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Nicole Carroll Art Consulting

diverging studies in permanence:
The CURRENT Sculpture Exhibit at Garrison Art Center and Boscobelby Ross Rice

Sure, you can show mid-range and large sculpture beautifully in a gallery, provided is has the space, like say Dia:Beacon or the Samuel Dorsky at SUNY New Paltz. But when it comes right down to it, for certain pieces that can take the weather, you can’t beat a beautiful well-maintained outdoor grounds that gets visited by over 30,000 people every summer in search of fine art, a beautifully restored historical mansion, and the ever-popular Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

The Boscobel Restoration grounds—just a little south of Cold Spring, on Rte. 9D—prove to be just such an ideal location, and nine prominent and up-and-coming sculptors are providing stimulating visual counterpoint to the surroundings, courtesy of the neighboring Garrison Art Center, on whose grounds additional works from the CURRENT exhibit are being shown. What particularly interests this time around is the dichotomy between the works that seem to have a permanence—built strong with bronze, steel, marble—and ones that seem designed to almost biodegrade and become reclaimed by the land, naturally, and become a home for new life. In the world of sculpture, permanence apparently can have two very different approaches.

Some quick history of the mansion: it was built by States Morris Dyckman, a descendent of one of the early Dutch families of New Amsterdam and Loyalist during the American Revolution, who worked as a clerk for the British Army's Quartermaster Department in New York ….fifteen miles south of its present location, in Montrose. Though the house was completed in 1808, Dyckman never got to enjoy it, as he passed away in 1806 from chronic illness. His family stayed on there, but by the 1950s it was a wreck, and was sold to a demolition contractor for $35. Through the efforts of Benjamin West Frazier, the entire mansion was eventually dismantled piece by piece and stored until 1956, when they finally had the money—thanks to a timely donation by Lila Acheson Wallace—to buy the land and move it to its present location, to be restored. It was eventually completed and reopened in 1961, and lovingly maintained ever since.

I’m met there by Garrison Art Center (GAC) Director Carinda Swann and Maryann Syrek who, along with Barbara Smith Giola and Martee Levy, are the main movers on the CURRENT Sculpture Exhibit Committee, and are the curators of the show. Walking the grounds with them, you can easily imagine several of the pieces becoming fully integrated to the grounds.

For instance, one of the first works we see is a life-sized bronze figure by Leonda F. Finke, who in her 90s still works on Long Island and still makes castings of her works. A true master of the medium and recognized by professionals around the world, she has one of her works—a bronze portrait of painter Georgia O’Keefe, in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian. At Boscobel, both her Woman in the Sun Seated and Woman in the Sun Reclining have a real human and natural grounding; what is it about bronze that makes it so much more serious?

Maybe it’s just me, but Finke’s work belongs somewhere permanent. The figures invite being found almost accidentally, where we can then observe them, and in doing so become more aware of our rough skins, our uncertainties, but also our own internal solidity.

Carinda tells me that this is now the fourth year of GAC’s sculpture exhibit fundraiser, raising money for their art scholarship, and each year they’re able to build a little more on the fund that was started by longtime GAC friend Henry Gillette, who, when he passed away a few years ago, left them some money for funding students in the arts. A percentage of any art sold goes to the fund and so far, patrons have responded…enough to keep the annual exhibition going. This is the first year they’ve been able to provide a transport stipend—hugely important to any sculptor.

Just beyond the orangery, we encounter a field with a series of totems by David Hayes, and a formation of steel beams holding a column of rocks by Kevin Forest, alongside an arch by Jay Wholley that invites passersby to pass beneath it, enter whatever world might lie beyond. Haye’s steel totems—several of them carefully placed in the field—have multiple planes at different angles, catching the late afternoon light in different textures. Forest’s structures give the sensation of nature being forced into submission by human architecture, but still somehow holding its ground…while the metal slowly rusts.

Walking toward the field overlooking the river—which also provides the considerable backdrop for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival—we come across the works of Brett Hunter: hunks of multi-colored stone and metal held together with unseen metal rods, with the stone in different states; some surfaces are flat, polished, other rough hewn or untouched. Like Hayes’ work, these pieces have a totemic quality, like a weird game of Jenga played with scrap marble. But they also have an odd human gravitas, despite the constant contrast of texture displayed…also despite having to be transported in pieces, and reconstructed onsite.

Coming around the other side of the garden, and the mansion itself, we near the fountain. A multi-colored steel radish shape by David Hayes awaits which, oddly, reminds me of Calder making the rooster on a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. More totemry, and then the strangely cut origami-like work of Judith Steinberg. White acrylic folded into different planes, reminiscent of scissored paper shapes made large and permanent. As she puts it, “the stark white surface was chosen to demarcate the sculptural object from the natural environment.” That it does indeed.

Back over at Garrison Art Center, preparations are underway. Passing another Eric David Laxman organic/semi-human shape out in front of the gallery, we go around back by the river to find some more metal works by David Hayes—these being “screens” as opposed to the totems we saw at Boscobel, but similar in the variation of planes along lines, catching natural light at different and diffuse angles. Emil Alzamora’s How to Float in Water stands riverside, a life-sized bronze that beautifully—and permanently—captures the posture of a man floating in the water, in repose, holding his breath. At just the right angle, you can see how the moment is perfectly rendered, especially seen with the water in the background.

The main activity here today is directed by Mara Haseltine, who, along with three helping friends, is busy assembling her Dream River Mermaid Summer Island, a floating sculpture work that is part of a series entitled Geotherapy, which will soon be launched about 25 feet off the shore, to float there for the summer, anchored between two sunken posts. One helper is stringing what appears to be porcelain oyster shell onto hemp twine, another is wrapping rope around a small buoy stand that sits on what seems to be a 6’ X 6’ recreational raft, the kind that’s anchored off a dock for kids to swim to and jump off.

But this piece has some interesting ideas afloat. As Mara explains, “Everything that we’re making it out of, oysters would want to settle on. But since the New York/New Jersey estuary and the Hudson River have become so polluted and overfished, there are no actual oyster shells left. So I’ve been working with my students for the past couple of years, and we’ve found this way of making substitute oyster shells.”

“I’m trying to exemplify my own belief system by doing this. Oyster reefs are really important, because oysters are a keystone species. That means that they create habitat, these architectures…and they create beach breaks, which is really important with water level rising. They also clean water, sequester toxins.”

Mara commissioned a friend to make the Japanese-style glass buoys, treated with a translucent substance that (hopefully) will make them glow in the dark. The rope is hemp, from a green boatbuilding group in California. When launched, the entire raft will be covered with the porcelain oyster shells and marble powder. If for whatever reason the raft broke loose and was swept away, all of the components would be not only not harmful to wildlife, but actually possibly beneficial.

Sculpture that is made to be absolutely permanent. Sculpture that is in itself a process of reconstruction. And sculpture that is made to become part of the planet eventually. All kinds can be found at Boscobel and Garrison Art Center with this year’s CURRENT exhibit. All this…and Shakespeare too.

CURRENT 2010 can be seen through October 11 at Garrison Art Center, 23 Garrison Landing, Garrison, and Boscobel Restoration, Rte. 9D ( just south of Cold Spring). Visit for more.

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