Lexeme VIII is the Newest Addition to Purdue North Central Campus’ Permanent Collection

August 28, 2014

Lexeme VIII

LEXEME VIII, Welded bronze and aluminum, 11 x 8 x 6 feet, Permanent Collection
Purdue University, North Central campus, Westville, IN


Bill Barrett / Lexeme VIII Sculpture / Purdue North Central campus:

On September 11th, 2001, the towers fell. 2,977 innocent people were murdered that day. As a nation, we promised we would never forget.   Thirteen years on, there is not a soul who doesn’t know where they were when they heard of the attack and of the tragedy that followed.

Sculptor Bill Barrett’s New York studio was and remains just 10 blocks from the site we now know as Ground Zero. Stuck in Santa Fe at the time, he watched the event unfold live on TV. “Returning to New York was devastating because it was just a shambles,” Barrett said. “It was just rubble. It was unbelievable. I lived in New York so many years, it felt like a part of myself had been destroyed; all New Yorkers felt the same way.”

Though born in California, Barrett grew up in Indiana when his father, also an artist, began teaching at Notre Dame. Barrett attended high school in South Bend and in 1959 held his first one-man show of sculpture at the South Bend Center for the Arts. Over the next five decades, Barrett distinguished himself as an abstract expressionist sculptor and painter, crediting such greats as Henry Moore, Rodin, David Smith and Picasso as influences. Today, his work can be found across the country and around the world.

In the aftermath of the attack, Barrett spent years producing 15 sculptures in a series he titled Lexeme. “The title is a word defined as: ‘a meaningful unit in a language.’ I’m referring here to the language of sculpture; I’m using art to record history,” he explains. “After 9/11, I began making models in wax and eventually I came to understand that the expression of my emotion in response to the event was to record history by artistic expression.” Lexeme VIII, which he is donating to Purdue North Central, is “the best one; the one I wanted to see in stone.”

Barrett began by crafting many more organic shapes than he used, giving weight and mass to his emotions and finding catharsis in the act of self-expression. Then, like a writer penning a history, from all these many lives he selected the few that would best tell the story of them all; of the men and women in the buildings and of the first responders in the streets, of every citizen of the United States of America and, of course, of his own fear, anger, and hope.

Lexeme VIII stands over 11 feet high. It is 8 feet wide, 6 feet deep and weighs 6 tons. Though Barrett is known for the skill he’s developed with welded bronze and aluminum, he worked with the Giorgio Angeli Studio in Querceta, Italy to fabricate this piece in marble instead. Barrett rode through a tunnel deep inside a mausoleum-like mountain to hand pick the stone from the same source Michelangelo and the other Renaissance sculptors used.

To the artist, the imagery of the sculpture is that of a book. “The geometric shapes are the pages as well as iconic images representing the World Trade Center, while the organic shapes are in motion,” Barrett said. What sort of motion, he leaves to the viewer to decide.

Perhaps you see the smoke pouring out of the towers’ wounds. Perhaps you see the bodies falling as men and women jump to escape the flames. But at the top, some see an eagle still soaring, injured but undeterred in its flight toward a world in which all people may live in freedom to pursue happiness. Perhaps you see all of these things. Perhaps you see none of them, the shapes summoning up your own unnamable memories, your own and fears and angers and hopes. Maybe you see the beauty of the art over everything else, and maybe as your eyes fill this monument with your emotions Lexeme VIII will do for you what it did for its maker and for all those who witness it, holding your feelings and theirs in trust forever after.

And it’s okay to see what you need to see, says the artist. “Abstract art is like music in that when you listen to a song, everyone has different ideas about it, feels different emotions because of it. Even the same person listening to a piece at different times will feel differently. That’s true of abstract art. As a viewer, you can interpret it for yourself as well as seeing what the artist made. That’s what I like about abstract art: you get a chance to participate.”

It’s a terrifically open and accepting view, which stands in distinct contrast to the closed-mindedness that led men to mass murder and terror on that day in September.

“This is a beautiful reminder of an event we must never allow ourselves to forget,” said Chancellor Dworkin. “We gratefully accept this gift, and the responsibility of stewardship that comes with a sculpture such as this.”

Lexeme VIII spent a few years on display in Zell, Germany, where it was so loved that they asked if they could keep the piece. “I had to tell them no,” Barrett said. “I told them I had to take it back to my home country, that it needed to be in the United States.”

And now at last, with the financial assistance of the Lawyer family, the support of Purdue North Central and the work of Bill and Debora Barrett, Lexeme VIII has come to stay in the place it was meant to be, to keep alive the memory of all those who died in the hearts of all those who lived.
Article by Stefan Barkow, written for Purdue North Central, for the sculpture dedication on September 11, 2014



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Boca Raton Museum of Art Acquires Bill Barrett Painting

March 27, 2014

WONDER WOMAN, Oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches, Permanent Collection, Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL

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Sculpture Added to the Permanent Collection of the 911 Museum and Memorial

LEXEME VII, Cast bronze model, Permanent Collection of the 911 Museum and Memorial, New York, NY

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Barrett Sculpture Acquired by Prominent Las Vegas Collector

DNA 9, 2014, Cast bronze model, Private Collection, Las Vegas, NV (Shown with Collector’s Miro)



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Sculpture Added to UNLV’s Permanent Collection

