Since 1961, Robert Laurent's Birth of Venus fountain has been the centerpiece of Showalter Plaza, the artistic core of Indiana University's Bloomington campus. It's a celebratory, modernist take on a classical subject that brings to mind Paul Manship's Prometheus at New York's Rockefeller Center skating rink.
Two exhibitions tell the story of how this beloved landmark came to take its central place in the university's Fine Arts Plaza. On view at the IU Art Museum, a preparatory drawing for the Birth of Venus fountain is featured in the exhibition "The Great American Sketchbook: Drawings from the August L. and L. Tommie Freundlich Collection." Meanwhile, a show at the IU Archives curated by Bethany Fiechter showcases complementary sketches along with architectural plans for the fountain, photographs and correspondence relating to the project. The show at the archives provides insight into the original concept for the plaza and the fountain, as well as the sculptor's creative process.
"Herman Wells considered Showalter Plaza the crossroads of culture," explains Nan Brewer, the museum's Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper.
Carrie Schwier, Assistant Archivist adds that in his dedication speech, the legendary president mused that the fountain's "central figure, the goddess of love, truth and beauty…profoundly reaffirmed the University's belief in the importance of the arts and the life of the spirit."
In the nearly 50 years since its dedication, the Showalter fountain has become an iconic symbol of the university. It has served as a site of celebration and protest; occasionally, it has been the target of vandalism. The exhibition at the archives also tells the story of the fish that got away.