On the campus of the University of New Mexico stands a large concrete structure. Tunnels extend outward in each cardinal direction, and one opens up to the sky, another extends below the surface into the ground. Underneath this skylight, an aged plaque reads “The Center of the Universe.”
This strange concrete tower was designed by an artist named Bruce Nauman, who received $100,000 in funding to design and build a sculpture between Mitchell and Ortega Halls. When it was completed in 1988, it was widely derided as an eyesore that clashed with the surrounding landscape. Some described it as a good location for criminals to hide. Many attempted to improve its appearance by painting graffiti on the plain concrete walls. Nauman himself didn’t seem to mind much, saying he built the piece to challenge people and that “it’s much better to get a strong reaction than no reaction.”
Eventually the outrage died down, and the constant graffiti eventually became only small markings on the interior of the structure. Future landscaping developments did a better job of integrating the monument with the surrounding area. Most students today walk right through it without thinking about the outrage it once caused.
Given the structure’s abstract nature, it is difficult to determine the artistic reason for its title as “Center of the Universe.” However, the moniker is scientifically correct. According to the cosmological principle of physics, the universe is expanding in all directions at once—implying that any given reference point is technically the center of the universe. If you do choose to observe the universe from Bruce Nauman’s concrete tunnel art, the nearby Tribute to Mother Earth fountain is also worth visiting.
Know Before You Go
Did you miss the "tunnel" that extends into the ground? It is the same depth downward as the one that opens to the sky.