AS DIREC TOR OF THE STUAR T COLLEC TION,
Mary Beebe has had to find boulders to build a teddy
bear, crash-land a house atop a building, and handle
the controversy of emblazoning the seven deadly sins
in neon around a building.
But Beebe wouldn’t want it any other way. In fact,
it was the prospect of diverse challenges like these
that made her willing to upend her life in 1981 and
move from Portland, Ore. to take on the job of
spearheading and developing a unique public art
collection for the UC San Diego campus.
The Collection’s founder, James Stuart DeSilva,
felt art had changed his life and opened his eyes to
the creative world outside of his career in business.
“I developed a passion to become involved with the
artistic genius of our time,” he wrote in a 2001 essay.
After a location search yielded UC San Diego and the
exciting bonus of an educational function, in 1980 UC
Regents approved the concept for the sculpture
collection, and the Stuart Foundation donated an
initial $1.4 million to bring public art to campus in
the hopes that it could change the lives of others as
well. The result is a breathtakingly diverse and still
growing collection of works scattered over 1200 acres
of campus. Installations range from Barbara Kruger’s
Another sited on the walls and floor of the Price
Center, to Alexis Smith’s 560-foot Snake Path
slithering up to Geisel Library.
“The whole campus is a kind of garden,” says
Mathieu Gregoire, project manager for the Collection.
“To find these things in that garden is a part of
To create that magic naturally, Beebe doesn’t just
buy existing art and place it on campus as if one were
decorating a living room, but rather seeks out artists
willing to create site-specific works. Artist Kiki Smith
contributed the statue Standing in 1998, and Beebe
references a quote from the artist as key to defining
“[Smith] said, ‘It’s really important to have
something inexplicable every day in your life.’ So
that’s what the art is—it’s the possibility of the
inexplicable, which I think is especially good in an
educational environment,” says Beebe. Indeed, part
of the Collection’s purpose is to make people ask
questions like, What is art? or What makes that art?
“We are trying to provide memorable experiences
that are there for people to think about,” says Beebe.
“People will say to me about Robert Irwin’s Two
Running Violet V Forms, ‘Oh, it’s the most poetic,
romantic, beautiful thing.’ But then someone else will
say about another work, ‘How can you put a bear out
there?’ I say, Well, why not? It’s an astounding bear.
It is permission to wonder, in a way.”