Tag Archives: sculpture

there be dragons

Mt Laguna snowIt had snowed in the local mountains late last month. By the time I got up there you could still find big patches of snow on the ground.

Snow over the desert

At the crest of the Laguna Mountains you can look down down down over the edge of the escarpment of the Elsinore Fault to the Vallecito Valley immediately below. It’s a quick vertical mile of dropoff, a height comparable to many vistas along the Grand Canyon. The change in elevation is impressive, but so is the radical change in landscape. A fairly well-watered green-and-brown mountain plant community–think pines, ceanothus, mountain mahogany–careens into a sere desert landscape, all of it in muted brown and purple and pink and gray tones. Down below the colors of geology quickly overpower those of biology. Someone who doesn’t love deserts might liken the descent into Anza Borreo Desert State Park as a descent into Hell.

On this early January day Hell was pleasant, in the low 70s, sunny and dry. Something I hadn’t visited before was a big installation of sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. Installed on a flat expanse on the edge of Borrego Springs you’ll find a rusty steel menagerie of various creatures. I recognized the camels and horses, including this horse with an unfortunately-placed support column.

Camel scuptures in the desert

Horse with rectal probe

Archduke Charles sculpture
(Note to artist: It is possible to model rearing horses without rectal probes, as this sculpture of Archduke Charles in Vienna’s Heldenplatz shows. (Photo by Peter Gerstbach and used here by the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.))

I recognized some of the creatures but a few started to get pretty fanciful, like they’d escaped from a Maurice Sendak picturebook.

Beheaded beast

This one had either just lost its head or was still in the process of being installed.

Horse escaping creature

Headless or not, it was scaring the horses…

Ricardo Breceda sculpture creature

And what the heck is this creature supposed to be? Whatever it was, it appeared to be mom with a little one on her back.

Dragon head

Dragon with mountains

And now we come to the dragon, a big and fancy and fearsome number with five different segments that go from one side of the road to the other. (Edit January 20: Ricki points out that it’s probably a sea serpent and not a dragon, and I agree with her.)

Dragon segment as gate

Here one of the segments functioned as a really lovely little garden portal.

Dragaon vs cholla

But in the end the most fearsome thing of all out in the desert that day wasn’t the dragon, but this “jumping” cholla cactus, one of the local Cylindropuntia species (maybe C. ganderi?). I’ve never been hurt by a dragon, but this bit of botanical evil is a different story. Be afraid, be very afraid.

nasher sculpture center

I need to be careful about the things I write. I’d passed along a statement that someone had made calling the area around Dallas as “tornado country,” and look what happened.

Yikes! But unless I’m Zeuss I’m thinking this wasn’t my doing. At least this was one of this situations where you can say that you’re glad it wasn’t worse.

This will be my last tourist post from the land of dangerous tornadoes: a quick visit to the sculpture garden at the Nasher Sculpture Center, a city block of calm in the heart of Dallas.

Let me start off with my award for Best Use of Bamboo in a Museum Setting. Access into the outdoor sculpture garden is blocked by the sort of fence that you see most often in in museums, the kind where there are uprights spaced a few inches apart and set in concrete below the level of the ground. It’s an attractive fence option, and one that’s less confrontational than many. Here at the Nasher it’s softened further, with the uprights camouflaged in a grove of green-culmed bamboo.

Peter Walker gets the credit for designing the outdoors spaces here. He’s probably now best known for joining Michael Arad during the final stages of the winning design for the National 9/11 Memorial, probably one of the highest profile public art and landscape architecture projects out there. I know him best for Library Walk, a design he executed at UCSD, a work that I step on several days a week.

In the phrase “sculpture garden” sculpture comes first. Like the project at UCSD that I walk on, the spaces at the Nasher are deferential to the art. But the spaces never just lurk the background.

Where the art isn’t so prominent are the spaces where you can really notice Walker’s work. Steps leading down from the garden level break up the geometric regularity with two trees, and species of tree change as the spaces go from open to enclosed, small to large in scale.

