The Noland Wall was created by Kenneth Noland on the side of the MIT Media Lab in 1985. It was part of the 1% for Art initiative, and consisted of a black square, a red square, and a yellow square on the side of the white tile building.

The Mint Green Square; or, What is Art?

Many people's response to art consisting of colored squares is to say something along the lines of "Why is that art? Even I could make a bunch of colored squares." MIT students are no different. When the building was first erected, some hackers in East Campus decided that the clear solution to this problem was to prove it. At the time, MIT provided paint for students to use in their rooms in a selection of institute colors, including one called Blithe Spirit-- better known as mint green. So the hackers went out that night and added a mint green square to the side of the building.

No one particularly noticed that now, instead of a black square, a red square, and a yellow square, there was now a black square, a red square, a yellow square, and a mint green square, and for several weeks the hack stayed where it was. On the day the building was supposed to be dedicated, however, the artist showed up, and promptly threw a catfit. His symbolism, he said, was ruined! There was an extra square.

The MIT administrators were confused, but went along with it anyway. "The black square?" they asked. "No, no, not the black square! The black square stands for darkness and despair, and the ignorance of the past!" "The red square?" "No, not the red square! The red square stands for progress and change, and the blood of revolution!" "The yellow square, then?" "Not the yellow square! The yellow square stands for faith, and knowledge, and hope for the future!" "The mint green square!" "Yes, the mint green square! It's ruining my symbolism! It's not art!" So the administrators, understanding now that a mint green square was Not Art, found some white paint and got rid of the mint green square.

The next day, however, it was back. This time the administration was quick on the uptake, and sent a Physical Plant worker over to repaint it, since mint green wasn't Art. That night it reappeared, and was taken down again, and the game went on for a week before the administration finally posted a Campus Police officer to stand in front of the Noland Wall all night and keep away anyone with non-artistic green paint.

What Color Was That, Anyway?

The story of the Mint Green Square was told after Orange Tours to the freshmen for years, and the hackers noticed a pattern. None of the storytellers could keep the ordering of the squares correct-- one year, it would be "a black square, a red square, and a yellow square", and the next year "a yellow square, a red square, and a black square". This gave them an idea, and one morning the sun rose on a red square, a yellow square, and a black square.

The hackers were expecting their work to be noticed and removed fairly quickly, but apparently no one at MIT understood the true meaning of the squares well enough to realize that it was no longer Art. For a month, nothing happened, until one sunny day when the black square, made of painted wood and glued on, heated up, expanded, and fell off. Now, instead of a red square, a yellow square, and a black square, there was a red square, a yellow square, and a yellow square. Now, this the administration was pretty sure wasn't art, and since they knew that the art had a red square, a black square, and a yellow square, they sent someone to repaint the extra yellow square black, and posted a guard again to ensure that the hackers weren't up to their old tricks.

Of course, the hack had been up for a month, unnoticed, and the guard didn't see anything unusual. Eventually, the hackers decided that enough was enough, and sent mail to the Tech and the administration explaining the original hack. The squares on the wall are now back to their original colors (a black square, a red square, and a yellow square), but the question of just what Art entails has yet to be answered.

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