WILLIAMSTOWN -- There are more eyes than one might suspect, eight in all, plus a Picasso-like multiple set, that lead like bread crumbs from the undulating hills overlooking Route 2 to the Williams College Museum of Art's front door, tucked away a bit around the corner.
One of the main goals of the commissioned work (first thought up and discussed during a museum retreat in 1999) was to try and better alert those passing by that there was indeed an art museum here, one that was quite prestigious -- particularly for a more intimate college museum -- and with a commitment to contemporary art.
Given that signage in Williams town is about as common and welcome as a new traffic light, there was no good way to indicate the museum's presence from the road -- people had to use their own eyes, as it were, and really go looking for it.
While it may be difficult now to imagine the museum without its EYES, it wasn't at all a sure thing that they'd be gazing down on Williamstown; three other artists besides Louise Bourgeois were in strong consideration for the project: Vito Acconci, Tom Otterness and Roy Lichtenstein also auditioned pieces, presenting, as Bourgeois did, miniature versions of what they had in mind, versions that were, in fact, displayed in the museum itself for a time so that visitors could actually weigh in on which one they preferred.
Williams students taking an art history class at the time wrote papers discussing how each of the proposals fit the project's guidelines: to make a strong visual statement, an nounce the existence of the museum to passers-by and blend into the existing landscape and surrounding architecture -- and to and celebrate the museum's love of contemporary art.
Ultimately the French-born American artist's EYES won out, and in 2001, on the occasion of WCMA's 75th anniversary, her unusual sculpture was unveiled during the Williams College fall convocation with WCMA's Director at the time, Linda Shearer, on hand to present it to the public.
By day the eyes are certainly noticeable, but they have such a benevolent, playful way of blending into the grassy knoll that it's no surprise that children and even students can be seen climbing on them as if they were merely part of an artistically bent jungle gym.
At night, however, lit from the inside by either pink or bluish LED lights, the eyes become slightly more eerie and certainly more noticeable, reminding me of the famous eyes in one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's more famous novels. There, the giant billboard eyes of Dr. T.J. Eck leburg have been symbolically linked to the "eyes of God," and a God not too happy about what He or She has been seeing of late. Here, the sheer number of eyes (an almost friendly clump really) create a far less sinister, serious or judgmental impression, seemingly approving if anything of what they glimpse of life here in the Village Beautiful.
While students are not exactly encouraged to climb on them, they're not completely discouraged from doing so either, and most of the eyes double as seats, the backs providing a shelf and almost inviting two or perhaps three (if you're a skinny college student) to sit together and study, eat lunch, or merely daydream.
The two eyes located in the back and closest to the museum itself -- the two that are made of granite rather than bronze -- are a particularly good place to take in the picturesque New England college scene.
They look south and have an elevated view of the campus's Weston football field and the mountains beyond. The oval shapes of the backs of the eyes clearly intend to mimic the surrounding mountains.
Maybe to remind us not to take these eyes too seriously, though, students have been known to occasionally put enormous sunglasses on a pair of them during a particularly sunny day, making one think of the Timbuk3 song, "The Fu ture's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades."
It also makes one think that there really could be no better place for these eyes to be -- for what are eyes, after all, without their accompanying pupils?