Brooke Barrie

At the Former State Fairgrounds

Upkeep and TLC

Corrections or additions?

Big Grounds, Big Sculpture

This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 5, 1999. All rights reserved.

Chances are you have heard of the Grounds of Sculpture.

Thanks in part to the generosity of its prime sponsor, J. Seward Johnson,

this 22-acre sculpture park in Hamilton Township is far more visible

— literally and figuratively — than many art venues.

Open to the public with no admission charge since 1993, it includes

more than 125 pieces of sculpture on its beautiful grounds, and, taking

advantage of two buildings on site, offers indoor as well as outdoor

sculpture. It hosts three exhibition seasons a year: spring (opening

Friday, May 14, with a private preview Saturday, May 8), summer, and

fall/winter. In its brief but impressive history, Grounds for Sculpture

has become a major sculpture site and information center.

But despite all the attractions and amenities, more spectators might

attend minor league baseball in a week at Trenton’s Waterfront Stadium

than visit the Grounds for Sculpture in a year. Now, however, thanks

in part to its proximity to the new Hamilton Transit Complex —

aka the new train station — the sculpture center is gaining momentum

as a destination. In 1997 it counted about 12,000 visitors. Last year

that rose to 22,000. And this year, if early patterns hold, the number

could exceed 40,000.

Interestingly, the rise in visitors coincides with Grounds for Sculpture

spreading its tentacles in the direction of that new train station.

In what could become an ongoing project, Grounds for Sculpture has

installed six contemporary sculptures near roadways and buildings

in the station area; by summer, 10 or so should be in place, and an

informative brochure will be available.

Top Of Page
Brooke Barrie

Discussing all this activity and achievement with an earned and easy

authority, Brooke Barrie, Grounds for Sculpture’s director/curator,

moves comfortably among interrelated sculpture subjects: the spring

exhibit; the behind-the-scenes steps of installing and maintaining

the outdoor sculpture in and around Grounds for Sculpture; the volunteers,

including docents, or guides, at the facility; and her first book,

"Contemporary Outdoor Sculpture," published earlier this year.

Born in Schenectady and raised near Syracuse, New York, where her

father worked for General Electric, Barrie was exposed to art at an

early age — her mother did pastels and water colors. Barrie went

to the state college at Potsdam (Class of 1976) to study art, and

"when I took my first course in sculpture, I knew that’s what

I wanted."

She trained as a sculptor, earning her M.F.A. from Tulane University.

"I did pieces that were human scale and smaller," she recalls.

"You need money, tools, and equipment to do the big things."

In her final year at Tulane a college art association conference was

being held in New Orleans and among the firms interviewing was the

Johnson Atelier. She was hired by Johnson and moved from there to

the Grounds for Sculpture. While she now spends more time as an administrator

than a creator of art, Barrie admits that every so often she takes

a deep breath and looks around her: "It’s like paradise."

If Grounds for Sculpture has been there for years now, does that mean

the number of sculptures has just kept growing? Is the place getting

crowded? What chance would a first-time visitor have of seeing and

assimilating what’s there, or is it hopeless to start now? Fear not,

says Barrie. Although the number of pieces on view outdoors at Grounds

for Sculpture numbers more than 125, they’re not all the same works

that were there to begin with, or even a few years ago. For each of

the three exhibition periods, new pieces are added, and others cycle

— either to different positions in the park or, if they were loaners

to begin with, back to the owner or artist.

In fact, the question about capacity has merit: Space

for monumental pieces — such as Isaac Witkin’s 18-foot tall "Garden

State" — is growing scarce, but there’s plenty of room left

for smaller works. And in the Museum and Domestic Arts buildings,

the park’s two inside sculpture venues, works on view change during

every exhibition season, sometimes including more than one artist.

