Teresita Fernández Sculpture Transforms Harvard Yard

September 5, 2018
Artist Teresita Fernández talks about Autumn (. . . Nothing Personal), a public sculpture on view August 27 through October 1, 2018, in Harvard Yard. Commissioned by the Harvard University Committee on the Arts, the installation is both a physical site and a space for public dialogue and performance.

Teresita Fernández is an internationally renowned American artist best known for prominent public installations and experiential large-scale sculptures that evoke striking landscapes. This fall, she’ll bring her artistry to the Harvard campus.

Fernández will install Autumn (. . . Nothing Personal), a site-specific work for Harvard Yard commissioned by the Harvard University Committee on the Arts (HUCA). HUCA and the artist worked closely with the Harvard Art Museums, the Office of the Provost, and many partners across the university to realize the installation and its extensive programming. 

Taking inspiration from natural wonders, Fernández frequently chooses mediums—gold, graphite, and other minerals—that have complicated histories, often tied to colonialism. One example, currently on view in the Harvard Art Museums’ modern and contemporary galleries, is Small American Fires (2016), which references a landscape in crisis. The fire spreading across these small panels is meant to evoke the landscape of a natural wildfire (such as those frequently seen across the American continent) while alluding to ideas of indigeneity, protest, politics, and change. 

Autumn (. . . Nothing Personal) is on view through October 1, 2018, in Harvard’s historic Tercentenary Theatre, which is between Memorial Church and Widener Library in Harvard Yard. Throughout that time, the installation will play host to dozens of events, readings, performances, and creative interventions. The programming aims to foster engagement with students, faculty, staff, and the broader Cambridge community. 

“Fernández is bringing to campus her rare capacity to reshape social space through sculpture,” said Robin Kelsey, co-chair of HUCA, the Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography, and the dean of arts and humanities. “Her work will temporarily transform the Tercentenary Theater into a space of inclusion, reckoning, improvisation, and encounter. Like many at Harvard, I am eager to be a part of this experience.”

Fernández’s sculpture is in part inspired by American novelist and social critic James Baldwin’s text Nothing Personal, published in 1964 at the height of the civil rights movement. Baldwin’s essay, originally produced alongside images by photographer Richard Avedon, explores the complexities and contradictions at the center of the American experience. It offers a critique of a society that is disconnected, unjust, divisive, and violent, as seen through Baldwin’s personal reflections and perspectives.

Autumn (. . . Nothing Personal) consists of many concentric circles made out of polycarbonate tubes, which the artist hopes sparks “layers of concentric engagement.”
Autumn (. . . Nothing Personal) consists of many concentric circles made out of polycarbonate tubes, which the artist hopes sparks “layers of concentric engagement.”

Appointed by President Barack Obama, Fernández served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, a 100-year-old federal panel that advises the president and Congress on national matters of design and aesthetics. She was a 2005 MacArthur Foundation Fellow and has received numerous awards, including the Aspen Award for Art in 2013, the 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Biennial Award in 1999. Fernández was named a National Academician by the National Academy Museum and School, New York, in 2017. She lives and works in Brooklyn. 

An exhibition at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts is timed to coincide with the Fernández installation. Time is Now: Photography and Social Change in James Baldwin’s America (September 13–December 30, 2018) is curated by Makeda Best, the Richard L. Menschel Curator of Photography at the Harvard Art Museums, and organized with Dan Byers, the John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Drawing on the permanent collections of the Harvard Art Museums, the exhibition works to visualize and explore the places and events that framed Baldwin’s life and themes found in his writing, including the history of racism and the role of race in American history, sexuality, personal transformation, family, music, religion, violence, the function of the artist in society, and social change. 

Autumn (. . . Nothing Personal) is a commission of the Harvard University Committee on the Arts and was made possible with support from the Johnson-Kulukundis Family President’s Fund for Arts at Harvard University. 

Sign up online to join a group reading of James Baldwin’s 1964 essay Nothing Personal, or use the installation Autumn (. . . Nothing Personal) to host your own reading, discussion group, meeting, or public action.