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Whirls and twirls

Bright surprise awaits students in ellipse dorm

By Ruth Stevens

''Wall Drawing No. 1134 Whirls and Twirls (Princeton)'' by Sol LeWitt fills the ceiling in the new arch.

Princeton NJ -- One of the most distinctive features of the new ellipse dormitory is the large arch that joins the east and west wings of the building, leading from Elm Drive to Poe Field. In addition to serving as a point of architectural interest, the passageway is providing yet another place to enjoy public art on Princeton's campus.

This summer, a wall drawing by noted artist Sol LeWitt was painted on the vaulted ceiling of the arch. LeWitt's work, which has been described as ''undulating skeins of juicy, electric color,'' fills the tunnel and draws the eye.

''There's something quite playful and musical about it,'' said Susan Taylor, director of the University Art Museum. ''The brilliance of the colors is just so uplifting and appealing.''

According to Dan Jamieson, assistant to the president for capital projects, the mural was incorporated into the design of the building at the suggestion of the dormitory's donors, who wish to remain anonymous. ''The idea was to make the dorm a special place,'' he said, and that included creating a place to display public art.

Princeton already is home of the John B. Putnam Jr. Collection, one of the country's most dramatic permanent displays of major 20th-century sculpture. ''The wall drawing adds another piece to the Princeton collection, updating the Putnam Collection'' in the same way that Scott Burton's ''Public Table'' and Richard Serra's ''The Hedgehog and the Fox'' did, Taylor said, referring to two sculptures installed on campus in 1998 and 2000, respectively. ''It joins this newer group of works at Princeton and offers a wonderful opportunity for students to see a site-specific work of art by a living artist in a public setting.''

Once the donors proposed the idea, Taylor was brought into the project to recommend an appropriate artist. ''Sol LeWitt is one of the most well regarded artists of his generation,'' she said. ''I suggested him because I knew that his work would enliven and enhance the space in the way that the donor imagined.''

LeWitt, who lives in Connecticut, has had a long and distinguished career as an artist. In 2000, a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York celebrated 40 years of his work and included more than 150 pieces, from wall drawings to structures to photographs to works on paper. He has had hundreds of solo exhibitions, and his work is included in the collections of many museums.

For his wall drawings, LeWitt comes up with the concept and then hires other artists to execute the plans. A team of five draftspersons, led by Tomas Ramberg and Megan Dyer, began working in the ellipse dorm on July 1 and finished Aug. 20. After reproducing LeWitt's diagrams on the ceiling, the artists embarked on an intricate process of masking off sections of the drawing with tape and painting others, in order to maintain the hard-edged separation of colors between the segments.

The work in the ellipse dorm, titled ''Wall Drawing No. 1134 Whirls and Twirls (Princeton),'' is painted in orange, purple, green, blue, yellow and red.

A dedication for the drawing and the building probably will take place in the spring, when the archway will serve yet another purpose: During Reunions, the annual P-rade of alumni now processes through the arch on its way from the north end of campus to Poe Field.