Monday, September 17, 2012

Grounds for Sculpture: The Garden State’s Garden of Art

Anyone reading this blog -- whether long-time followers or new readers -- knows that I am a big fan of art and can surmise that I also like gardens. But it’s rare that I get to combine these two interests. However, one place that can always be done is the magnificent Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. This place is a large sculpture park built on the former New Jersey Fairgrounds, which were bought and converted into this artistic space by Seward Johnson. Grounds for Sculpture was officially opened to the public as a sculpture park in 1992.

Although I’ve only been to Grounds for Sculpture only a handful of times in my life, it just so happens that three of those visits were between 2011 and 2012. It seems that every time I go, I end up gushing so much about it that I inspire another person to want to come visit it with me!

One of the things that I really like about Grounds for Sculpture is that it is not just an outdoor museum; there are others like that elsewhere, albeit Grounds for Sculpture is the nearest to me. But Grounds for Sculpture is more than that – it boasts a large collection of sculptures by Seward Johnson himself, who re-creates famous paintings in the landscape of the gardens. For instance, Monet’s Garden at Sainte-Adresse (a painting I know well for I have a copy hanging in my living room) is re-created on a grand scale here, placed before a lake. Visitors can stop by and physically plop themselves into a chair next to the seated lady and gentleman admiring the view. Elsewhere, there are re-creations of famous paintings by Manet, Rousseau, Matisse, and so on.

There’s also a fair amount of sculptures designed to appear like regular people about the park. Look out for a gardener trimming some bushes, a couple sleeping under the shade of some trees, a young girl reading on the grass, and so forth. These sculptures make you do a double-take to confirm that it’s really a piece of art and not a person.

Of course, there are also numerous other sculptures throughout the park that are not based either on other artists’ work or meant to be trompe l’oeil. These works vary from George Segal’s “Depression Bread Line” to more abstract and conceptual works. Whatever form the work takes, it is sure to be incorporated into the landscape in a most fitting way, whether that be within a bamboo forest, alongside a shady pathway, in a broad grassy area, or near the lakeside. All and all, this makes for a pleasant walking experience -- just remember to take a map with you and/or watch for some landmarks or you will find yourself lost on the property! But don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path to find some hidden gems, like a quiet nook with a hammock for relaxing.

Some other features of Grounds for Sculpture worth mentioning are its Water Garden, peppered with still more sculptures but this time in the extra aura of mist and tinkling waterfalls; fine dining at its Rats restaurant (hearsay, as this blogger has never actually been); and its peacocks. Yes, its peacocks. Somehow these beautiful birds have taken up with art and live on the grounds. You will see them throughout the park, can buy stuffed animal versions of them in the museum shop, and can even dine at the Peacock Café on site (no peacocks served there, of course!). Be warned that at the Peacock Café, you might be hard pressed to find a seat on the outdoor patio as sculptures have their places here as well.

During my most recent visit to the grounds, we got some extra treats. The first was that the artists’ studios on the grounds were partially open to the public. One artist was unofficially giving visitors a tour of his work space. Another artist was working on a project and allowed viewers to stop in to see his progress and asks questions. This was a really exciting opportunity to see behind the scenes and get answers to any burning questions about technical details about sculpture and the artistic processes from concept to construction.

The second treat was that we found some exhibits on display in the grounds’ Domestic Arts Building, which had not been on our agenda per se. The bottom floor of the building featured the “E Pluribus Unum” exhibit of artist Willie Cole’s work, which largely focused on works made with recycled items. For instance, the thing that caught our collective eyes first was a chandelier made from plastic water bottles. There were also several sculptures that resembled cows, which took me a few moments to recognize as made up of parts of toilet bowls. When I found in the accompanying literature that this work was called “Two-Faced Bull Shitters,” I could not stifle a loud chuckle at the cleverness of this title. The top floor of the building was giving over to artist Marilyn Keating’s exhibit “Natural Curiosities.” As the name implies, many of her works focus on beauty in the natural world, including insects, animals, and plants. Several of her works were created with wood blocks, which is one of my favorite artistic mediums, if I have not mentioned that before somewhere in this blog.

Although we arrived too late in the day this last time to take advantage of this other great Grounds for Sculpture feature, on a previous visit we participated in the Tots on Tour event. This special tour is for 3- to 5-year-old children (and, of course, their accompanying adults!), who are treated to a story time, a craft time, and then a quick run of some of the park’s many art works, highlighting those that would be most exciting for children. These include a giant snake the kids could run on top of and an interactive musical sculpture. As soon as the tour began, the guide explained to the kids that if a sculpture had a green sign near it, they were allowed to touch it with care but if the sculpture had a red sign near it, they could admire it with their eyes only. The kids were thrilled to run around looking for green signs and have the opportunity of interacting with the sculptures tactically. I’ve now been to Grounds for Sculpture with young children of a variety of ages (younger than 1 year old; not quite 2 years old; age 3; age 4; and age 5) and they have all been delighted with visiting the sculpture park. All of the staff running the Tots on Tour feature were well-versed not only in art but in child development as well, making sure every part of the event was the appropriate amount of time and complexity for young ones’ attention spans.

If you are driving in or around Hamilton, no doubt you’ve noticed some of the giant sculptures scatted about the grassy areas near major roads. These are some of the greatest advertisements that could be given for Grounds of Sculpture -- pass near them, and you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to be in the sculpture park. But visit the park itself for the much grander scale of what that’s like. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

1 comment:

  1. This is really interesting take on the concept.I never thought of it that way. I came across this site recently which I think it will be a great use of new ideas and informations. Thank you for sharing it with us.Many Garden Art Sculptures believe that making use of scrap or found objects is a good way to help rebuild something by turning it into something else.