SculptureNow: An appreciation of art in nature

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Edith Wharton had a high appreciation for art and was quite knowledgeable, according to Susan Wissler, executive director of The Mount. But what would she think of these sculptures dotting the landscape of her summer home in Lenox?

"I think she would have really appreciated art in nature," Wissler said. "The juxtaposition of the modern art with these very mature trees and understory is extremely pleasing."

Led by executive director and artist Ann Jon, for the past two decades SculptureNow has exhibited a juried show of large outdoor work each summer and fall at Main Streets and museums throughout the southern Berkshires, from Hinsdale to Lee. Since 2013, the show has taken root on the grounds of Edith Wharton's grand Gilded Age estate, The Mount in Lenox, which this afternoon hosts an opening reception with artist tours, refreshments and remarks by Mass Cultural Council Executive Director Anita Walker.

The sculptures double the time visitors spend at the Mount, said Wissler; "it's been a hugely positive partnership."

The SculptureNow panel spends many hours selecting 30 works from 100 submissions from across the Northeast, including the Berkshires. Having an underwriter for the shipping costs would let even more artists participate, Wissler added, hopefully.

The result is a mix of first-time and returning sculptors both well- and lesser-known, working with diverse materials including metal, wood, glass and industrial fishing net. This eclectic array of art is the exhibit's strength, Jon said.

Finding site locations for the sculptures is a team effort by Jon, Wissler, facilities director Ross Jolly and board member Robin Tost. Pieces are scattered throughout the grounds from the stables to the Main House, punctuating woodland, open spaces, paths and the banks of streams.

The bright copper folds of Vincent Hawley's freeform "Fusiform Gyrus" glisten in a light rain and will continue to do so, as a special finish eliminates the dulling effects of weathering.

For "Bound Triad," Harold Grinspoon stripped a Californian mulberry tree and cut it into three vertical sections connected by metal rods. "It's taking something that's dead and giving it new life as a piece of art," Wissler said.

Some works reflect the site's tranquility.

"Huaso" by James Burnes is a brown-tinted steel horse standing peacefully in a clearing. Mark Attebery's "Upstream" evokes golden light dancing on a flowing river. And the swirling blue copper threads of Laura Reinhard's "Release" take on an organic feel.

Others bring the world into sharper focus.

While in federal prison, James Meyer welded steel bar cages to house violent prisoners during therapy sessions. Named for their dun paint color, "Institutional Tan" includes three interactive examples that invite viewers to step inside and experience the confinement.

For "Interesting Times," Janet Goldner suspends 12 vinyl banners between trees like prayer flags, displaying both the rich cultural heritage and political upheaval of world hotspots such as Syria, Tunisia, Greece, Libya, Ireland and Egypt.

Some works make bold statements.

Coifed with a jaunty helmet plume, Robin Tost's scrap metal "Trojan Cowbird" sits on wheels like its namesake equine, an imperious avian bully bent on doing mischief.

Unexpected geometric shapes in bright primary colors pierce the lush greenery of the surroundings. Carved glass panels embedded in a pair of dense granite blocks catch and curve the changing light, moving together and apart depending on viewpoint.

Besides today's opening activities, free artist tours and site-specific performances will take place throughout the summer.

This year, visitors can download a new audio tour with a map and short artist descriptions to enhance their visit. Hearing the artists talk about their work provides a whole different perspective on how to view each piece, Wissler said.

Twenty years ago, Jon had no idea SculptureNow would endure and grow from a dozen pieces to the presence it is today, passing through the Norman Rockwell Museum, Hancock Shaker Village, Berkshire Botanical Garden and numerous towns on its journey to The Mount.

"We've been around for a long time," Jon observed.

If You Go ...

What: SculptureNow guided tour and opening reception

Where: The Mount, 2 Plunkett Street, Lenox

When: 3:30 p.m. Sunday, June 10, artist guided tours; 5 p.m. opening reception on the Terrace; 5:30 p.m. remarks by Anita Walker, executive director, Mass Cultural Council

Admission: Opening activities free

Information: edithwharton.org, 413-551-5100, sculpturenow.org


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