The Alabama Biennial

A BRIEF HISTORY AND RESOURCE PAGEPeter Flanary, Walt Whitman Cult Wagon, 1995

An article in the January 19, 2012, CW on one of the Alabama Biennial sculptures encouraged me to post some information on and photos of the respected juried exhibition that “quickly gained a reputation as an important outdoor sculpture exhibition in the South.”

The very first year of the Biennial, 1991, when the marble statues making up Be Gardiner’s work, Icarus and the Guardian Angels, won one of two purchase prizes, Dean of Arts and Sciences James Yarbrough designated the purchased works throughout campus “The University of Alabama’s permanent outdoor collection.” Billy Lee, Homage to Brancusi, 1993, stands in Woods Quad.

In 1995 (its third exhibition), Yarbrough wrote in that year’s catalog that the endowment for the Biennial was established “in order to exhibit and acquire sculpture of heroic proportions for the University.”

In its first two years (1991 and 1993), the competition was coordinated by the “vision and considerable professional skill” of Art Oakes, now professor emeritus of sculpture. Because of Oakes’ efforts, the competitive Alabama Biennial “quickly gained a reputation as an important outdoor sculpture exhibition in the South.” In year three, Oakes was honored for his efforts and a purchase prize named for him.

Familiar to pedestrians around Garland Hall, Peter Flanary’s Walt Whitman Cult Wagon won the Art Oakes Purchase Award in 1995, and became part of the UA’s permanent outdoor collection.

Be Gardiner’s Angels and Flanary’s Wagon were both vandalized at different times. In 1991, the "Pent/La Buidhe Bealltain" by George Beasley, 80 x 82 x 15.5 inches; cast iron and cast bronze. Located at the northwest corner of the Bureau of Mines Building on the University of Alabama campus, this work won the 1991 Purchase Award at the Alabama Biennial.

Peter Flanary’s (top right) piece was vandalized three times in 2004.

According to this 2012 Crimson White article, Andrew Arvanetes’ Phoenix probably should not have been displayed outside.


Rachel Dobson
Communications Specialist | Visual Resources Curator
Department of Art and Art History
The University of Alabama