“Untitled (Lamp/Bear),” affectionately known as Blueno, has been the Brown community’s constant companion for four years — now, it’s headed elsewhere for long-term conservation.
Bye Bye, Blueno
University President Christina H. Paxson presented Blueno with an honorary bachelor’s degree. Video by Stephen Crocker.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Among the thousands of exceptional Class of 2020 graduates of Brown University, one will be remembered as perhaps the most distinctive of all.
This particular Brunonian never processed through the Van Wickle Gates, completed a research project or shopped for courses through the Open Curriculum, opting instead to while away the hours in silence on Simmons Quad, rain or shine. Almost no one used his given name, and many didn’t even know it. Perhaps most noteworthy, he stood 23 feet tall, weighed 20 tons and was made of electric blue lacquered bronze.
“Untitled (Lamp/Bear)” — affectionately known as Blueno — has been the Brown community’s constant companion since June 2016, when the singular work of art arrived on College Hill not long before the first-year undergraduates who ultimately graduated as the Class of 2020. Over four years, the sculpture became a fixture on campus and an adored figure among students, faculty, staff and visitors alike, making its way into countless photos and selfies and inspiring art projects, poetry and even social media fan clubs.
In late August, the Brown community bid Blueno a bittersweet adieu as it joined the rest of the Class of 2020 in departing the University for new adventures. On loan from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection, the sculpture’s four years of continuous exposure to the New England elements left it in urgent need of restoration. The extent of the weathering effect left parts of the artwork — which includes painted and lacquered cast bronze, acrylic glass, LED lights and a stainless steel interior framework — in need of fixes. Over the course of three days, the piece was decommissioned and moved to a location ideal for its long-term conservation.
Joining hundreds of Brown students, employees and alumni in paying tribute to Blueno as it departed campus, University President Christina H. Paxson presented the bear with an honorary bachelor’s degree in a video — a nod to the many recent graduates who thought of Blueno as one of their peers.
“All students at Brown have had the opportunity to make meaningful change, but few have had such an outsized impact on the geography of our campus as Blueno,” Paxson said. “Blueno has been right there for us on morning walks to class, evening gatherings and big events like graduations and reunions. We’ll always remember his enormous contribution.”
Created in 2005 and 2006 by Swiss artist Urs Fischer, “Untitled (Lamp/Bear)” has surprisingly modest origins. The project began when Fischer asked a friend to sew him a standard 1-foot-tall stuffed bear, according to comments the artist shared with the Wall Street Journal. He hired a Swiss company to take laser scans of the toy and sent the scans to a Shanghai foundry, which in turn cast three giant bronze copies of the bear leaning against a Bakelite desk lamp. Fischer engineered each lamp’s acrylic glass “bulbs” to light up.
Fischer produced two yellow bears, one of which is on public display at Qatar’s Hamad International Airport, and one blue bear, which he sold to the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Collection. Steven Cohen, an investment manager, philanthropist and longtime contemporary art enthusiast, said the work had never been exhibited publicly before he and his wife loaned it to Brown in 2016.
“As an art lover and supporter of contemporary art, I have long thought that Brown’s campus is an important place for people to interact with and experience art,” said Cohen, the parent of two Brown graduates. “We’ve been very happy to share the Urs Fischer ‘Untitled (Lamp/Bear)’ with the entire Brown community over these past four years.”
Dietrich Neumann, a professor of art and architecture and chair of Brown’s Committee on Public Art, said Blueno is an example of Dada and Surrealist art: Both movements bucked logic and reason by juxtaposing seemingly unrelated objects, sometimes in ethereal or playful ways.
“Despite the fact that Blueno was not conceived for Brown’s campus, it just so happened to make a lot of sense here,” Neumann said. “Since the 1920s, Brown’s mascot has been a bear, and Blueno was soon embraced as the biggest and most playful among our bear sculptures. Perhaps it reminded some students of the teddy bear they left behind at home, as it — dreamlike and over-scaled — merged with a desk lamp, symbolizing their new reality of late-night work for assignments.”
When the sculpture first arrived on campus, many didn’t know what to make of it. Polarized opinions seemed to gradually evolve into widespread admiration following Fischer’s October 2016 visit to campus, when the artist shared thoughts on art criticism and art’s role in society in a talk.
“I certainly needed time to appreciate the wittiness, playfulness, absurdity and congenial nature of the sculpture,” said Isabela Karibjanian, a Class of 2019 Brown graduate.
Over time, the bear became embedded in the fabric of the Brown community. It was soon a quintessential stop on University tours, a go-to rendezvous spot and a nearly universally adored figure. Its LED light guided students home after long nights of studying. Its bright blue provided a striking contrast with Simmons Quad’s yellow and orange fall leaves. Its silhouette was sketched, embroidered and made into a cookie cutter. In 2018, for a short time, it stayed warm in style with a giant orange scarf, hand-knitted over six months by Willa Tracy, a master’s degree graduate in philosophy.
Last month, within a week after word spread that Blueno would soon say goodbye, hundreds of Brown students, employees and alumni, including Karibjanian, paid tribute to the bear, many using the hashtag #ByeByeBlueno. There were haikus, watercolor paintings and thinkpieces. There were animated videos, some in keeping with the work’s surrealist origins. And of course, there were many, many selfies.
Not only did Blueno’s presence on campus coincide with the four years that we called Brown home, but it also provided a constant tranquility and familiarity. A bright lamp on a dark night’s walk home, a strong shield in the New England rain, a cheerful and colorful contrast on an autumn day — Blueno was there for us when we didn’t know we needed it.
“I will always remember Blueno in the snow,” Class of 2017 graduate Jie Hao Kwa shared. “Growing up in tropical Singapore, the harsh New England winters took their toll. Blueno’s presence, alone in the snow, in the dark, with only its lamp for company, somehow made me feel a little less alone, and a little less cold, every time I walked past it.”
Brown junior Aidan Cassel-Mace said that when he was asked to design and 3D-print a bottle opener in his Introduction to Engineering course, he used Blueno as inspiration. He first created a prototype using modeling clay before digitally rendering the shape in SolidWorks and printing a fully-realized plastic bottle opener.
“Over the next few weeks I spent way too many hours helping Blueno get in touch with his inner bottle opener,” Cassel-Mace said. “You will be missed, Blueno.”
What was it about “Untitled (Lamp/Bear)” that inspired such adoration? It’s hard to say for sure — but Karibjanian has a theory.
“To me, Blueno became a symbol of Brown students — defying expectations and conventional norms, not taking ourselves too seriously,” she said. “I and my fellow Brown students are fiercely individualistic, creative, curious individuals… During our shared time on campus, Blueno reminded me to laugh, to embrace the absurd moments that came my way, and to retain my childlike sense of curiosity and wonder.”