Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A “peculiar curiosity” lurks in the Lynden Sculpture Garden’s back woods


What if the remains of slave quarters were suddenly discovered hidden in the woods behind the smoothly contoured landscape and monumental artworks of the sculpture park? That’s just one of many questions that might be raised by “Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities,” which can in fact be found in the backwoods of the property.

Because of its semi-hidden location and—from a distance—humble character, the temporary installation by Chicago artist Fo Wilson could easily be missed or even dismissed. That is, until you walk right up to it. That’s when it become totally engaging.

Because I was out of town at the time I missed the opening, which was back in June. I was glad to finally catch up with this new feature of the Garden. The fact that the piece was located “out back” on property is significant. After all, maintaining its “natural” environment for the education of its visitors and patrons is part of the Lynden Sculpture Garden mission.

A circular swath of meadow had to be cleared for the installation. While not unprecedented—David Robbins’ “Open-air Writing Desk” (detail above) also is located in the “wilderness” of the back section—it is sufficiently rare that it adds depth to a sculpture that has no lack of meaning or symbolism.

The cabin is intriguing enough in itself. Sections of wall are opened up to reveal the interior and a ladder to the sky emerges from the roof. The exterior stud walls double as shelving for some of the “curiosities” indicated in the title.

The inside is decorated with many more objects, artifacts and images. They are arranged carefully, with almost obsessive neatness. The references to slave quarters and slavery is overt. But there is so much more than that as well. Here are a few thing that caught my attention.

Make sure you mosey on over to the far corner of the cabin and look down into the pail that sits there, surrounded by turtle shells.

The ceiling is worth a glance upwards.

Don’t miss the tiny figure of Thomas Jefferson being ladled up for our amusement—or derision.

My favorite moment in the cabin was when I noticed this intensely hued caterpillar casually worming its way along a bookshelf. A reminder, if I needed one, that nature is more than a setting for an outdoor sculpture like this one.

A distinct but related body of work by Wilson is on display in the Lynden gallery. Wilson alters postcards that depict stereotypes of the “happy servant” with the stated intention of  “restoring their dignity.”

While I was there I couldn’t help but notice a few changes around the grounds since I was last there. (Disclosure: I was artist-in-residence in 2015.)

The Brementown Musicians have been outfitted with colorful new duds.

It was a pleasure to see Marta Pan’s “Floating Sculpture No. 3” back in the water. It was missing in action the whole year I spent in residence, being restored. It looks beautiful.

The lawns are drier than I’ve seen them. We do need a little rain.

But the flowers are as spectacular as ever.

“Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities” will remain on display at least through October 30, so you still have plenty of time to check it out. There have been several performances at the Garden in association with the installation. One final dance performance is scheduled for September 17. I’m putting it on my calendar. Hope you’ll join me there.

For more information go to the Lynden Sculpture Garden website.

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