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Smoked My Head on Yes Waters, 2017
Vinyl on Glass
7.5’ x 60’

-text by April Austin, “Art of Wellesley,” Winter issue 2018

 “Smoked my Head on Yes Waters,” 2017, by David Teng Olsen

Vinyl, 7.5' x 60'; Fall 2017 to Spring 2018

Installation for the Davis Museum at Wellesley College



What do you do with an entrance courtyard that’s all concrete and dark windows? That was the challenge faced by curators at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College. They wanted to draw people in, to make them wonder what’s inside the building.


“We wanted something that activates the space, so that it becomes an entryway, rather than a barrier,” says Lisa Fischman, Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 director of the museum. She initiated a project to commission one artist each year to create a design for the courtyard windows. The first artist chosen was David Teng Olsen, associate professor of art at Wellesley College.


Teng Olsen studied bioengineering before switching to art as an undergraduate. He has painted large-scale public murals, created 3D animation and scientific illustrations, and he’s also worked in stained glass. To design the Davis windows, he took time to reflect on his more than decade-long career at the College as well as his relationship to the museum’s collection.


“The window-panel mural is based on the shapes, colors, and imagery that appealed to me [in the collection],” Teng Olsen says. “It also shows the influence of all the artists I’ve met, the artists I’ve collaborated with, over my 11 years here.”


He took an improvisational approach to the composition. “I think about how the world seems chaotic, it seems to improvise all the time. [But] if you think about the big picture, physics and science and nature manage to pull things together.”


The resulting design is an explosion of geometric shapes, bringing what Fischman calls “a sense of joy and exuberance” to the courtyard. Teng Olsen’s windows pull viewers in to look more closely. Then they discover that his strict geometry is animated by abstract and playful elements that have a hand-drawn quality.  


The window designs were created on computer and then reproduced on vinyl sheets in a new process that allows for the layering of colors in the printing stage, says Teng Olsen. This eliminates the time-consuming steps of cutting out each shape in vinyl separately before layering them.


The window installations—presented with generous support from Wellesley’s Friends of Art—will stay in place for a year. Director Fischman curated the first installation, and a different member of the curatorial staff will organize succeeding windows. Next up: Daniela Rivera, associate professor of art at the College; her mural will be curated by Meredith Fluke, Kemper Curator of Academic Programs.


- April Austin

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