The folks at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore clearly understand something about the potential physical and emotional benefits of good art. This past May, they unveiled a new building featuring over 500 works by 70 artists and architects. Most remarkable among these works is the shimmering, multicolored glass and steel “skin” by Spencer Finch that covers nearly the entire facade of the 1.5 million square foot building.
Finch encased aluminum panels in a shadowbox construction made from two layers of glass, through which individual colors shine. Based on studies of the reflection and absorption of natural colors in water, he utilized 26 pigments distilled from Claude Monet’s palette, calling to mind those famous Impressionist water lilies and landscapes. Finch spent months developing his colors, observing test panels on the roof of a nearby garage to understand how his palette would play with Baltimore’s light.
He also hand-drew a ‘frit’ pattern for the building’s glass windows and walls, which is visible from the outside but doesn’t interfere with the view from inside. This energetic texture adds to the interplay of light and glass, referencing Monet’s brushstrokes and the rippling of water. Finch notes, “From the beginning we were thinking about glass as an analogue for water, how glass and water behave in similar ways, and what we could do with the glass so that it’s always changing… it’s a big building and it can be intimidating, but water has a certain softness and welcoming aspect to it.”
Artwork created or curated for hospitals is often very realistic – think paintings, prints, and photographs of flowers and landscapes – and some studies suggest that many people are comforted by such images in times of stress. Yet Finch’s work makes a good case for the fact that abstract glass art can be equally inviting and soothing, perhaps in large part due to its meditative quality. On a primal level, people are drawn to pure color, pattern, and texture; hence these elements are central to my own work in healthcare environments as well.