The plantings and hardscape are flattering participants for many of the works. This is Barbara Hepworth’s Squares and Two Circles (Monolith) a work from 1963.

Walker’s garden glows with an aura of rational structure, a sense that works really well with a lot of these sculptures.

People want to see your Serra if you have a sculpture garden. Here’s theirs, lit with nice dappling light.

Hedges take over the role of walls in interesting ways. Not a revelation, but nicely done. Here you have a short “wall” providing crowd control for George Segal’s Rush Hour.

The members of this crowd haven’t fared as well. (Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Bronze Crowd, bronze, 1990-1.)

In this garden space you’re free to walk around and make connections and receive your own private epiphanies. Like, Joan Miro and Mark di Suvero both used circles and similar diagonal lines! Oh wow.

There’s lots of indoor space here too, with works by lots of modern notables in light-filled pavilions by the ubiquitous museum architect Renzo Piano. I’ll leave that report to Lost in the Museum.

After these Dallas posts it’s feeling like I’ve been away from home too long. It’ll be back to my garden next time.

garden on the edge

Here’s the artist’s rendering for a new project that’s going up on the way to my weekday office. In this view things look pretty normal: a clapboard house, lawn, shrubberies, foundation plantings, patio furniture, shade umbrella–nostalgic Americana, tidy, idyllic.

But here’s an alternate view of the entire project. In this piece, “Fallen Star,” by artist Do Ho Suh, this little blue house hangs over the edge of one of the campus buildings, seven stories above the quad below.

The project description on the Stuart Collection’s page for the project provides some background, including this:

For the Stuart Collection, Suh has proposed Fallen Star, a small house that has been picked up by some mysterious force, (perhaps a tornado) and “landed” on a building, seven stories up. A roof garden is part of Suh’s design and will be a place with panoramic views for small groups to gather. This can be seen as a “home” for the vast numbers of students who have left their homes to come to this huge institution, the university, which has nothing even resembling a home. It is an unforgettable image and will be a truly amazing experience sure to stay in the minds and memory of students and visitors for years to come.”

Do Ho Suh Fallen Star rendering and view of the piece's eventual perch.

Some projects you can look at and tell immediately that they’re going to be popular. This is one of them.

Count me in to stand in line to get a chance to visit the installation after it’s completed and open, currently projected to be January 2012. It should be a cool mix of fun and unnerving, looking for home on the edge in a fading empire.

after the party

If your definition of a good party is one that gets the police called on it, my July 4th party was a failure. But by other standards I think it went pretty well. (The new garden bench was really appreciated and well-used.)

As you try to play host, the party can pass by so fast you don’t have time to really take it in. And before you know everyone has left and you’re left with what people didn’t eat or drink, plus all the things people bring along, edible and not.

Inventorying the drinks it almost looks like we have more cans and bottles than we started with. I guess people were scared to try this year’s weird/unusual beverage offering, Malta India, a sweet non-alcoholic drink from Puerto Rico. We ended up with eight out of eight bottles unconsumed. And there were gifts of a lot of sixpacks of things we didn’t start out with.

There was a gift of this patriotic chrysanthemum…

…and then this…

I’ve known San Diego artist Tom Driscoll for a while, and he brought along one of his recent pieces.

Tom Driscoll: Array 2, in a preliminary mockup before its exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. Gypsum cement and powdered pigment.

For several years now he’s been making casts in found molds–the packaging for various consumer products that we usually throw away–using gypsum cement and powdered pigment. Talk about recylcing.

Here’s a preparatory installation in his studio of a big piece, Array 2, that was featured in the Here Not There: San Diego Art Now exhibition last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.

Tom Driscoll. Array 2, detail of installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. Photo: Elena Jacinto.

Here’s an alternate view, looking upwards, that lets you appreciate the physicality of the components.

Alexander Girard Quatrefoil fabric

If the only thing keeping you from bringing this piece home is that it might not match your sofa, you could reupholster your living room suite in this fabric, Alexander Girard’s 1954 Quatrefoil design, shown here in the “pink” colorway… (Image from eamesfabric.com.)