For example, the upcoming spring show, "Premonitions in Retrospect,"

will feature 40 bronze, aluminum, and stainless steel works by Elizabeth

Strong-Cuevas, both inside and on the grounds, together with "New

Additions" by 15 other sculptors. And, starting with Philip Grausman’s

portrait head of a young woman, "Leucantha," some of the works

being positioned around the township come from the grounds at Grounds

— or should we say the Grounds’ grounds? Their removal might precipitate

installation of other pieces at the same sites. And dramatic landscape

changes, such as quick-growing trees, can also necessitate re-positioning

pieces of sculpture.

Both the three-dimensional art at Grounds for Sculpture, and its (also

3-D) clientele cover a wide range. On a bright and breezy spring day,

with pink trees on the brink of blooming and grass suddenly a dazzling

green, you can park at Grounds for Sculpture facing John Ruppert’s

"Pumpkins" — five giant, silver-colored squashes lying

on a grassy sward near the park’s tidy parking lot. On one side of

the Domestic Arts building is a pleasant courtyard, with sculptures

spotted around it — and on this perfect day to be outdoors, uniformed

little grade-school girls wind up a class trip, but don’t wind down:

They buzz around the courtyard with waterbug-like bursts of movement:

zipping among the art works and metal tables in their final nod to

the art they’ve experienced. A couple of them dance right up to J.

Seward Johnson Jr.’s three-figure cast bronze, "Eye of the Beholder."

If they almost-but-not-quite stand on the waiter’s feet, will he shoo

them away? Another speeding little girl loops by Katrina Tatarovich’s

"Mirage."

Top Of Page
At the Former State Fairgrounds

Grounds for Sculpture is located on the former site of the State

Fairgrounds, and visitors used to need a map to get there, but no

more. Both the sculpture garden and the new Hamilton train station are

easily reached via Exit 65B (Sloan Avenue) off I-295. Road signs lead

first to the train station, and with that in view, to Grounds for

Sculpture. First-time visitors to either site are advised to come at

off-peak times, with lighter and slower traffic. Then, art, and not

survival, can be uppermost.

The facility’s 50 volunteers include 15 docents who conduct tours

and provide structured activities for visiting art classes. Pleasant

weather usually spurs visits by individuals, couples, families. Inviting

as the grounds and the works themselves are, they are even more so

from spring to autumn, when the pond-side Gazebo Cafe is open. Food

is available year-round in the Domestic Arts building cafe, which

also houses the museum shop and two of the four full-time staffers.

Thanks to Grounds for Sculpture’s community outreach,

those in the audience for outdoor sculpture now include rail commuters

and anyone else with reason to be in the environs of the new railroad

station — not to mention people who pass through Hamilton township

for any number of business purposes.

On Klockner Road, drivers suddenly realize they’re approaching a giant

woman’s head near the side of the road; the new kid on this block,

"Leucantha" gazes imperturbably into the distance. First entering

the attractive transit complex, motorists confront an array of linear

and vertical lines and poles before noticing an uncommon sight: William

King’s "Unitas," two colossal, flat-looking metal figures

shaking hands — a not-so-subliminal tone-setter for rush hour

perhaps?

Two of the newly positioned outdoor sculptures are figurative —

quite large in scale, they make reference to the real human shapes

they are drawn from and meant to suggest. Others, like Ray Katz’s

steel composite of geometric forms, "Around the Gateway,"

near the Federal Express building at the entrance to the transit complex,

are still massive, though abstract. If, like countless New Jersey

Transit riders, you stare across the tracks while waiting for your

train, you will now see Alexander Lieberman’s "Daedalus,"

a painted red-orange abstract sculpture, in front of the American

Standard building. Further along that sight line is Larry Bell’s "Summerian

Figures 14 and 23." John Henry’s linear steel work, "Grand

Rouge," holds down East State Street Extension.

