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Elegant and airy: DeWitt Godfrey’s Picker Sculpture.

Not Too Far a Field
By David Brickman

Summer Selections 2005

The Fields Sculpture Park, Art Omi International Arts Center, ongoing

If you’ve ever been to the Storm King Art Center, or wanted to go, here’s a terrific alternative that’s free and a shorter trip: The Fields Sculpture Park at Art Omi is about a half-hour’s drive from Albany and, in addition to its ever-growing collection of permanent outdoor installations, it is currently featuring 12 important artists in Summer Selections 2005.

The site is a mix of woods, swampy lowland and rolling fields in a quiet, country setting a good distance from any major highway. The organization behind it is also quiet: Privately funded, Art Omi offers summer residencies for musical composers, writers, dancers and artists from around the world, and mounts performances based on the residents’ work. But it is best known for the Fields, where carefully curated, generally minimalist sculpture by major artists has been sited in long-term or permanent placement since 1998, under the tutelage of architectural and marital partners Peter Franck and Kathleen Heike Triem.

The featured works range from relatively traditional marbles on extended loan from the estate of the late Stanley Boxer to cutting-edge, site-specific pieces by Korean resident artist Hyungsub Shin to work by four big-name artists on loan from the Carol and Arthur Goldberg Collection. This is a big, diverse treasure trove of stuff in a variety of settings that will please any fan of modern art. Adding even a cursory look at the rest of the collection will make for at least a couple of hours of tramping around the grounds.

Whether random, map-guided or personally-guided, the walk (or roll—I believe a wheelchair or motorized scooter would be able to make the tour) promises a very pleasurable sense of discovery, as works of art reveal themselves from a distance or more suddenly, and as the often particularly sophisticated sitings cast their spell. While all art installations rely on a successful collaboration between the maker and the curator to create the final exhibition, this is even more pronounced in outdoor sculptural installations. Here, the vision of the curator-architects and their able assistants makes for excellent spatial relationships all around.

Some examples: Near the entrance to the exhibit, DeWitt Godfrey has filled the space between two large trees from the ground up to 12 or 15 feet high with a brace of Cor-Ten steel hoops, forming an elegant composition of airy ovals through which much of the landscape can be seen in lovely, soft shapes. Defying the actual weight of the material, and the expectations of the viewer for outdoor art placement, this piece accomplishes the rare and enviable feat of transforming the space it occupies as well as our perception of it.

In the woods, where intimacy holds sway, the four Boxer marbles stand as sentinels of their maker’s feel for his materials. Each is of a different local stone, and each bears minimal marking and forming, playing up the natural colors and patterns of the marble. Together, they form a conspiratorial group that welcomes and challenges our scrutiny. Not far away, a brashly shiny rectangle of stainless steel hangs squarely from cables in the trees to reflect the woodsy image, disappearing while multiplying the scene. Far from pastoral, however, the panel is riddled with bullet holes—pumped there by the artist, Magdalen Abakanowicz, in the direction facing right at the viewers.

Shin’s witty, almost fantastical installation is at the edge of the woods where they give way to marshy climes in one direction and open fields in another. His five Electrees are made of colorful electrical hardware—cable, wire nuts, clamps and so on—and their Hobbit-like forms cling to the rocks, hummocks and tree roots, blending in despite their preposterousness.

Out on the clover meadow, bigger shapes grace longer views and softer transitions under a big sky and (on most days this summer) ruthless sun. >From the Goldbergs, two garden installations and two cast metal sculptures join another Abakanowicz and several previously installed works. Nestled into a landscaped hillock like a natural waterfall is Cascade—a spill of limestone blocks stacked in carefully arrayed rows like a wide staircase—by Carl Andre (the O.J. Simpson of the art world); a couple hundred yards away, an actual cascade is imprisoned by Olafur Eliasson upon a metal chute that connects two artificial pools. A strobe light flashes behind the thin falling stream, oddly out of place in the brilliant daylight.

Of the castings, one by Nancy Dwyer, titled The Age of the Death of Iron(y), is not at all surprisingly made of iron. It spells in oversized gothic printer’s type the word “iron(y),” with only the “y” being reversed as it would be on a press. I found the piece witty, with a nice rusty presence—though it’s a good bit more pop than its companions, Abakanowicz’s two grim facing effigies in bronze titled Gigant and Son of Gigant.

The other casting is an untitled group of four bronze forms on a granite plinth by Tony Cragg that is beautifully sited so as to appear to be listening to a nearby swamp. It is easily one of the finest pieces in this wonderful playground for art lovers.

Also included in Summer Selections 2005 are Steven Brower’s obsessively detailed LEM (lunar excursion module); three aluminum columns by John Cross; creepy conceptual billboards by the collective TODT; and two monumental wood carvings by the ironic realist Bill Wilson.

The Fields Sculpture Park is located on Letter S Road in the town of Ghent. For directions, go to www.artomi.org or call 392-2181.


PERIPHERAL VISION

Nina Bovasso, Jean Shin, John F. Simon Jr.

University Art Museum, through Sept. 11

Three artists with considerable international reputations are showing simultaneously at the University Art Museum in what amount to separate solos.

John F. Simon Jr. creates computer art—whereas other artists draw, paint and sculpt, Simon writes code. The results, presented in a darkened West Gallery, are ever-changing light images of geometry and color visible in wall-mounted computer screens or projected. One piece was adapted by Simon to conform with the peculiar structural geometry of the building’s walls—a marvelous possibility of his medium—and the effect is satisfyingly mesmerizing.

Nina Bovasso has also engaged with the gallery’s walls, by painting and drawing directly on them. Her playful, explosive images struck me as somewhat superficial, even decorative. Still, their energy is infectious.

The weak link in the trio is Jean Shin. Her Accumulations collect and reshape detritus—a trend now verging on cliché—with little imagination or skill. Worse, her digital photographs of “found installations” are about as visually sophisticated as those of the average undergraduate. Her success proves that talking a good game can get a crummy artist very far indeed.

—David Brickman


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