Sights Along Speedway Tour Donald Lipski, The West

Donald Lipski, The West, 1987. Painted Steel, Corroded Copper Pennies, and Silicone Adhesive. Photo by Ben Aqua.

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Who: Donald Lipski


What: The West


Where: Inner Campus Drive


When: 1987


Why: This sculpture is one of 27 works on long-term loan to Landmarks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Donald Lipski uses found objects to create thought provoking pairings. Here, he has covered mooring buoys with pennies and titled it The West. The work and its title are meant to be a mystery. Lipski does not give us any information about his choices and is notorious for not providing context for his work. He encourages viewers to make their own assumptions and connections to his art.


Lipski likes to place his sculptures in highly trafficked areas so that people see them repeatedly over a long period of time. Landmarks chose this location because it is a very visible spot on campus and because the symmetry of the staircase complimented the symmetry of the buoys.


What comes to mind when you think of buoys? And pennies? If you could make up a title for this work, what would it be?

Audio Transcript

Valerie Fletcher: Born in Chicago, Donald Lipski moved to New York in 1977. There he digressed considerably from what was then the dominant mode in large-scale sculpture, which was geometric, abstract, constructed steel compositions. Instead, he picked up on the ideas of the dada artists of the 19 teens and 20s and of the emerging pop artists in the 60s— that is to use objects or elements from ordinary life, often cast-off materials no longer being used, things that can be recognized but no longer having their original function and not necessarily having any single specific meaning.


Lipski is best know for his indoor installations in which he would take a whole wall in a gallery or museum, sometimes a whole room, and arrange dozens and dozens of objects from top to bottom, left or right across the walls. These objects sometimes had a clear connection, conceptually at least; sometimes a visual connection. But it was up to the viewer to extrapolate from them some kind of meaning. In some cases, the context in which the sculpture was created is relevant. For example, when he was the artist-in-residence in Winston-Salem he made a wall piece called Tobaccolage, which is kind of a combination of the terms tobacco and collage because all of the objects on the wall had to do with the making, using, and selling of cigarettes.


The West from 1987 consists of two large steel buoys, that is the markers that float in the water offshore or in major rivers. In this case, Lipski obtained them from the harbor in Seattle and he bolted them together. So right away we have to ask ourselves, what does he mean by taking two objects that normally float fairly freely on water and are now bolted together resting on dry land?


Furthermore, the surface is encrusted with pennies, which he has glued all over the surface. All of the pennies were dated 1987, that is their new pennies and yet, they’ve been deliberately corroded just as the ships buoys are corroded form being in the water. Then there’s the overall shape of two large spheres or balls connected together. Is this some reference to personal relationships? Is this about marriage or other human connections? That’s pretty much of a stretch considering that these are not figurative sculptures. Lipski’s approach to art is conceptual. He seeks to express ideas and to illicit speculation among viewers as to what these objects may mean.