Rod Library--Special Collections
Title: "Balanced/Unbalanced Beaks"
Sculptor: Fletcher Benton
Location: North side of the Curris Business Building
Date Installed: April 20, 1993
Larger Associated Project: Curris Business Building
Description: The 3,500 pound bright red sculpture stands sixteen feet high and is twelve feet wide. The numerous geometrical shapes are balanced on one another in an unusual pattern. There is no literal meaning behind the sculpture. Rather, the pattern of the shapes is to provide a unique visual experience for those who view it. The sculpture was UNI's first new piece of large outdoor art in nearly a decade.
Critical Reaction: The sculpture received high praise from William Lew, Professor and Head of the Department of Art, when it first arrived on campus. Benton was internationally known as one of the few sculptors who could successfully deal with such a massive sculpture. The style of the sculpture is different from other works of art on campus. Lew stated: "It contrasts in style with the other pieces which reflects the growing diversity of the UNI student body" (Northern Iowan, 6/18/93).
The student body did not have such a positive impression. "Balanced/Unbalanced Beaks" soon became the target of many student opinion columns and humorous cartoons in the Northern Iowan student newspaper. Questions about the uniqueness of the piece arose when another sculpture, named "Balanced Unbalanced Bolt," appeared at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. However, it was learned that "Balanced Unbalanced" was actually a series created by Benton, and many sculptures similar to UNI's existed around the country.
The cost of the sculpture was also questioned. At the time the sculpture was commissioned, the University was facing possible budget cuts and increased tuition. Many students could not see spending $76,000 on artwork when departments were facing financial cuts that would hurt the students and faculty. One Northern Iowan editorialist commented: "What I do not understand is why money that is desperately needed within the education system is frivolously wasting away on pieces for aesthetic enjoyment" (4/27/93).
Other students could not see the reasoning of spending so much money on artwork that seemed to be unoriginal. One Northern Iowan editorial stated: "There should be a place for art on this campus, and Iowa law assures there will be money for such a purpose. The law says we have to spend the money, but we should at least get our money's worth" (9/21/93).
Despite these claims, the sculpture has received praise. Even though there are similar pieces across the United States, many people believe that UNI received an original work of art. They also believe that despite the numerous complaints of not understanding the sculpture, it is a valuable addition to the artwork on campus.
Compiled by Jonathan Russell; edited by Susan Basye
Special Collections and University Archives