Cook DeVos Exhibits GVSUs Art

October 31, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — It isn’t often that a building is defined by the art on its walls. But along with its educational and economic significance, that is exactly how many people describe Grand Valley State University Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences on Michigan Avenue.

Eye-catching from the street is a long tier of hand-painted blue and white tiles that adorn the building’s interior balcony, created by two internationally known artists. Other observers comment on the numerous works of art they see along the hallways and in classrooms and study areas, which include a cluster of giant pills and medicine capsules protruding from the wall of a study lounge and an artist’s rendition of microscopic views of cells.

Whatever it is that strikes visitors, it is no secret that the Cook-DeVos Center has been infiltrated by art.

And it was a matter of design.

Henry Matthews, director of galleries and collections in the department of art and design at GVSU, said what started out as a hobby of President Emeritus Don Lubbers has become an art, so to speak.

Five years ago, when Matthews joined the university, he had the task of taking inventory, organizing and managing what had over the years developed into an official collection. He found that Lubbers’ hobby had developed into 1,200 works of art — a number that today has grown to exceed 4,500.

“Don Lubbers really started the whole process of putting art in the building,” Matthews said.

“It was a passion with him and he loves art to this day. And he just started placing art on his own.

“They were way too busy doing other things: Growing the university, building new buildings and expanding, so there was no systematic way of doing it until it became more pronounced in recent years,” said Matthews.

“Over the past few years it became more the thing we did, and it was more formal.”

The first thing Matthews and his team did was to digitally photograph every piece of art, give it a name and categorize it in a file.

Matthews said that he hopes to one day have the entire collection on the Internet, with photos, dimensions and features, to offer the community a virtual tour, possibly in several languages.

And he noted that for the university, the art collection reflects where GVSU has gone as an organization and how it has grown.

Not only that, he added, but the collection demonstrates the core of the university, which is education.

Matthews stressed that the art collection is not just pretty stuff on the wall, but that it is also about learning about art and the message it conveys.

He said the university’s aim is also to have the art reflect the diversity of the university as well as the community, and to serve as an outreach to GVSU’s sister universities across the world.

“What I do is bring works of art from those institutions to grow the collections and to show the students that there is a world outside of Kent County,” Matthews said.

“This gives them a very real connection with the other parts of the world so that when they are past this university they will develop into people of the world.”

Specifically in the Cook-DeVos Center Matthews said the university has begun using a new process through which to choose art for each new building and exhibit.

GVSU President Mark Murray created the President’s Art Advisory Committee, comprised of faculty, staff and area residents who are concerned with art.

The committee chooses themes for buildings and the art that will adorn them. For the Cook-DeVos Center the overriding theme is health, a topic that Matthews said was left a bit ambiguous to allow for creative interpretation.

Matthews said everyone was invited to participate in the Cook-DeVos art-gathering project: faculty, staff — both traditional and nontraditional, alumni, local artists and area residents. Those interested submitted proposals. Matthews said the committee spent two marathon days pouring over the submitted art until it could winnow down recommendations to a reasonable number of art works.

What the building now displays is a collection of 350 works of art, 130 being gifts and the rest commissioned from students, alums, community artists, faculty and staff.

Matthews said the collection in the Cook-DeVos Center will continue to grow through gifts and pieces that he himself brings from his travels and will be added piece by piece into the building.

Faculty and staff offices are left to the decoration of the individual, he said, but students have recently asked him if he would begin placing art in the classrooms on campus, giving him a new project to tackle.

“This is a grand and unique way for us to showcase our community’s art — and what better place to do it,” said Matthews.

“This is definitely my dream job and I am just happy that I can provide the community with this visual experience.”

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