Every Tuesday and Thursday, I have class in Peyton Hall. To get there, I usually take the curving path behind Lewis Library, walk past Fine Hall, glance at a strange, rusting sculpture, and then get to class. This was my routine until my friend walked me to class one day and pointed out the sculpture that I had merely walked past during my previous walks to class. “I always like to walk through the sculpture to Peyton,” she said. And so taking the small, fascinating detour through the coppery corridor became a minor alteration to my routine. Ever since then, I became curious about the sculpture, wondering what its meaning was – it couldn’t just be a corridor for students. And why was it located behind Lewis Library instead of a more prominent location like that of Henry Moore’s Oval with Two Points?
I later discovered that the sculpture is called The Hedgehog and the Fox, and was installed by the American sculptor Richard Serra in 2000. It is made of Cor-Ten (weathering) steel, which is a material that never needs to be painted because it automatically forms a rust-like appearance after exposure to outdoor conditions. Three steel sheets, each 15 feet high, curve to form spaces for the viewers to walk through or around. The rusty quality of the steel also suggests the color of a fox, tying back to the title, the most intriguing part of the sculpture.
The title was inspired by a quote from an essay by Isaiah Berlin, who quotes the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one great thing.” Through this, Berlin implies two different intellectual approaches, one which (like the hedgehog) sticks to one way of thinking and follows it in every discipline or issue, and the other which (like the fox) follows many ways of thinking and is therefore more adaptable and dynamic. According to Serra, it represents the “classical problem” that students face – whether to become “free thinkers and invent” or become “subjugated to the dictates of history.”
This interpretation aligns with the intended interaction with the sculpture. As Serra said, “The experience of the subject is the piece itself. Without the interaction, there is no piece.” To me, the multiple ways of traversing through the sculpture represent the beginning of different ways of thinking. The viewer embarks on an intellectual journey when they choose which winding path to follow. Its location behind Lewis Library, albeit hidden, hence presents itself to scholars emerging from the library, offering them the choice of different pathways.
After reading up on The Hedgehog and the Fox, I thought to myself, which pathway have I been walking through on my way to Peyton Hall? As a creature of habit, I think I have always chosen the same path. And since the main question Serra’s sculpture poses is: “Will you be a fox, or a hedgehog?”, maybe it’s time for me to choose another path, to embark on a different intellectual journey.