Young People's 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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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.


Who: Donald Lipski

What: The West

Where: Inner Campus Drive

When: 1987

Why: Like Nancy Rubins, Donald Lipski uses found objects to create surprising works of art. Here, he has covered large mooring buoys— that were once in the ocean— with pennies. On one buoy the heads side of the pennies is facing up and on the other, the tails side is up. He calls this work The West but offers no explanation for the title. He wants us to come up with connections between the title and the work of art. Any ideas?


Lipski likes to place his sculptures in busy areas so that people see them repeatedly over a long period of time. Landmarks chose this location because thousands of students walk past it every day. Imagine being a student and getting to see art as you walk to your math exam!  


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