Two new public art pieces will be unveiled at the Hancher grand opening on Sept. 9
Friday, September 2, 2016

The University of Iowa’s new state-of-the-art performance space also houses two of the most remarkable pieces of public art anywhere in Iowa.

Long before the new Hancher Auditorium was slated to open, members of the Art in State Buildings Program met to discuss the types of pieces that made sense for such a grand venue.

The two works they ultimately selected each represent Hancher’s mission, but in different ways, says Chuck Swanson, executive director of Hancher.

We All Perform, by Anita Jung and seventh-graders from across Iowa

In commissioning a work that reflected Hancher’s mission of engaging youth across the state, the committee enlisted the help of Anita Jung, a professor in the UI School of Art and Art History.

Jung partnered with middle school art teachers in seven districts across the state: Algona, Council Bluffs, Iowa City, Maquoketa, Muscatine, Spencer, and Storm Lake. Together, Jung and the teachers asked seventh-graders to create art that centered on notions of performance—not just in the arts, but in any way the students defined the term.

“Chuck and I really worked together to form an exact question about what performance means to them, about how we perform in the everyday, at school, at home,” Jung says. “These students are so smart and so bright. They just got it and took it way beyond anything we could have imagined.”

We All Perform, by Anita Jung and Iowa seventh-grade students. (Commissioned.) Video by Bocce Ball Films.

Jung and the teachers asked the students to take “selfies” and asked them to write about what performance means to them. The selfie-and-text pairings of a select group of students from each school were chosen to be part of the final We All Perform mural.

Without question, Jung says, the most difficult part of the process was selecting the pieces that would be represented in the mural, which she says has “hundreds of authors.”

“I hope people enjoy it and have a reflection of the future of the state,” she says. “The children are the future, and these kids are great.”

Swanson says We All Perform is the perfect way to highlight Hancher’s work statewide, as well as its work with young people.

“It really involves Iowa, and it involves youth and education and participation and performance. And it’s going to live here for their kids and their grandkids to see,” he says. “To me, that’s a wonderful thing.”

Anonymous Creature, by El Anatsui

In the lobby hangs a massive sculpture by Nigerian artist El Anatsui, who in 2015 was the recipient of the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Venice Biennale, one of the highest honors bestowed on living artists worldwide.

The sculpture, Anonymous Creature, is made of discarded bottle tops and copper wire. El Anatsui, a professor of art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, supports his art assistants by providing them with college scholarships.

Anonymous Creature, by El Anatsui. (Purchased.) Video by Bocce Ball Films.

Sean O’Harrow, executive director of the UI Museum of Art who also chairs the committee that made the public art selections, says El Anatsui's work is a significant addition to the UI’s art collection.

“(The) UI established the first graduate program in African art history, and we awarded the first PhD in that field,” O’Harrow says. “Consequently, we have built a very large collection of art from West African artists, and it is great to be able to acquire a piece by a world-famous artist from this century who is based in West Africa. It is one of the most important pieces that we have in our public art collection.”

O’Harrow says the piece also is significant because the UI will now be a stop for people who want to visit Anatsui’s work.

“It’s wonderful to be able to show students and visitors and academics work by this famous artist,” he says.

Swanson says that while the piece was not commissioned for Hancher, it appears as though it was and is a reflection of the building itself.

“I know this piece will have a wonderful life in the lobby of Hancher. It gives you a real sense of the quality of the experience you’ll be seeing on stage and the experience you’re going to have in the entire building,” Swanson says. “And the colors fit so well. It looks like this piece just belongs here.”

Editor’s note: The University of Iowa will celebrate the grand opening of the new Hancher Auditorium on Friday, Sept. 9. For details about the event, visit