Study in the Sculpture Garden

Woman studying on a nice day in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans

Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans

(Click for a larger and more detailed version on Flickr)

A sculpture garden is a wonderful place… a well-done sculpture garden on a nice day is the best of all possible places – one where the blue sky, crystal humming air, and moving spectators become part of the exhibit and integral to the pure joy of hanging out in such a spot.

A woman sits barefoot, shoes and drink nearby with her backpack not far away, and quietly studies her notebooks in the sun. How is she not as exquisite a work of art as the famous bronzes? The curve of her back, the spherical bun of hair on top of her head, and the sun gleaming from her ankles and toes – these are the simple pleasures the great artists strive for lifetimes to come close to duplicating and have to settle for a second-rate imitation, the best they can do.

The granite chair behind her is Settee, by Scott Burton. His works blur the distinction between furniture and sculpture. I’ve always enjoyed his piece at the Nasher, here in Dallas, Schist Furniture Group (Settee with Two Chairs). I’m never really comfortable sitting on his work – it seems wrong to wear the art like that, even though that’s exactly what he intended.

What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul.
—-Joseph Addison

When a finished work of 20th century sculpture is placed in an 18th century garden, it is absorbed by the ideal representation of the past, thus reinforcing political and social values that are no longer with us.
—-Robert Smithson

Sculpture is the art of the hole and the lump.
—-Auguste Rodin

Sculpture occupies real space like we do… you walk around it and relate to it almost as another person or another object.
—-Chuck Close

There is no substitute for feeling the stone, the metal, the plaster, or the wood in the hand; to feel its weight; to feel its texture; to struggle with it in the world rather than in the mind alone.
—-William M. Dupree

Travelin’ Light

Travelin’ Light by Alison Saar (detail), Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans, Louisiana

Travelin’ Light, Alison Saar

Travelin’ Light presents a formally dressed man, hanging by his bare feet, a powerful but dignified reference to torture and abandonment. Saar has made the figure into a bell. When the chain on its back is pulled, a sonorous sound is heard, ringing for all victims of violence and terror.

I looked at Traveln’ Light and walked around it. I read the little nameplate and the blurb in the guidemap and discovered it was a bell. I thought about reaching out to the metal chain inside the hollow of the hanged man’s head and giving it a ring, but my reticence to actually touch artworks on display was greater than my curiosity as to its sound. A few minutes later, while I was a third of the way around the little pond, some guy with a gimme cap on backwards walked up to it and was ringing away with abandon. It had a dolorous sound, not bright like a church bell, more of a dull peal.

No human beings more dangerous than those who have suffered for a belief: the great persecutors are recruited from the martyrs not quite beheaded. Far from diminishing the appetite for power, suffering exasperates it.

—-Emil Cioran