Originally commissioned for MIT’s Division of Comparative Medicine, dedicated to the care of research animals, Gary Wiley’s sculpture Invaders is composed of four wall-mounted butterflies, each measuring several feet in diameter.
In choosing this creature as a motif, Wiley noted that he found butterflies “compelling and mysterious,” and ripe for exploration “as an abstract image as well as a figurative one.” Each butterfly was fabricated in wrought iron and soft steel and embellished with colored and mirrored Plexiglas, marbles, and fluorescent paint. Wiley chose to render the forms in wrought iron due to the material’s abundance in Boston’s historic decorative architecture and so that the “rawness and massiveness” of the wrought iron “helps offset the frilly quality of the [butterfly] images themselves.” Still, the additions of colorful marbles and paint lend whimsical qualities to each form. One butterfly, its wings folded into an acute angle, is decorated with abstract bright blue lines atop a darker background. Another rests nearly flat on the wall of the building, taking the form of a clover with a more even navy tone. A third appears more delicate, with thinner squiggles and spirals of metal delineating the insect’s wings within a heavier frame. The fourth is a bright turquoise butterfly perched on a steel, semi-circular rod that juts out from the side of the building.
Wiley saw himself as a part of a new generation of sculptors who would move public art beyond monumental, heroic, and commemorative themes to embrace humor, delight, and flux. Though currently installed on the exterior walls of the MIT Alumni Pool, Invaders was conceived as a reconfigurable installation, and its mobility and temporality embodies the migratory freedom of the butterfly. Since its completion in 1981, the work has been installed at multiple sites, including the MIT Animal Care Facility and the MIT Cyclotron Building. Wiley appreciated that the word “butterfly” is among few words that change completely in nearly every language. He also deliberately chose the work’s title, Invaders, in relation to its subject, to call attention to xenophobia and hostility among those who disparage human migrants but would never think of butterflies as alien. “We are all individuals, each with our own particular needs,” Wiley reminds us, “but we are also part of the human race, and must progress together.”
Gary Wiley (1951–82) was born in Wichita Falls, Texas and was a sculptor based in New York. He received his BA in painting from University of New Mexico and an MA in painting from Queens College, New York. In 1979, Wiley transitioned from painting to sculpture and in a few remarkably prolific years before his death in 1982, he exhibited at numerous galleries throughout New York. Wiley’s public art commision for the Institute was the last major work he completed before his death due to complications from AIDS.