by Amy Halliday
It’s hard to imagine physically folding the tetrahedron tips of Alan Phillips’ sculpture, weighing in at 2500 pounds of shining stainless steel and standing almost nine feet tall amongst a cluster of trees next to Adele Simmons Hall. If you could, the piece would form a perfect cube: as it is, it remains UnCubed – a cube deconstructed, or, perhaps latent, unassembled.
Phillips’ ability to see the infinite plastic potential in geometric form came from a lifetime of design engineering and landscape architecture, though it was only in retirement that he turned to sculpture. His first major recognition came at the age of 72, when UnCubed was selected as part of the 1988 annual Contemporary Sculpture show at Chesterwood, the Berkshires home and grounds of Daniel Chester French (famed sculptor of the Lincoln memorial). After the exhibition, Phillips sought a new home for the monumental work: a place where art, ingenuity and environment intermingled to create a fitting context for an unconventional cube. Hampshire College was a natural choice.
Plenty of students have mused as to the meaning and origin of the sculpture since it first arrived on campus. One of the most enduring interpretations is that it is an arcane musical instrument devised by a Div III student of yore, the mechanics of which have been lost to time. Fittingly, for Phillips, the notion that UnCubed might intrigue, inspire, or fleetingly tempt the mind of a future viewer down an unexpected path, was all the “success” he was after: “If I piqued your curiosity, then I’ve been successful,” he noted in a newspaper report, “… I think my ego would be satisfied if some kid 20 years from now said ‘Yeah, I remember that damn thing up there’. That would be success…”
Phillips passed away last year, but his memory – and his sculptural legacy – is honored both at Hampshire and at the Keep Homestead Museum in Monson, MA (Phillips’ hometown), where the Phillips Sculpture Garden will open with a public reception on April 3 from 1-4 p.m. Members of the Hampshire College community are warmly invited to attend.
Amy Halliday is the new Gallery Director of the Hampshire College Art Gallery