Drexel’s Campus Installs International Artist Alicja Kwade’s ‘Pars Pro Toto’

Monumental work arrives courtesy of long-term loan from Forman Arts Initiative.
Pars pro Toto, Alicja Kwade for Drexel University

Eight stone spheres from around the world have found a new home on Drexel University’s Lancaster Walk. International artist Alicja Kwade created the site-specific work Pars Pro Toto using a variety of rare stones to reflect concepts of time, perception and scientific inquiry. Loaned to Drexel by the Forman Arts Initiative, the sculptures will be installed this fall and remain on campus to be enjoyed by all who come across the colorful spheres for three years.

Pars Pro Toto arrived in Philadelphia from Poland in August and the spheres – which range between 24 to 64 inches in diameter – will be installed on Lancaster Walk as part of Drexel’s Exterior Public Art Policy, which serves to support art collection and affirm the University’s commitment to creating and sustaining a rich environment that expands the understanding and appreciation of art through site specific-work.

“The work is a threefold reflection: It allows us to become giants roaming a human-scale solar system, but it also reminds us to be dwarfed by the ever-expanding universe,” said Kwade. “We become aware that our Earth is but a minute sphere, a marble suspended in our geocentric horizon. Right here, right now on campus we reflect these opposing realities through the experience of Pars Pro Toto.”

The addition of Pars Pro Toto to campus aims to serve as a catalyst for students, faculty and the broader public to slow down and listen more closely. The work asks viewers to recognize that they are all connected to the past, present, future and to one another. 

“During my time as a Drexel trustee, I’ve developed a deep belief in the university’s mission to focus its expertise on solving society’s greatest challenges,” said Michael Forman, cofounder of the Forman Arts Initiative. “Pars Pro Toto provides a unique perspective in a world that technology has made feel increasingly smaller. We hope the installation sparks curiosity, dialogue and human connection across campus and beyond.”

The stones composing Pars Pro Toto demonstrate a mindfulness of sustainability – as each was sourced from quarries adhering to fair trade processes with a traceable footprint. Lewis Colburn, associate professor and sculpture area coordinator in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, thinks Kwade is touching on a much broader dialogue of the work, of which sustainability is only one component.

“The work itself is visually quiet, as I understand it — eight stone spheres, arranged singly and in pairs along Lancaster Walk — in a certain sense, it would be easy enough to pass by these objects without taking great notice of them. Yet – note that each sphere is visually distinct from the others, based on size, and on the type of stone and the place where it was quarried,” said Colburn.

Reflectively, Colburn considers whether Kwade is asking us to contemplate the specifics of these stone spheres — noting that she also provides source, size and weight information for each sphere in the materials about her work.

“Bringing these stone spheres together from across the globe makes a kind of node or intersection in the multi-million-year histories of these pieces of stone and as such, ties the work to larger ideas of material, time and space. In this way I think the narrative of the work extends beyond sustainability as we think of it in the immediate sense and connects to larger questions about what it means to inhabit this planet, and the consequences of our brief actions over a much longer period of time — a kind of ‘deep time’ sustainability, perhaps.”

“I’m excited to see Kwade’s piece coming to Drexel’s campus, and I look forward to bringing my sculpture classes to experience the work in the Fall term,” said Colburn. “Experiencing art firsthand is a critical component of education in art and design — especially now, when we receive so much of our visual information through screens.”

Pars Pro Toto intends to enhance the overall quality of life through the beautification of a public space for all people. According to Andrew Zitcer, PhD, director of the Urban Strategy graduate program – all faculty, staff and the community at large can benefit from public art that encourages creative placemaking.

“Public art anchors us to place and enables us to see our built environment anew,” said Zitcer, who is also an assistant professor of Arts Administration and Museum Leadership in Westphal College. “It has an important placemaking function, and at its best, encourages us to visit new places or linger longer in the places where we find meaningful art.”

Drexel has a long history of collecting creatives works with the intent of educating and inspiring the community. Drexel founder, Anthony J. Drexel, set aside funds for the purchase of decorative and fine arts from the inception of the university in 1891. Today, the Drexel Collection holds more than 6,000 works of art, including European prints and drawings, Japanese woodblock prints, paintings, sculpture, furniture, silver, porcelain, and clocks and watches – its mission, is to pursue the preservation, proper management and documentation of this educational collection of fine and decorative arts.

“When Anthony Drexel founded the University, access to the arts both in practice and in observation was extremely important and it remains central to Drexel’s educational mission today,” said Nancy Trainer, associate vice president of Facilities, university architect and adjunct professor in Westphal College.

The long-term loan is provided by the Forman Arts Initiative, a platform that intends to connect and support artists and cultural organizations in Philadelphia. Supporting public art in an educational context aligns with FAI's grounding belief in the power of art and creative engagement to unlock potential in people of all ages and backgrounds.

Alicja Kwade Pars Pro Toto 2018

Alicja Kwade Pars Pro Toto 2018, Courtesy Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humblebaek.