New Ulrich outdoor sculpture encourages visitors to add to conversation

On Nov. 8 , the Ulrich Museum of Art  installed the newest sculpture in its world-class Martin H. Bush Outdoor Sculpture Collection.

The interactive sculpture, “Ernest and Ruth,” by artist Hank Willis Thomas, is the 82nd piece in the museum’s outdoor sculpture collection and it’s the first by an African American sculptor. The sculpture is in the shape of a giant speech bubble that also serves as a bench. Thomas chose this shape because he wanted each person who sits there to know they have something of value to add to the conversation happening around them.

The sculpture installed in front of the Ulrich is one of three benches in the series, all similarly named after Thomas’s grandparents, that will be on the Wichita State campus. The other two benches will be installed at a later date and will be located just off the main traffic area leading up to Woolsey Hall.

“These sculptures are the perfect fit for our WSU campus,” Leslie Brothers, director of the Ulrich Museum of Art, said. “They serve as a playful celebration of expressing individuality through free speech.”

Thomas’ sculptures are the first works by an African American artist in the Ulrich Museum’s outdoor sculpture collection. In addition to his sculpture, Thomas’s 2009 series of 20 paintings titled “I Am a Man” is a work that the museum recently lent to Willis’ large-scale traveling mid-career retrospective, and they were featured in its Ulrich + Artists + You Community Billboard Project last year.

Visitors are encouraged to come by, sit within the speech bubble, and have their photos taken with Thomas’s sculpture. If you post your photos on social media, be sure to tag the museum (@ulrichmuseum) and use the hashtag #ulrichmuseum.