Bristol-Myers Squibb Sculpture Project

Those who read the finance and science pages of their newspapers know that Bristol-Myers Squibb defines itself as “a global pharmaceutical and related health care products company whose mission is to extend and enhance human life.” Traditionally, that’s what such companies are all about. However, on four of its 10 New Jersey campuses, the company gives value-added meaning to the concept of “enhancing human life”: the Bristol-Myers Squibb Sculpture Project. The project began in New Brunswick in July 2003. Eventually it will extend to three more campuses, with nearly 30 sizable outdoor sculptures installed in central New Jersey. And then, the plan is to start all over again, replacing all but one piece at each site with new work. Bristol-Myers Squibb employees will vote for one sculpture to be purchased for each campus.

Literally “a sight for sore eyes,” a towering 21-foot-high concrete and stainless steel sculpture is visible from Route 1, a major New Jersey traffic artery. Easily accessible from the highway, all seven works are positioned in a park-like corner of the 96-acre New Brunswick campus. The site is open to the public Wednesday–Sunday, 11–7 pm.

Peter Lundberg’s Kamasa, named for a nearly extinct Southeast Asian language, conveys the artist’s concern for continued diversity in the world. Resembling a giant, wide-ribboned figure 8—his works are often based on simple mathematical forms—the sculpture’s curving lines are continuous and connected, suggesting relatedness; its mixed and sometimes rough surfaces mesh smoothly into a whole that encompasses two rounded spaces.

Syndey Hamburger, Sun Scoop.

Nancy Cohen’s horizontally oriented Way of Life, made of steel, rope, rubber, and cement, “explores ideas of shelter and containment,” the artist says. She uses “male materials” like heavy steel and industrial tubing in the traditionally female craft of basket-making. Her surprisingly colorful eight-foot-long sculpture can be seen as a nest or cocoon—or body bag.

Patrick Strzelec and Christoph Spath both address balance. Cleve, Strzelec’s twisting bronze-tubing composition, seems to be about balance—physical material and space, curves and planes, resting and near-airiness. The oxymoronic quality of Strzelec’s artful bronze doodle is counterbalanced by Ulrich’s Gift, Spath’s 12-foot-high granite and glass column. A shaft of light through aqua glass filling a central void seems to warm the artist’s balance of natural stone with manmade form, suggesting creative energy, even soul.

Sydney K. Hamburger’s bright yellow painted aluminum Sun Scoop is a small version of the monumental piece she hopes someday to create as part of her “Safe Spaces” series. In the middle of an untamed forest, signified by crosshatched angular metal rods, its square tube area could serve as a safe place for meditation, even play. Robert Lobe’s tree figure, Frank and Marthalee, with a robustly curving segment and a decrepit, gnarly part, represents a metaphor for life. The process for this bronze work began with repousée—particularly challenging considering the soft, decayed areas of the actual tree—after which Lobe reassembled the forms in his studio before casting the work.

Melvin Edwards, For Moon and Stars.

Inner and outer spaces, as well as time’s continuum, are the subjects of Melvin Edwards’s stainless-steel For Moon and Stars. Just as his material comes from iron, which the artist calls “the earth’s Stone Age mineral cache of experience,” so are our contemporary experiences beholden to earlier discoveries and inventions.

How is it that a pharmaceutical company has moved into the art business? The sculpture project merely continues a long-time commitment to the visual arts that began with the 1972 opening of the Squibb Gallery—which, notably at the time, had been part of the original architectural design for the Lawrenceville campus. With the 1990 merger, it became the Gallery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, continuing to be a much sought-after exhibition space.

Speaking at the reception for the inaugural show, Thomas Primm, BMS’s president of technical operations, spoke of his company’s belief in “good corporate citizenship” and his conviction that “being in the presence of art encourages us to express our own creativity in the work we do.”

The excitement and success of 2001’s “Off the Wall” sculpture exhibition prompted Kate Somers, gallery curator since 1999, to propose a sculpture program. Corporate collaboration led to the Bristol-Myers Squibb Sculpture Project—which to Somers is just the latest example of how, “in a time of miserable arts funding, this company has stepped up.” Other corporations should do the same, she says.

Christoph Spath, Ulrich’s Gift.

Participating sculptors are selected by a three-member advisory committee with varied perspectives. They nominated, considered, and selected the artists to invite for the first exhibition, often choosing the specific works too. Succeeding shows will feature the work of artists suggested either by sculptors already involved or by committee members. Sculptors named for future installments of the BMS Sculpture Project include Hope Carter, Kate Dodd, Richard Heinrich, Jon Isherwood, Joel Perlman, John Van Alstine, and Jay Wholley.

“In an indoor gallery, the conditions are static. When sculpture is placed outdoors, nature and its changing elements can play off the surface of the work, making the whole experience more complex. Weather conditions of all kinds—the quality of the light, the angle of the sun, the fog, the rain—directly impact the viewing of the sculpture. This is why I have always found viewing sculpture outside more exciting,” Somers says.

Maybe it’s true that nature can’t be improved upon, but it’s indisputable that Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Sculpture Project has enhanced New Jersey’s cultural landscape. It might be said that this committed pharmaceutical company has boosted New Jerseyans’ aesthetic health.

Pat Summers is a writer living in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.