Over the course of five days in October, Brooklyn-based artist Rafael Vargas-Suarez transformed the lobby of Miller Theatre
at Columbia University into an immersive artwork with a large-scale wall drawing. Abstract geometric lines that resemble musical notations stretched from floor to ceiling.
Standing in the theatre lobby, surrounded by this 360-degree floor-to-ceiling mural—titled Vector Composition No. 1—is like delving into the mind of a composer and enveloping oneself in the creative process. Vargas-Suarez, who goes by the name Vargas-Suarez Universal, has had a lifelong interest in music, so it was appropriate for him to turn the Miller Theatre lobby into his canvas. “I wanted to make a visual composition that was really about what is going on here,” he said.
The Miller Theatre and the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery
commissioned the mural, the first time these longtime campus arts institutions have worked together. “It’s a collaboration I’ve wanted to bring to fruition for a number of years, and I’m so happy that it’s happening this season, for our 25th anniversary,” said Melissa Smey, executive director of the Miller Theatre. “I hope it will be the first of many.”
The Miller Theatre lobby is “a uniquely visible public space on the Columbia campus, and installing Vargas-Suarez’s work there animates the space and publicly affirms the University’s commitment to the arts,” Smey added.
Deborah Cullen, who became director and chief curator of the Wallach Gallery last year, echoed Smey’s sentiments. “I am always seeking opportunities to bring vital art to our community, both in and out of our gallery,” she said. “Vargas-Suarez Universal weaves together art with science. His commission will raise critical questions while being very accessible to a wide audience.”
Vector Composition No. 1 allowed Vargas-Suarez to explore for the first time the relationship between his art and music. “The point of departure for this piece is my constant observation of the public’s commentary that my wall drawings, paintings, and overall aesthetic look ‘musical,’” the artist said. “This opinion is quite accurate since I almost exclusively draw and paint while listening to music. I pace myself to the rhythm of songs—from classical to progressive and experimental musical artists—from one artwork to another.”
Vargas-Suarez, whose work is in numerous public and private collections worldwide, has created audio works, at times in collaboration with sound artists, including a recent project with the composer Stephen Barber. He considers these sonic landscapes to be drawings using interruptions in air pressure or sound.
Vector Composition No. 1 will remain on view in the Miller Theatre lobby throughout the theatre’s 25th anniversary season, until May 31, 2014.
—Story by Eve Glasberg
—Video by Columbia News Video Team