BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – A new bronze sculpture memorializing Alfred C. Kinsey’s significant and enduring contributions to Indiana University now sits on the Bloomington campus, marking the 75th anniversary of the institute that bears his name.
Kinsey revolutionized the scientific study of sexual behavior and provoked an international conversation about sexuality. He founded The Kinsey Institute, the world’s leading sexuality research institute, in 1947.
The life-size bronze is the work of Melanie Cooper Pennington, a lecturer in sculpture in the IU Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design.
The sculpture’s installation on the Bloomington campus demonstrates the university’s pride in the living legacy of research and academic freedom Kinsey helped to forge and the institute’s ongoing commitment to equity regarding sexual diversity established by Kinsey’s research.
“Around the nation and around the world, the Kinsey Institute is the trusted source for information on critical issues in human sexuality, relationships, gender and reproduction,” IU President Pamela Whitten said during a dedication ceremony Thursday evening. “And its reputation for excellent, relevant scholarship bolsters Indiana University’s reputation.”
“Dr. Kinsey left us with the extraordinary legacy of his endless scientific curiosity, his unwavering commitments to academic freedom and his passion for understanding humanity’s sexual diversity,” said Justin Garcia, executive director of the Kinsey Institute. “This spectacular sculpture honors Kinsey’s international scholarly and public impact, reminding us of the importance of the ongoing research, education and historical preservation occurring daily at today’s vibrant Kinsey Institute.”
The sculpture of Kinsey joins an IU Bloomington campus collection of bronze sculptures representing other pioneering IU faculty members and students, including:
Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Economics.
Hoagy Carmichael, composer and songwriter.
George Taliaferro, IU football legend and the first Black man drafted into the NFL.
Herman B Wells, former IU president and chancellor.
The sculpture, cast in bronze at Bollinger Atelier, was recently installed at a site just east of Lindley Hall, the institute’s current home, and not far from Swain Hall, the institute’s original site.
Pennington was commissioned to create the Kinsey sculpture in 2021 after a competitive, international call for proposals. Pennington’s large, abstract, mixed-media sculptures of the past decade have largely dealt with the subjects of sex, the power of sexual attraction, reproduction and motherhood. The artist’s body of work also includes figurative bronze sculpture. The commission gave several students in the Eskenazi School the rare opportunity to support the fabrication of the sculpture at multiple stages.
Pennington researched her subject through the Kinsey Institute’s collection of materials. She brought Kinsey’s famous interview process into her interactive concept for the piece. The sculpture includes a resin chair opposite Kinsey that the viewer may occupy, taking the same position as the 18,000+ research participants who responded to Kinsey’s 347-question interview survey.
Once seated, the viewer will be met by the researcher’s stare. Kinsey devised a code sheet, represented in Pennington’s sculpture, to record responses to the survey, which allowed him to maintain eye contact with his subject. The chair and code sheet are internally illuminated, providing additional visual appeal at night.
The sculpture will be surrounded by an iris garden, designed by IU landscape architect Mia Williams. An avid gardener, Kinsey was said to have cultivated 200 iris varieties at his First Street home.
“I embrace the human body and sexuality in all my forms, and I create sculpture with the goal of articulating the ambiguous and vulnerable feelings that accompany the human experience,” Pennington said. “Kinsey asked people to be vulnerable and honest about the role that sexuality plays in their life. His research opened the possibility for people to be free in their choices and to understand for themselves how normal it is to be outside of what society says is normal. It has been an honor to support his legacy and the ongoing research of the Kinsey Institute with this sculpture.”
Learn more about the artist and the collaborative process of creating the sculpture in this video produced by the IU Office of the Provost.
About Alfred C. Kinsey
A biologist and zoologist by training, Kinsey joined the IU faculty in 1920, becoming a recognized authority on the taxonomy of gall wasps.
In 1938, at the request of IU students, he offered a noncredit “Course on Marriage,” with lectures from a variety of IU faculty. As he spoke with students, he realized the lack of reliable scientific information available concerning human sexuality and behavior, and he was inspired to fill what he called “the gap in our knowledge.”
Turning to sex research midcareer, he began his sex history project and pioneered interview techniques to gather comprehensive sex histories.
With support from the National Research Council, the original research team gathered more than 18,000 sex histories. Kinsey was responsible for collecting more than 8,000 of these himself.
The Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University was incorporated in 1947, giving legal protection to data, artifact and library collections. The institute was renamed for its founder in 1981. In 2016, the separate corporation was dissolved, the institute merged fully with Indiana University, and the name was shortened to the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.
Kinsey and his co-workers published “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” in 1948 and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” in 1953, commonly known as the Kinsey Reports. Both books were national bestsellers and scientific landmarks.