Nature and Art Entwine at Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 6, 2005 | Go to article overview

Nature and Art Entwine at Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park


Byline: Mike Michaelson

With spring just around the corner, a cabin-bound Midwesterner's fancy turns to the outdoors, perhaps to awakening gardens full of buds, blossoms and butterflies.

You can hurry the season and find all of the above - plus an incredible collection of world-class art - in western Michigan at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids.

Meijer successfully blends art and nature, carefully positioning world-renowned sculptures by masters in natural settings. Mark di Suvero's "Scarlatti" rises above a wildflower meadow and Antony Gormley's "One and Other" peers through a wall of ash trees.

You won't find it surprising, then, that Meijer would celebrate its 10th anniversary with an exhibition of the work of sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986). The setting couldn't be more appropriate, given Meijer's continued commitment to the union of art and nature and Moore's views on the subject. "I'd sooner have my sculptures surrounded by natural landscapes if I could choose, rather than with manmade architecture," he said.

"Perhaps no other 20th-century sculptor was more influential than Moore in defining new relationships with art and nature," suggests Joseph Becherer, director and curator of the sculpture program. Two permanent acquisitions of Moore's work, both bronzes cast in the 1980s, have been part of the garden's collection since the Sculpture Park debuted in 2002.

The Henry Moore Foundation, in conjunction with Meijer, developed the exhibition "Henry Moore: Imaginary Landscapes," which will not travel beyond Grand Rapids. It showcases about 85 works, including monumental bronzes, pedestal sculptures, models, maquettes, drawings and related prints. The exhibit marks the American debut for many of these works.

Moore earned a reputation as one of the most important and influential figures of 20th-century art and as one of the most important sculptors of all time. He is renowned for the inspiration he drew from nature and for the highly organic abstracted forms he created. His study of trees, rocks and other natural elements can be readily seen in his work.

This exhibition explores worlds imagined by this highly influential artist whose work, part dreamscape and part landscape, helped change the direction of Western sculpture and bring non- Western art to a larger audience.

Moore's sublime depiction of fjords, chasms, icebergs and giant rock formations may be unsettling. In contrast, atmospheric wooded scenes and delicate landscapes inspired by Japanese drawings reveal a more lyrical side. Many pieces reflect the human form, including "Two Piece Reclining Figure," which suggests caves and rugged terrain, and "Seated Woman," inspired by shards of natural materials.

With only a decade behind it, Frederik Meijer Gardens ranks as a mere infant in the world of botanical gardens, especially when compared to such venerable institutions as London's Kew Gardens. Yet it has come of age remarkably quickly and has earned global recognition. Spread over 125 acres, Meijer includes Michigan's largest tropical conservatory, the nation's largest carnivorous- plant house and one of its largest children's gardens.

It contains arid and Victorian gardens and the Midwest's most comprehensive outdoor sculpture experience, with significant works by Rodin, Oldenburg and Moore. Inside, you'll find galleries with changing sculpture exhibitions, a cafe and gift shops.

Meijer's signature sculpture, the bronze "Leonardo da Vinci's Horse: The American Horse" by Nina Akamu, measures 24 feet and weighs 8 tons. …

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