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Davis, California

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Best Egghead: Bookhead

The beloved sculpture in front of Shields Library serves as both a prominent landmark and outlet for student protest


By EMME DUNNING — features@theaggie.org


It is almost impossible to talk about UC Davis without talking about some of the most iconic art installations it houses: the Eggheads. Seven ‘egghead’ sculptures dot the college campus and span five different locations, each installation with its own distinct title. In this year’s Best of Davis survey, the student-favorite Bookhead secured 42.6% of the votes. 

Since its installation in front of Shields Library, Bookhead has become a fixture in the UC Davis community. In addition to being a popular site for photos, some believe that simply rubbing or kissing its head can bring students good luck before their finals. As this school year marks the 30th anniversary of the completion of the Egghead project — in what the administration has deemed “Year of the Eggheads” — students and faculty celebrate the unique sculptures through merch, tours and even a website (eggheads.ucdavis.edu). 

Commissioned by UC Davis to create a series of public sculptures, local artist Robert Arneson designed, constructed and placed each Egghead strategically. Although the pieces have largely been embraced by the UC Davis administration, their original intention was actually a critique of the university itself. 

Colloquially, “egghead” refers to a highly educated person who is seen as out of touch with reality and often lacking in critical self-awareness. Bookhead embodies this sentiment particularly well as his face is completely buried in a book, representing both faculty and students who find themselves completely consumed by their studies and, like Bookhead, unable to see the world around them. 

Ben Batom, a recent UC Davis alum with a degree in studio art and museum studies, dedicated much of his time at the university to studying these sculptures. As part of an on-campus internship with the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, Batom conducted a research project surrounding the art installations and what makes them particularly unique. 

“They don’t shy away from critiquing the place in which they’re installed,” Batom said. “The eggheads are site-specific installations, so they very much interact with the spaces in which they’re involved, and Bookhead is a great example of that.”

This interaction goes far beyond graduation photos and a site for Chancellor Gary May’s “Thursday Thoughts.” The Eggheads have long been seen as a vessel for students to voice their opinions about campus, community and world events. 

In 2016, following a 2011 incident involving the pepper spraying of student protesters by campus police and a subsequent cover-up by the administration, graffiti appeared on the Eggheads reading “Fire Katehi.” This was in reference to UC Davis’ then-Chancellor Linda Katehi’s response to the incident by Linda Katehi. More recently, in Oct. 2023, Bookhead was graffitied with the message “Free Palestine,” echoing student outcry and protest for a ceasefire in the region.

“They’ve been graffitied on a lot of times,” Batom said. “They’re kind of a site of protest, a site of social justice. It’s just another way students have created a campus story around the eggheads. Protest is a huge part of the Eggheads. I think Robert Arneson intended that by making them and putting them on a college campus.”

This sentiment is substantiated by Arneson himself, who, upon completion of Bookhead, wrote a letter to his art dealers, George Adams and Allan Frumkin, with photos of the piece attached. It reads: “Enclosed you will find some photos of ‘Bookhead’ shot on the day we completed painting its surface. Now it’s ready for students to enrich it I’d say.” And enrich it, they do. 


Written by: Emme Dunning — features@theaggie.org



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