Site-Specific Art Sets Mood in Many Locales: Installations Blend Art and Environs. the Result: Aesthetic Surprises Indoors and Out

By Lyons, Jessica | Art Business News, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Site-Specific Art Sets Mood in Many Locales: Installations Blend Art and Environs. the Result: Aesthetic Surprises Indoors and Out


Lyons, Jessica, Art Business News


Beginning in the mid-1960s, many artists abandoned gallery walls and looked to the earth as they pursued site specific art. These artists wanted to create art that would be best showcased outside the traditional gallery setting. At its very best, site-specific art integrates so seamlessly into its surroundings that it's difficult to tell where the piece ends and the surroundings begins. That is, the art becomes part of its environment. For example, Robert Smithson, who left New York for Utah's Great Salt Lake. Jetty 35 years ago. The work is a 1,500-foot spiral sculpture that coils out into the water.

While Smithson's monumental piece is an extreme example of an earthwork, site-specific art may be large or small, and it may explore its relationship to its locale, whether indoors or out--to an office space, a city park, an arid desert or a pond.

"With site-specific pieces," says Brent Sverdloff, marketing director for DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, "you see a very harmonious blending with its surroundings."

The park sits on 35 acres of rolling woodlands in Lincoln, MA.

Sverdloff points to a piece called "Rain Gates," by Ron Rudnicki, a sculptural landscape created from granite, water and plantings about passage--up or down the 20-foot climb over craggy bedrocks, along the flowing water and meandering step-stones and through the shimmering rain curtains.

It takes the viewer on a journey from one point in the landscape to another. "It's so thoroughly dependent upon the hillside where the fountain is built, and it drips down into the grotto," Sverdloff says. "You would be hard-pressed to tell what the actual configuration of the turf is, and what the artist had to actually dig out. The two are so seamless."

DeCordova's permanent collection also features "Little Red Riding Hood and Other Stories" a granite site-specific installation depicting a door, a flying carpet and a granite floor by Carlos Dorrien. The piece was designed expressly for the promontory overlooking Flint's Pond, and it looks as if it's posed to launch itself over the body of water. The door and the flying carpet symbolize vehicles used to access imagination. And about the floor, Dorrien says, "The carved slab opens up the spatial life of the object and its surrounding space. Also, the slabs can inspire in the objects on top of them a sense of ceremonial mystery."

In a very different part of the country, painter and sculptor Benini has created a 140-acre venue in the Texas Hill Country (Johnson City, TX) to showcase large-scale, site-specific sculpture. Or rather, as Benini notes, "the site is creating itself."

All the works at Sculpture Ranch are for sale, but each piece is highly attuned to the natural landscape and vegetation, like the black granite "Montezuma" by Benini that stands at the entranceway to the ranch, and the "Blessing Counter" piece that stands 11-feet tall on a hill top to catch the wind.

"When the winds blow, as they often do in the Texas Hill Country, and even more on a high site like this, the beautiful timbre of the steel song suggests that one count their blessings," says Lorraine Benini, the artist's wife.

"As artists visit the Sculpture Ranch," Benini says, "they respond at their own environmental level. The only guidelines are dictated by the harsh Texas environment--the winds, sun and occasional flash floods for example."

When the couple bought the property--formerly part of President Lyndon Baines Johnson's ranch--in 1999, they didn't intend to develop it as a public cultural facility. They began placing sculpture on the rolling grounds, and soon artist friends began displaying some of their own pieces on the land.

"At that point, the name Sculpture Ranch was born to convey the notion that while the terrain could not be cultivated, it does lend itself to host large-scale pieces in tune with the environment."

Site-specific can also apply to installations created specifically for a particular place, like the pieces commissioned by Progressive Insurance for its four campuses in Cleveland (two), Phoenix and Tampa. …

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