In 1978, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas commissioned Swedish artist Claes Oldenburg and his Dutch-born partner Coosje van Bruggen to create a work of art that could stand as a symbol of university's educational mission. The result was "Flashlight,'' a 38-foot-tall, 10-foot wide masterwork made of steel and painted with non-reflective black polyurethane enamel. Completed in 1981, it stands in the plaza between Judy Bayley Theatre and Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall.
From a distance, the four-story sculpture resembles a huge, mid-20th century ribbed, rubberized Rayovac flashlight with its beam facing down into the ground. Closer examination reveals that it is made up of twenty-four "fins'' of steel sheet attached to a solid central cylinder to create a distinctive, almost cactus-like profile. Its on/off switch has been said to resemble the silhouette of nearby Sunrise Mountains.
To illuminate the sculpture at night and create an intimate atmosphere, a modest ring of hidden lights surround the Flashlight's face. Some say that this symbolizes the hidden light of education in a city that is defined by its excess of artificial neon light.
Flashlight can be seen 24/7 on the UNLV campus at 4505 South Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154. It was funded through private donations and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
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