Into the woods, Abington – Part 1

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I visited the Abington Art Center outdoor sculpture show the day of the opening, June 5. It was one of Philadelphia’s finest hot, humid days — redeemed only by the fact that June 5 is too early for mosquitoes.

I can recommend the outdoor walk for several reasons, some old and some new. It’s a great opportunity to re-visit Winifred Lutz‘s “Reclamation Garden,” the ongoing project begun in 1992 (!!) to “tidy” the woods and recall the wonderful serendipitous way nature grows, dies and renews itself. (Top image is a tower built by Lutz that has primeval authority, second image is a group of logs holding up two greater trunks of trees. The whole assemblage suggests pallbearers carrying two caskets — very beautiful and elegaic.)

Brian McCutcheon‘s “Totus Mundus Agot Histrionem,” (above) is a picture frame that frames the entrance to the trail leading to the Reclamation Garden. The piece amuses and is squarely in the Claes Oldenberg tradition of great big subversions.

There are lots of other old favorites on the grounds by well-loved Philadelphia artists we here at artblog are partial to: Ava Blitz, Alan Greenberg, Nicholas Kripal, Ron Klein, Jack Larimore, and Jeanne Jaffe, for example. And while he’s not local Red Hook, NY artist Steven Siegel‘s “Scale,” which I don’t remember seeing before, made my day. The assemblage of old rotting newspapers is one of those perfect pieces. (above is a detail and below is the monolith)


Resembling an ancient Celtic cairn “Scale” calls to mind human rituals and also the power of rocks. 20,000 lbs. of old Philadelphia Inquirers speaks of old and new, nature and artifice, city and country. But what got to me is the way it calls into question the value of life. All those stories of all those people in those newspapers are memorialized in the piece. And yet at the same time the piece relegates all human endeavors to the scrap heap. It’s a very dark thought indeed. The piece has been there since 2002 but I don’t remember seeing it before. It alone is worth the trek out there.

Here’s a shot of another perfect piece, Ron Klein‘s “2.B.U-1.8.U.2,” painted trash baskets that seem to rise like a cobra responding to some unheard melody. Subversive of its material and subversive in its questioning of waste, the piece makes me smile.

As for new kids in the woods or on the lawn, of the five new pieces in Curator Amy Lipton‘s “Inside/Outside PASSAGES” I connected most with three of them and unfortunately can’t comment on one of them because I totally missed seeing it on my excursion in the woods where — and be forwarned art lovers — I got LOST on the way to the LOST MEETING and thus ran out of time to chase down that last outdoor piece. (Roy Staab‘s “Katsura Passage” is the one I missed. Maybe some artblog reader will write in and tell us about it because I won’t be going back soon.)

Anyway, here’s what’s exciting:

Warren Angle‘s “La Brea.” The faux tar pit in the shape of the US with the ducks lined up like the stars and stripes has the “goo” factor down perfectly. I almost gagged looking at it even though there was no smell. I love the map-shaped pond and the flag idea. It’s so patriotic! I imagine if Angle tried he could license the idea of USA-shaped backyard water elements to Home Depot and sell a million patriotically-shaped ponds to gardeners in the South. Nice, sassy piece with an eco-message.

Joan Bankemper‘s “A Dovetail Garden.” Bankemper created a number of bird houses that dot the periphery of the lawn. Made of pottery shards from kitsch figurines and cement sitting high on poles footed at the base by plantings, the little housing development is indoor-outdoor-indoor savvy. All those Hummel figurines, skulls (one Vargas girl) look great outside adorning the rooftops and walls of the mini-houses. Putting kitsch to work in the service of baby birds is great. In fact I spotted a tiny house wren bringing a twig into her nest in one house (not the forbidding skull castle (above) but this one (below) that had some angels on it.)

Seeing that little wren was one of my action-adventure animal encounters that day. The other was seeing a deer leave some droppings in the woods out near Siegel’s piece. I know, eeeewwwww. But really, have you ever seen that? It was exciting!

Lisa Murch‘s “Typha Latifolia (Cattails”). They’re big, they’re faux, they’re funny. That’s about it. I loved them.

I’ll tell you about “Lost Meeting,” J. Morgan Puett‘s piece with spurse and David Lang in another post. I want to get this post up before my fingers get hot and sweaty and start sliding around the keyboard like it’s a Slip ‘n Slide.

Anyway, Abington, please put more signs in your woods. A couple would do saying “This way to the Lost Meeting” or “No, turn back! You’re going the wrong way if you want to go to the Lost Meeting.” I could have saved myself about 20 minutes if I hadn’t gone astray.

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