October 2, 2019

Installation Exploring Mixed Wilson Legacy Has Been Completed

By Donald Gilpin

Double Sights, a large installation presenting both positive and negative views of Woodrow Wilson, has been completed on Scudder Plaza next to the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs on Washington Road.

Almost four years after the 33-hour occupation of Nassau Hall by Black Justice League students and their supporters in protest against the University’s representations of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy on campus, Princeton University is marking its ongoing progress in confronting a past that includes deplorable as well as admirable chapters.

A public discussion, titled “Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy: Wrestling with History,” with the installation’s designer, artist and 2019 MacArthur Fellowship winner Walter Hood, and University Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter, will take place this Saturday, October 5 at 3:15 p.m. in McCosh Hall 50, followed by a formal dedication of the work.

In 2015, in response to widespread concerns over racist actions by Wilson, who was the University’s 13th president, New Jersey’s 34th governor, and the 28th president of the United States, the University established a trustee committee to make recommendations about how Wilson’s legacy on campus should be commemorated.

The installation of a “permanent marker” at the Woodrow Wilson School that “educates the campus community and others about the positive and negative dimensions of Wilson’s legacy” was one of the recommendations of the Wilson Legacy Review Committee.

Double Sights, 39 feet high with two columns leaning against each other and etched with quotations representing both good and bad aspects of the Wilson legacy, is designed to achieve that goal.

Quotes on the outside of both columns present Wilson’s views on a variety of subjects, and at the sculpture’s center is a glass surface with images of Wilson’s contemporaries who were critical of his views, particularly about race and gender. The other side includes quotes by these critics about some of Wilson’s negative actions.

“Powerful words force us not to choose sides but to try to understand,” said Hood in an April 4 talk on campus. “We are
trying to create a design in which you might visit the installation 20 times and find something different every time you visit.”

In considering the content and imagery of the work, Hood, creative director of Hood Design Studio and professor of landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, convened focus groups of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as members of the Campus Iconography Committee, over the past two years.

In Saturday’s talk, from 3:15 to 4:30 p.m., Hood will discuss his creation of Double Sights, while Minter will comment on Princeton’s ongoing work to diversify the campus. “They will then engage in conversation about how all communities can honestly address painful parts of their collective past without erasing history — and how Princeton hopes to be a leader in such efforts,” according to a University press release.

University trustee and alumnus Brent Henry, chair of the Wilson Legacy Review Committee, whose recommendations led to the creation of Double Sights, will introduce the talk.

The public dedication of the work, with remarks by Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, will take place at 4:45 p.m. on Scudder Plaza. The afternoon will conclude with a reception in the Bernstein Gallery of the Woodrow Wilson School’s Robertson Hall, where an exhibition examining Wilson’s controversial legacy, “In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited,” is on display.

The events surrounding the completion of Double Sights coincide with the conference “Thrive: Empowering and Celebrating Princeton’s Black Alumni,” which will welcome alumni and their guests to campus October 3-5.