Whitfield Lovell's "Strive"

I usually follow a similar path when I wander through the HBS campus. Now that there finally seems to be some semblance of a routine to our days, it is likely that you will be more aware of some of the works of art that you frequently pass by.

On a recent trip to the SHAD, I was struck by a work that seemed to have a bunch of different things to say. It is a large composition hanging from the staircase landing leading from the main to the second floor titled “Strive” by Whitfield Lovell. The piece was donated by HBS alumni Gerald W. Schwartz (MBA 1970).

You can’t miss the piece – it is huge! The work is set on rusty, red-painted wood planks that kind of remind me of what an old barn door would look like if hung on a wall. There is a charcoal sketch of a woman who is sitting in deep contemplation. Around her image hang pairs of boxing gloves, actual boxing gloves, which appear to have been used and worn in the past.

What I like most about the piece is the relationship a viewer develops with the subject because of its strategic hanging. As you move up the stairs toward the second floor, your perspective forces you to look up to her and think about what is going on in the piece and what this woman is thinking or remembering? Even when you reach the landing, you are not at eye level with her maternal face but rather the gloves.

Sharon Black, the director of planning for HBS, indicated that the hanging of the piece was not to make a connection between the gloves and physical activity that obviously takes place in gym, but something a bit more thoughtful. The gloves symbolize strength, something everyone needs in order to conquer challenges. That this piece is located in SHAD possibly alludes to the feeling of emotional and physical power that comes from having an amazing workout.

The gloves play another important role in our experience with the piece. They are positioned on the boards to bring us close to the subject. The work is not set on a traditional two-dimensional surface, but rather has these items that hang off, almost teasing us to step closer and touch them while the evocative, red color simultaneously pushes us back. I think pieces that create this kind of tension are successful from both a technical and expressive point of view.

If you like this piece, you should also check out the art by Robert Rauschenberg who worked in the mid-20th Century and experimented with untraditional art materials. His works can be found in the museums across the United States, especially in New York.

After spending a few moments contemplating this piece, I bound up the remaining flight of stairs with a renewed sense of energy… this work is both thoughtful and inspiring and puts me in an invigorated state of mind.