Piper O'Neill's Lone Stranger looks over UW as part of Mad Campus.

As students make their way back onto the University of Washington’s campus this fall, they are bound to notice that things are different; namely, a dozen new and eye-catching art installations have appeared across the lawns and communal spaces. The works are part of the Mad Campus project put on by MadArt, a for-profit organization which focuses on bringing art to unexpected places. These large-scale site-specific installations are hard to miss, unless you wait too long; Mad Campus only remains on display through October 25.

MadArt has been active in Seattle since 2009. It’s placed large accessible sculptures in Cal Anderson Park, given window space in Madison Valley retail shops to local artists, and even turned homes destined for the wrecking ball along Capitol Hill’s Bellevue Avenue into immersive installations. Now, the organization is at it again, aiming to make an artful impact on Seattle’s largest college campus. The University of Washington has enthusiastically backed this endeavor, with support from the newly renamed UW School of Art, Art History, and Design, by lining up participating artists with assistants from the school to help construct the works, document the installations, and even lead tours as knowledgeable docents. (Mad Campus hosts a special day of tours with several artists in attendance this Sunday from 11–3 starting at Red Square.) Additionally, the school’s curriculum will embrace the project via art and art history courses.

The dozen artworks on display include a 29-foot-tall inflatable carnival prize cowboy titled Lone Stranger by Piper O’Neill and a tree burdened down with Paul Komada’s blobs festooned with the flags of countries with immense carbon footprints and the nations most affected by the pollution. An intimate stroll down a path just off of the university’s scenic Drumheller Fountain leads to Tory Franklin’s three-dimensional recounting of Six Swans, a Grimm’s Fairy Tale told through swooping swan cutouts encircling a tree on which a mermaid is tied to. And a stone’s throw from the physics building, one might encounter students lounging on a rumpled boardwalk imitating a sine wave, playfully-titled Wave Sine by artist W. Scott Trimble. Students, employees of the school, and visitors alike can freely interact with the works, many of which provide functionality (places to sit and climb) in addition to aesthetic value. The works also ask viewers to explore the campus and see the university as more than just a place with sidewalks to connect buildings together. 

To create Mad Campus, MadArt whittled down hundreds of potential artists through a process of studio visits and conversations. A list of roughly 25 finalists were invited to submit proposals, with 13 artists being selected and each given $2,000 to create the dozen diverse works now strewn across campus. All the artists are local; half of which are UW alums.

School is now in session and MadArt hopes that their injection of art onto the university will create some conversation, spark some creativity, and ultimately inspire both students and visitors alike. The works are all labeled with signage that provides some insight into the participating artists, and those that commit to seeing all twelve installations are likely to discover new and interesting parts of campus that may have previously been unfamiliar. Mad Campus provides a spectacular art invasion worth investigating before it disappears.

Mad Campus
Thru Oct 25, University of Washington, Free

W. Scott Trimble's Wave Sine provides some of the most unique potential seating on UW's campus.

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