CAVALIER, Fabricated Bronze, Permanent Collection of the Barrick Museum, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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Bill Barrett Featured in Abstract Art – New Mexico Artist Series

November 22, 2013

Click the image below to view Bill Barrett’s works in
Abstract Art – New Mexico Artist Series

ISBN # 978-0974102313

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Art and Antiques Sculpture Portfolio, January 2013

November 29, 2012

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Exhibition at LewAllen Gallery, September 2012

November 15, 2012

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TRIBECA CITIZEN The Man Behind the Sculpture April 22, 2011

November 09, 2012

TRIBECA CITIZEN The Man Behind the Sculpture April 22, 2011


Bill Barrett, who has lived in Tribeca since 1977, didn’t set out to make art about 9/11.
“I was devastated by it, but I wanted to keep working and creating,” he said recently
in his Worth Street studio. Only after he began incorporating a pair of pillars into his
work did the symbolism occur to him. “I don’t like to deal with death,” he said, laughing.
Over roughly eight years, Barrett has created more than 50 works in his Lexeme series
(lexeme means “a lexical unit in a language, as a word or base”). “You don’t conceive
it ahead of time,” he said, explaining his process. “You just let it evolve. You have to
make a number of pieces in order to understand it.” Initially, the pillars were conjoined,
like an opened book standing upright, with organic shapes around them; then the pillars
separated and moved apart. The latest works are paintings, which have what he describes as
“DNA-style ribbons” (you can see them in the painting behind him). Of course, he’d
rather you come to those conclusions—or your own conclusions—yourself: “That’s the
story of abstract art in the 20th century. It demands viewer to interpret it.”

At first, Barrett refused to say that the Lexeme series related to 9/11, thinking it was too
depressing. But at a group show in Zell, Germany, he came clean. “People kept asking,
‘What’s the real subject matter?’” Eventually, he gave into their persistence. “I said,
‘The real reason is 9/11—my studio is 10 blocks away.’ They loved it, so I figured it was
OK to talk about it.”

On May 4, Barrett’s 11-foot-tall bronze sculpture “911″ will take up residence in Finn Square,
the triangle between W. Broadway, Varick, and Franklin. (Barrett has had three sculptures there in the past 15 years.)
Conceived in 2002 or 2003 and designed in 2005, “911″ will be in Finn Square for six months,
though Barrett hopes its stay will be extended another six months.
He agreed to share sketches and photos of other pieces from the series, which you can
see below. For the sculptures, he starts by working in wax, and when one is ready it
gets handed over to the foundry in Santa Fe (where he and his wife, Deborah, live part of the year).
The models are knee-high, then they’re enlarged into sculptures. As Barrett shows in the photo at top,
they’re hollow—but don’t try moving “911″ when it’s in Finn Square: It weighs around 1,200 pounds.

Bill Barrett with ‘911’ in Tribeca

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Articel on 911 sculpture in DNAinfo by Julie Shapiro May 4, 2011

Articel on 911 sculpture  in DNAinfo  by Julie Shapiro  May 4, 2011

TRIBECA — A soaring bronze sculpture that recalls the Twin Towers rose in TriBeCa on Wednesday, in preparation for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this fall.
Called “911,” the 11-foot sculpture by local artist Bill Barrett consists of two tall slabs with wavy, intertwined forms curling around them.
It will remain at the southern tip of Finn Square, at Varick and Leonard streets, through the end of October.
When Barrett started crafting this sculpture and many others like it in the aftermath of 9/11, at first he didn’t realize that he was creating a replica of the World Trade Center.
“I didn’t predetermine that I was going to make anything related to 9/11,” said Barrett, who has lived in TriBeCa since 1977. “It just started evolving.”

But once Barrett saw what he was doing, he felt that the series of sculptures, which he calls the Lexeme Series, was a fitting tribute – the rectangular blocks clearly express the towers, while the more organic forms represent human spirits.
Barrett has displayed his work in Finn Square before, but not since 9/11. The impetus to put up the artwork now came from Ted Karounos, who owns the Square Diner across the street and thought his good friend’s sculpture would improve the area.

“It’s a little bit of self-interest,” Karounos said with a laugh as he waited for the sculpture to arrive Wednesday. “But I also like his work. It’s also very beautiful.”
The rainy weather did not dampen Barrett’s enthusiasm during the installation of the sculpture Wednesday morning. He supervised the careful adjustments as a crane lowered the 1,500-pound work into place, and then he stepped back, considering the angles.
“That’s it,” Barrett said at last, a smile breaking across his face. “I like that.”
Barrett, who lives and works around the corner from Finn Square, plans to visit the sculpture every day, to make sure it stays clean and in good condition.
He is considering placing a single flower at the sculpture’s base, to signify that he sees it as a memorial.

Barrett hopes the sculpture could become a community gathering place in the months leading up to this fall’s anniversary,
but he also wants to give the public a chance to determine their own view of it.
“That’s the beauty of abstract work — you can create your own relationship with it,” Barrett said.
Even in the pouring rain, several passersby stopped beside the newly installed sculpture Wednesday morning to study it.
Koran Irvine, 30, a Con Edison worker, said he didn’t see the resemblance to the Twin Towers from behind, but once he was in front of it, the meaning became clear.
“It’s a great day to put it in, with bin Laden done,” Irvine said. “It’s a great piece of art, and especially seeing what it is —” Irvine swallowed hard. “It’s beautiful.”

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