.



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