Photographs and text by Siobhan Connally
Taking the tour:|
The works in The Fields, mostly on loan, are situated in a meandering progression around the tell-tale landscape in the heart of Columbia County, hint not only of the identities present in the land itself, but also of the relationship between the seemingly incongruous abstract works and natural environment that encompasses them.
Strong steel forms rise up from a honed tree line, echoing the mammoth proportions of Alexander Liberman's bright orange "Tabernacle." Another tall, lithe organic totem -- Jae Choul Jeoung's "The Work" -- blends flawlessly into green fields of clover, with tall maples as a backdrop.
Tucked away in the corner of a bog is Jene Highstein's "Inverted Cone." An enormous reinforced concrete cone anchored to the ground, yet seemingly precarious with its substantial weight graduated to a graceful and slender footing. The smooth surface and clean lines of the work, though man-made, seem to blend naturally with the rough, green coating that lays like carpeting on the swamp just behind it, giving the impression that, like the marsh, the cone was always an integral part of the landscape.
Yet, despite the obvious comparisons between nature and art, an unmistakable device of the park's invention lies in the ambiguity therein, and remains the key to its striking beauty and subtle tension.
A view encircled in an impressive 7,000-pound steel coil called "Indeterminate Line," by Bernar Venet, offers a scope through which visitors begin their hike into the park. The simple lines and organic forms come to symbolize the cycle of life. "Random combinations of Indeterminate Lines," another Venet work in which curved lines of steel snake up from a hillside on the far side of The Fields, is vividly representative of the effects of abstract sculpture and its relationship with the landscape. Here, Venet's organic forms writhe against the hillside around it, evoking the feeling that it is teaming with life.
Yards away, a lone figure with a shovel poised against the sod offers the only deviation from the abstract pieces in the park, yet mimics the abstract concepts as an organic form made into art -- literally. "Dirt Man," a self portrait by James Croak, cast with dirt and resin, is one in a series of dirt sculptures for which the artist is known. It is also the fourth ever to be installed outside. Trained in the '70s when abstract formalism was the norm, he and later became disillusioned with the limitations of abstract form and left his roots to pursuit the figure in art; something he believes has not been a part of art's mainstream history since Alberto Giacometti's haunting works.
Initially wanting to make art that would erode, later learned that his dirt castings -- thanks to a resin binder -- proved to stand the test of elements. And in the 12 years since, the lab-tested creations have withstood damaging weather at an outdoor location in Holland in addition to the climate controlled environs of museums.
Other works in the park display a kind of playful humor that has long been evident in contemporary art works, either as a commentary or as relief from the severity of the old-world establishment. Even with classic or literary names -- like Sisyphus, a virtual jigsaw puzzle of simple shapes layered around each other in a mountain of forms in Liberman's trademark orange, harkening the works of Alexander Calder; or the classic form evident in Paraclete, Beverly Pepper's impressive cor-ten pyramid, hollowed in a cleft through its stilted center, as it rises up majestically from the old corn field many thousands of yards away -- the presence of works like "Dirt Ball," by Donald Lipski, (pictured on top of page) a gigantic ball of rope bound together with leather strips and placed alone in a field as if it were waiting for some enormous cat to come and play, show the incredible versatility and talent in an environment that seems as if it was made for that purpose alone.
Known for his skill at coupling seemingly unrelated and often discarded objects Lipski's impeccably crafted works of art may seem to recall Marcel Duchamp, yet its absence of political bias allows the work to take on a rather didactic fervor with its playfulness and use of simple, but unlikely combinations. Overall the effect seems to be of a more gentle and inviting experience.
For emerging artists like Ronald Gonzalez, whose plaster, compost and tar "Tunnels," featured in Sculpture magazine, The Fields delivers the exposure and notability that will likely bolster careers. In fact, Gonzalez's wry, almost alien-like piece has already become one of the favorite and often visited works in the park.
Getting ready, building momentum:
"Contemplating Fate," a slender steel piece of Cleary's is also featured in The Fields where it mingles quite naturally with the young tree growth on the western perimeter of the park. Reminiscent of the late works of Giacommetti, yet venturing toward a more active fluidity with its angular gestures and amorphic lines, Cleary's work has a more playful quality, yet typically has a double effect in that it appears, with a blink of an eye, to take on a somber if not tormented stance.
Barbara Andrus, a 1998 ART/OMI residency alumnus whose "Round Enclosed," a 10-foot, nest-like cubic form enveloping a circle is representative of the nature of works The Fields hopes to foster in artists wishing to create site specific installations. Woven entirely from tree limbs and hemp, Round Enclosed was constructed on site during the three-week residency. When it became a part of ART/OMI's permanent collection, it seemed to be a perfect addition to The Fields. Perched atop a hill, a stone's throw from a thicket of trees, the shape-within-a-shape -- which Andrus explained was the primary goal during the creative process -- the placement of her piece fulfilled another vision she had in her mind's eye during the summer residency. In addition, Andrus plans to make periodic visits to photograph the work as it naturally decomposes. "I will be anxious to see how the seasons effect this piece, and what, if any small creatures make their home here," she said.
With its organic materials filling out into geometric forms, the artist's attention to process and her consideration of it as a work-in-progress, Round Enclosed seems to aptly fulfill the basic mission of the sculpture park, and the delight we may all take as is grows and changes through the years.
"Random Combinations of Indeterminate Lines"
ART/OMI encourages the community at large to become involved in The Fields and offers educational tours and through collaborations with colleges and universities to address environmental and design aspects in the park. ART/OMI also encourages artists to submit proposals for site-specific installations.
For more information on any of the arts programs or to become a member, write to ART/OMI's e-mail address: email@example.com., or call ART/OMI's event information line at 212-206-6004.
Siobhan Connally is freelance artist, writer and photographer, whose work has appeared in several books, and arts and literary publications. She lives in upstate New York.