The piece that Tom brought to the party is a cast of packaging for a computer mouse. Although you look at the object and say “computer mouse,” the packaging was a simplified version of the original object. The resulting piece is more like a sketch of the original object, not a faithful reproduction. It looks great, but if you’re lucky you can complete the experience of the piece by holding it in your hand: cool, smooth, muscular and heavy, it looks and feels like an artwork crafted out of an exuberantly colored piece of stone. If Jean Arp or Constantin Brâncusi sculpted computer mice they might look and feel something like this. This is one seriously sensual object! And–yikes!–I actually have a red sofa it would match.

Thanks, Tom, and thanks to everyone else who contributed to making this a great day!

a garden sun-catcher


Here’s a sculpture that sits outside the kitchen window. Made out of chunks of colored glass that have been mortared into a steel frame, it’s perky all day long. But when the light casts the perky shadows on the wall behind it, the sculpture turns into a bright celebration of the afternoon sunlight.

John used to work with Diane Dandeneau, the artist who created this sculpture as a prototype for a some outdoor objects she was interested in making.


Where you put a piece of art in the garden is almost as important as the piece you select. Diane’s sculpture is currently set against a greenhouse wall, which is a pretty busy background and doesn’t really do it justice. But until we find the perfect spot, we can still enjoy, either when we’re near it in the garden, or while we’re looking out the window.

molds–the good kind

In 1999 I went to an exhibition examining some artists’ response to natural processes. Out of all the pieces the work of Daniel Ladd stayed stuck in my mind all these years. On display were gourds that he had grown into molds shaped like human bodies. With surfaces as smooth as polished stone the process only gave itself away when you noticed the gourd stems.

Dan Ladd. Moulded gourd [ source ]

To do the pieces in the show, Ladd formed molds out of plaster using reproductions of classical sculptures. The mold was then placed in the garden and a young Lagenaria gourd placed inside. As the gourd was allowed to mature inside, it took on the shape of the mold. After frost, the mold was removed, revealing the artwork.

Ladd also uses other shapes as mold forms, but the ones I find most affecting are these torsos. When I started assembling this post I found his website which had maybe a dozen different examples of his gourd sculptures. When I looked again he’d taken them down. So you’ll have to imagine what they looked like based on this specimen that someone had preserved away from his site.

In addition to the gourd art, Ladd also works with elaborately manipulated living plants to form growing sculptures. The whole topiary-like idea of reshaping nature is there in these works, but the results are pretty different. His site, even though it’s currently a work in progress, has some examples.

In researching this post I ran into a whole pile of other things in this general area of vegetable torture, including another artist employing a similar technique.

Mary Catherine Newcomb. Molded eggplant from Product of Eden [ source ]

Mary Catherine Newcomb is a Canadian sculptor who also molds vegetables into human shapes. She then can add non-vegetable details, as you see to the left, in a project currently at the Rodman Hall Art Centre at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.

On the vine, the sculptures are fun, though they don’t have the presence of Ladd’s work. When she takes her veggies and preserves them in glass bottles, however, they turn into something weird and unsettling, like embryos preserved in formaldehyde. Icky icky icky. I want one.

The art of molding gourds isn’t an invention by Ladd. In fact it goes back centuries in China, with its current master practitioner being Zhang Cairi. I have a dim recollection of having heard that vegetables were also molded in southern Europe–things like eggplant and tomatoes. That’s an area for me to do a little more research in. I’ll post anything I find out here. And if you know anything about, please let me know.

A few other gourd and molded vegetable resources:

VegiForms, a commercially available series of molds that lets you turn your fruit into cute sculptures.

Gourd art of other sorts. These are basically “just” decorated gourds.

Jim Story on shaping gourds, via the American Gourd Society.

Jim Widess demonstrates making molded portrait gourds.

Book: The Immortal Molded Gourds of Mr Zhang Cairi by Betty Finch and Guojun Zhang.