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News from the Hilltop

Feb. 14, 2011

Birmingham-Southern College art professor's sculpture work acquired by Kohler Arts Center

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—The John Michael Kohler Arts Center has added Jim Neel's ceramic 50-component sculpture installation "Babel" to its exceptional art collection holdings. The acquisition was made possible by a gift to the Kohler Foundation Inc.

babel, by Jim Neel
Photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Neel, associate professor of art at Birmingham-Southern, created the sculpture installation in the Kohler pottery factory in Sheboygan, Wis., during his 2008 Arts/Industry residency at the Kohler Co. His work will be on view through April 24 at the center, which is a nationally acclaimed visual and performing arts complex in downtown Sheboygan.

Babel presents an army of vitreous china chimpanzees in battle formation accompanied by a recording of 50 voices reciting a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

"Babel is a powerful, multi-sensory work of art that engages viewers on visual, visceral, and intellectual levels all at once," said Leslie Umberger, senior curator of exhibitions and collections at the center. "It also conveys the scale of what artists are able to achieve through this amazing residency."

A 1971 BSC graduate, Neel was awarded the 2010 Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC) Individual Artist's Fellowship for his "Les Enfants de la Terre," a series of sculptures in terracotta and iron that addresses the issue of child soldiers. He received a $3,000 award through the fellowship to apply toward the project.

Neel is planning to work with the resident artists at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark Metal Arts program in Birmingham to cast the first terracotta figures in iron. Funds from the SECAC Fellowship will be used to finance that collaborative portion of the project.

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