By mid-April, six works were in place in the community, with four

more projected for installation, says Barrie. And of course, getting

them into their new digs is not a simple matter of trucking them out

there and dropping them off. An early step is "siting" a piece

of outdoor sculpture, or deciding where it might go. At the sculpture

park itself, this decision is influenced by other art works near a

possible locale, the kinds of trees and bushes nearby, how the piece

might look in different seasons and with different light, and scale

considerations — a small piece can look even smaller with nothing

sizable around it, for instance.

On private property near public roads, additional steps include obtaining

owners’ permission and preparing the site. At either place, "installation"

is the right word, for sculpture must be firmly anchored to assure

its own safety and that of passers-by.

The size of the piece determines whether it will be placed by employees

of the Johnson Atelier, a sister institution whose resources are shared,

or by other contractors with equipment to handle the biggest sculptures.

In true skyscraper fashion, outdoor sculpture must also be subterranean;

to assure wind-resistance and overall stability, its support starts

far below ground, often via its attachment to an I-beam or a poured

concrete base. Barrie may collaborate with the artist whose work is

being installed, the one most likely to know how it could best be

"rooted."

Top Of Page
Upkeep and TLC

Like those who enjoy it, outdoor sculpture requires upkeep — preferably

TLC. Starting with the customary admonition against touching this

art — oil in our skin can harm the surface of the sculpture, for

instance — Grounds for Sculpture practices preventive maintenance.

Bronzes are waxed at least once a year, Barrie says; painted surfaces

make their own demands, and wooden pieces are the most vulnerable

of all outdoors. (Requiring constant upkeep, wooden boats are the

best proof of this reality — think fiberglass sculpture!) For

each exhibition period, sculptures are checked for possible care needs.

Earlier this year, Barrie’s varied efforts in the sculpture world

were capped by publication of her first book, "Contemporary Outdoor

Sculpture," a large-format, all-color, mostly-picture volume that

features the work of 37 "prominent living artists," as well

as "less established sculptors doing important work." Each

is represented by at least one full-page photograph of a key work,

together with a few paragraphs of text. Dramatic looking, and certainly

easy to read, the book serves as a useful introduction to the current

scene.

Ranging from the fabric-based art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, through

ceramic works by Toshiko Takaezu and polished bronzes of Arnoldo Pomodoro,

to Beverly Pepper’s monumental cast iron forms, the book touches on

modern sculpture’s wide range of styles, mediums, and settings. Merely

leafing through it invites further page turning — and why not,

when one random opening shows Tetsuo Harada’s "Earth Weaving,"

a series of granite reliefs and sculptures positioned on and next

to a dam in Japan; the next opening offers Mary Frank’s intriguing

clay figures; and the last random entry, to Alexander Liberman’s bold,

red-painted steel works, is, simply, exciting.

Interestingly, "siting" the photographs of these monumental

pieces on the printed page seems to a challenge similar to the siting

of the actual works. Sculpture titles are not closely linked to the

illustrations, but printed together on the text page for a given artist.

This makes for occasional matching difficulty and can require flipping

back and forth. The plenitude of white space, itself welcome, seems

achieved at the expense of type size and inclusion of more information.

Barrie’s surviving text, which she says began as much longer essays,

makes the reader want to know even more, such as artist statements

and more specifics about the work.

Already thinking of subjects for further books, Barrie is glad to

have learned much more about all these artists, having communicated

with each of them in person, by phone, mail, or fax. Not only is her

book available in the museum shop, but some of her subjects’ sculpture

is or will be on view at Grounds for Sculpture — Robert Murray’s

painted aluminum "Hillary," for instance; Johnson’s life-size

tableaus; Isaac Witkin’s cast bronzes; and Strong-Cuevas’s abstracted

metal heads and faces, to be featured during the park’s spring exhibition

period.

Which brings us back to Hamilton Township, the new Transit Complex,

and Grounds for Sculpture. It’s a great season to visit neighbors

— especially beautiful and stimulating ones. Go!

— Pat Summers

Grounds for Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton.

The park is open Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For information

and directions, phone 609-586-0616. Web site: www.groundsforsculpture.org.


Next Story


Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments