As one of the University’s first contemporary art sculptures, “The West” created by Donald Lipski has been featured on the east side of the UT Tower for more than a decade.
The location of these two metal, spherical buoys in relation to the Tower has raised many questions among students about its meaning. But, Landmarks, the campus public art program, did not intend to reinforce a phallic interpretation of “The West” while installing it, Landmarks director Andree Bober said.
“We realized that (this interpretation) would happen once we installed it,” said Bober. “And, we decided that it was not a great concern. There are many different ways to interpret its meanings, and that’s part of what the artist intends. This is not linear.”
However, the location of the sculpture has limited the many other interpretations of the piece.
“The (phallic) idea almost became a common knowledge thing,” neuroscience senior Tamanna Basri said. “No one even has the room to make their opinion before someone tells them about it. They devalue the sculpture, and the idea just spreads.”
Virginia Beshears, a studio art and advertising junior, said the phallic image was immediately pointed out to her when she saw the sculpture for the first time as a high school student. But, Beshears said she does not view the art piece solely as a phallus.
“I have a deep love for the absurdity behind ‘The West,’” Beshears said. “Basically, Lipski’s entire concept behind the piece is rendering the buoys and pennies useless. I think Lipski was making a joke about masculinity, capitalism and our preconceived notions about art.”
There are many ways someone can interpret the sculpture. For some, this piece implies uncharted territory of the western United States, according to the Landmarks’ website. For others, the shape of the buoys suggests conquering the unknown with masculine and military energy. The deliberately corroded pennies attached to the surface of the sculpture also suggest capitalism and Western values.
Beshears said the location helps reinforce her personal interpretation.
“I regularly wonder why ‘The West’ was put where it was,” Beshears said. “I go back and forth between thinking it was a happy accident and hoping it was a Lipski fan wanting to further the joke he was making with ‘The West.’”