CONTEMPORARY SCULPTORS BRING THE WESTPORT ARTS CENTER TO LIFE
Through the ages, sculptors tended to express themselves in monochrome. Confronting Praxiteles' languid statue of Hermès, Michaelangelo's pensive David or Henry Moore's brooding Reclining Figures, it is the form that compels our attention while the hue of the material is incidental to the impact. Challenging the concept that mass is the principle element of sculpture, "Color in 3D," a recent exhibit at the Westport Arts Center, presented pieces redefining the attributes of sculpture. Twelve prominent contemporary artists created works that disrupt the sense of order by seeming to be something other than what they are.
Woven chains of vivid filter gels, hand painted cobblestones, webs of knotted shoelaces and beakers filled with bright epoxy resins were among elements of the works displayed this spring. Curator Saul Ostrow, chair of visual arts and technologies and departmental head of painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art, selected pieces that provoke interaction and response, an alternative to Abstract Expressionism's metaphysical detachment from life.
Acknowledging recent predecessors, who began employing color in the '50s and '60s, Ostrow cites the painted sculptures of David Smith and Alexander Calder's mobiles along with influences of the industrial aesthetic introduced by Claus Oldenberg's painted plaster, Donald Judd's colored Plexiglass and Dan Flavin's creations of colored light. Unlike the forerunners, Ostrow explains, the artists of "Color in 3D" use color not merely as an intrinsic aspect of their materials but as a basic and essential condition of their work.
Employing familiar components, household materials or items usually associated with toys and construction, the sculptures were a world away from a traditional painting show. "What we were looking for was a different way to engage the community," explains Artistic Director Eileen Wiseman. "We wanted to both delight and provoke, to be both thoughtful and playful."
Using color in three different respects, the pieces in the show were categorized as "applied," "found" or "readymade." While many works cross the boundaries, Curtis Mitchell's Natal, a circular arrangement of cobblestones painted in bright shades, and Paul O'Keeffe's Still Life of tubes and balls painted vivid Day-Glo red, illustrate the impact achieved by the unexpected application of paint to "everyday" objects.
Among the pieces categorized as "found"—existing objects already colored—is a stack of commonplace components including a plastic bucket, plywood panel, and a metal file cabinet base that together constitute the Untitled creation of Yale's Jessica Stockholder, a pioneer in multimedia installations. Sheila Pepe's Your Granny's Not Square is an intricate patchy web of crocheted shoelaces and yarn, and on close inspection James O. Clark's Ranger Optic reveals its skeleton to be the disembodied door of an automobile.
Lisa Hoke's readymade creation, from materials inherently colored, is a marvelous maze of woven plastic gels, and John Monti's Circle of Flowers and Heart show those shapes cast in red, pink and green-pigmented urethane rubber and plastic scattered across walls and spilling over onto the center's windows and doors.
Formerly a warren of office cubicles, the building was discovered by staff members who recognized its potential. Transformed into an airy gallery on the banks of the river, it is ideal for exhibiting wall-size works such as the four hanging jugs of bright epoxy resin paint in Guenter Werner's Ballet and the undulating lines of Bruce Pearson's It Takes a Long Time to Understand Nothing, carved from a block of Styrofoam and thickly coated in orange and blue acrylic.
The exhibit turned out to be particularly popular with school groups. "The children responded with a simple honesty that helped them get in touch with the playful pieces," Wiseman observes. Some visitors, initially objecting to the blurring of boundaries among sculpture, painting, drawing and installation, came back to the museum for discussion groups, engendering the kind of public dialogue the museum hoped to initiate.
Key to generating a community response was Russell Maltz's outdoor installation Painted/Stacked Westport, seven piles of Day-Glo-painted cinder blocks arranged on the Art Center's deck and across the river on the grounds of the Westport Library. Nine pallets of blocks donated by Gault, Inc. were divided, rearranged, primed and painted before they were transported to the sites where they express, says WAC Development Director Nancy Heller, "a new kind of bridge between the riverbanks, as well as a visual link between the two cultural organizations that have a longstanding partnership."
Besides bringing a fresh perspective to the River Walk and museum and provoking responses from passersby, the Maltz installation engaged the community by working with student assistants who prepared the work. The process was filmed by Westport Youth Film Festival student filmmakers. Lectures and interactive guided school tours also amplified the effect of the pieces on display.
After the work is dismantled, Maltz, an internationally recognized artist, has planned for the blocks to be incorporated into an actual construction project, an integral aspect of his concept. This non-profit use for the materials ensures the sculpture will live on to color aspects of community involvement.