Client: Acuity Insurance
Location: Sheboygan, WI, United States
Completion date: 2017
Artwork budget: $50,000
Kent Williams Designs
CR Davidson Art
Upon completion of a major addition to its corporate headquarters in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Acuity Insurance wanted to convert a large water wall that had served as the backdrop for its previous entrance foyer into an eye-catching work of art. Acuity executives contacted Milwaukee art consultant Catherine Davidson, who recommended hiring Kent Williams Designs, an art-design studio based in Madison. Williams created a 60-panel art installation, each panel an individual work of digital art printed on white aluminum. The piece is called “Psyche Out.”
Acuity is one of those companies that loves to inspire and delight its employees through the use of art and spectacle. This is the organization, after all, that hung the world’s largest free-flying flag from the world’s largest flagpole, the one that placed a 65-foot Ferris wheel inside its headquarters building. Interestingly, the building itself, despite dramatically open spaces and high ceilings, is rather sedate, its plan very rational, even classical. A major challenge, therefore, was to resolve those two impulses, the Dionysian and the Apollonian.
The area in question is quite Apollonian, a rather meditative space arranged in Beaux Arts symmetry, including twin staircases that descend across a stone wall that’s 42 feet long, 21 feet high. Though no longer the entrance foyer, this is a well-trafficked corridor with long sight lines from three building levels. And the art put there needed to compete with some rather stunning examples of commissioned art—most prominently, a set of super-sized spiky glass chandeliers.
Acuity’s CEO left little doubt about what he hoped to achieve: He wanted to blow his employees’ minds. But this had to be done in the context of a building that is as calm and lucid as the insurance business itself.
The CEO wanted to bombard the viewer with a barrage of individual works, any one of which might induce an altered state. The artist, drawing on years of working with complex patterning, came up with a draft version that consisted of 60 pieces arranged in a 5 x 12 grid. The effect would be similar to the old Victorian tradition of stacking paintings all the way to the ceiling. The CEO selected which of the 60 panels he liked best, and the artist went back to the drawing board—in this case, a computer monitor where, using Photoshop and Illustrator, he created vector- and raster-based images that evoked the hallucinatory imagery of the 1960s counterculture.
Arriving at the designs for the 60 panels was a true back-and-forth process, but the artist was becoming concerned that having 60 individualized designs would result in visual chaos. He therefore devised a theme-and-variations plan that consisted of eight distinct designs, each modified to create a group of related but separate works. The groups were then arranged in a checked pattern, which gave the installation an overall structure as well as various directions for the viewers’ eyes to travel across the wall.
Commissions can be a tricky business for artists. The ideal is when a client winds up taking the artist somewhere the artist didn't expect to go. This project was a collaboration in the best sense of the word—working together to create something that otherwise would never have existed.