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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Out of Site: Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood

Amelia Toelke Home Sweet Home, wood, auto paint, steel support
There's simply no excuse for me to have put off visiting Chesterwood so long - in fact, for my whole life until, at last, this summer. What a place to have overlooked!

Daniel Chester French's home and studio in the Berkshires is sublime. French was the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, and being the top dog in his field at the time, was able to create an enviable place to live and work in rural Stockbridge, Mass. The spoils of that success are now on gracious display, beautifully preserved and maintained, and the site has bridged the centuries to remain a vital resource for contemporary sculptors today.

Brian Kane & Michael Oatman
The 8th Wonder, inflatable
The annual summer show of site-specific work known as Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood is now in its 39th year, and is a fun compendium of current ideas and approaches to outdoor sculpture. This year's show was curated by Sharon Bates (recently retired from running the Albany International Airport Art & Culture Program), who has a bit of history with Chesterwood, including having been an artist in residence there in 2016. Bates has always been a witty curator, and that is abundantly in evidence here.

The show includes 14 works of art by 14 artists (with two pieces by one artist, and one piece by two) and is sited along a manicured woodland path. This path and other elements of the grounds (such as a flower garden) were among French's ongoing efforts in this "work-in-progress" of a summer studio, and it adds to the delight of the experience to think about such a classical, workmanlike artist as French in contrast to the way we make and interact with sited sculpture today.

One is immediately struck by the lighthearted tone of the show upon arrival at the entrance to Chesterwood, where a monumentally scaled, gold-tone nameplate necklace announces Homesweethome from a grassy berm. This neo-Pop statement by Amelia Toelke is among the minority of pieces in this collection that was not made specifically for the occasion, but it is so apt and so perfectly sited that I'm glad she didn't hesitate to use it again.

Douglas Culhane A Ghost House
wood, paint, hardware
The rest of the works in the selection echo Toelke's postmodern attitude. Many use non-traditional materials, engage the viewer with irony, or eschew three-dimensional form altogether to engage with the setting in ways that probably would have confounded the 19th-century sensibilities of French. But that, of course, is a good thing.

What French would surely approve, though, is the fact that this experience requires a lovely stroll through the woods (for which you may want to bring bug repellent). In a few cases, the works really aim to capitalize on this aspect of the installation. For example, Colin C. Boyd's prehistorical obsession finds form here in a display of ancient deer-like critters that almost look at home in these woods; and Debra Zlotsky's Just a Minute! directs visitors to study a tiny patch of the local flora, and then mark it with a string-tied red label (leaving me sorry for the staff who will have to untie the hundreds of tags already employed).

Derek Parker Between the forest and the trees
wood chairs, trees 
Derek Parker's piece was one favorite, not least because it interacts with the woods and the path and the viewers who travel it. His seven or eight wooden chairs impaled by standing trees at various heights are dotted through one area that connects two parts of the path, making for multiple discoveries, and delighting over and over like the rise and fall of a roller coaster. Roger Bisbing also engages the space and the walker with a tall, wide grid of welded steel that blocks off part of a field and woods, but also has openings you can pass through; it is almost intrusively bright in its colors, but so easy to see through as to be almost invisible.

Roger Bisbing Pass Through, painted steel
Other eye-catching works include Chrissy Scolaro's bright plastic towers, Amy Podmore's absurdist pseudo-bronze concoction, titled WHIPLASH, and Portia Munson's two floating banners made from her scanner photographs of deceased birds. I really liked the effect that Munson, an artist in two dimensions, was able to achieve in that outdoor space by floating two translucent images high up in the trees, in essence returning the spirits of an owl and a hawk to their rightful place, soaring above the forest floor.

Another favorite is Matt LaFleur's The Camp, which places several wooden tents into the woods, exactly like a scouts' camp, but not like one at all, as they have no entrances and are painted with bright, multicolored stripes. The piece is at once nostalgic and brand-new.

Out of Site: Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood continues through Oct. 9 and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Events associated with the show include walking tours on Fridays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 11.

Matt LaFleur The Camp, wood and paint

1 comment:

John Rowen said...

Dave: The mix of classic, historic and cutting edge art at Chesterwood looks really appealing. Thanks for sharing this information with us!