Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Way God Meant It To Be

Mars and I went on an Elderhostel in Newburg, New York to see the paintings of the Hudson River School on their native turf and the Brobdingnagian sized "Minimalist Art" pieces of sculpture that by happenstance also inhabit that neck of the woods.

We had seen other examples of each of them before. The canvases are amply represented in the permanent collections of two local art museums to which we belong, the Wadsworth Atheneum and the New Britain Museum of American Art. And each has had one or more special exhibits highlighting these works. We both really like this stuff.

Our exposure to the stripped down sculptural pieces has been less extensive. Alexander Calder's forty foot tall, orange "Stegosaurus" has stood in a public space next to the Wadsworth since 1973. We took our then four-year-old son Bram to see it on probably the first of his "forced culture" trips to Hartford. I asked him what he was looking at. "A dinosaur" he replied without hesitation. I was impressed -- mostly by Calder's apparent ability to construct such a realistic monster based on just its most fundamental features. Bram's love of this style of sculpture has continued into adulthood -- not that his obligatory aesthetic education played any role in that.

Sort of across the street from "Stego", next to an Eighteenth Century cemetery, are thirty-six boulders some as heavy as 19,000 pounds, arranged in a triangle by the Sculptor Carl Andre.

I worked nearby, and saw both of these works several times a week. I preferred the orange dinosaur, at least partially because its location allowed me to pass under its body and around its legs -- as long as I kept my eye out for the pigeons. The rocks were configured such that any meaningful passage within them was impossible.

They did form an interesting pattern when viewed from the upper floors of my office building. But I never thought that was how such works of art were supposed to be appreciated.

About twenty years later -- at the urging of Bram and his wife Monica -- we went to the Chinati Foundation in Marfa Texas. Thanks to the hospitality of Steffen, a college friend of theirs who was interning there, Mars and I were able to live for a week on the grounds and wander freely among the sculptural works of Donald Judd (who totally disavowed the "minimalist" label in spite of his strict adherence to the credo of that club).

When it comes to sculpture, this is the way God meant it to be -- hiking among large concrete cubes placed in an open field, and prowling among an indoor arrangement of smaller mill aluminum pieces.

Two years later we returned to Chinati for the opening of an installation of colored fluorescent lights by Dan Flavin. We braved the screaming winds of a "Blue Norther" to trek from downtown Marfa out to the museum, and then back outside from building to building in order to stroll inside among the warm neon luminescence

Since that time we have seen several pieces of such sculpture but never in an environment that made us feel that both they and we were at home. Then Monica and Bram visited the Riggio Galleries at DIA:Beacon and, with the same degree of passion they had shown for Chinati, told us that we had to go there. Mars noticed an Elderhostel trip that included DIA and the Hudson River Painters as well as the Storm King Art Center, which M & B did not get to -- and so here we are.

DIA did not allow the taking of photos, Storm King did. ("Official" photos from this trip will soon appear on Mars' blog --

Both Mars and I have gotten used to looking at the world through our viewfinders -- or more accurately viewing all the subject matter that we come in contact with as potential photo-ops. It is, I think, a different way of seeing that causes us to look at (1) parts of objects rather than the whole thing, (2) from all angles (standard and non) and as a result (3) see the abstract and geometric patterns that exist therein. As a result, even without looking through the camera, we still saw objects as if we were.

At the Storm King Art Center Mars and I each got our third eye back. But I don't think that I necessarily saw any more or less than I did when I was without the digital picture taker. Sculpture the way God meant for it to be viewed.

I recently heard someone say, "The older I get, the better basketball player I used to be." Since I have to rely totally on my own mind's ROM instead of my computer's the pictures that I did not shoot at DIA will definitely be among the best I have never taken.

1 comment:

Bram said...

By the time you were there, Steffen was long past interning and was their Director of Communications, if I'm remembering his title correctly.

I can't believe you missed the Serras. Like being in the canyon at Tent Rocks, only way, way more unnerving.