KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
We’re not sure why, but 4,000 years ago humans formed mounds from stones and deliberately set them into the landscape. Ancient peoples later erected the cryptic megaliths of Stonehenge and mute pyramids of Egypt.
Here we gather up sea-smoothed beach stones and blistered driftwood to place in our gardens. It’s an impulse driven, perhaps, by the need to say, “I was here, and in this very place I became one with nature.”
Today we call it art. An exhibition of contemporary environmental sculpture now on view at Peconic Landing in Greenport bears witness to this intuitive creativity.
The event is cause for celebration because it culminates the restoration of Brecknock Hall, the landmark Italianate stone mansion that was built in 1851 by David Gelston Floyd.
“Now that the renovation is complete, we can carry out the mission to utilize this historic place as a cultural arts center serving the North Fork community,” said Patricia Lutzky, vice president of resident services for Peconic Landing, during a preview of the juried exhibit.
Dominic Antignano, cultural arts and activities coordinator for the residential facility, has advanced that mission through a number of alliances, including the collaboration with East End Arts Council that made the sculpture garden exhibition possible.
“This helps EEAC bring its programs and events to the east end of the East End,” said the council’s executive director, Pat Snyder. Her international call for artists resulted in the selection of 16 works by 14 artists from Cutchogue to Denmark. The pieces, chosen by a panel of four art-savvy jurors — Richard Mizdal, Peter Reginato, Charles Riley II and Marianne Weil — now inhabit the three undulating landscaped acres behind Brecknock Hall.
Pulling this show together wasn’t easy, said Mr. Mizdal.
“We had to get beyond individual tastes, focus on the quality of submitted work and consider how the pieces would relate to one another in the environment,” he said.
You’ll slam on your brakes when you pass “Wall Walker” by Jack Howard-Potter, a young sculptor from New York City. He had in mind the rubbery octopus toys he as a kid threw against the wall and watched creep toward the floor. His giant octo-beast has two earth-grabbing legs and an arm to support a head, rendered in the form of a biceps muscle. This “body collage” is informed by the artist’s anatomy studies.
Upstate New York artist Chris Lewis may have been summoned here as much by the eerie call of his forebears as he was by the advertised call for artists. He’d already begun his piece “Ship Out of Water” and planned to use a flag emblazoned with a dragon — a Welsh symbol — when he learned that the Floyd family came from Brecknockshire in Wales. “That’s where my family is from,” he says, still flabbergasted.
His abstraction of a sailing ship is composed of an acid-washed steel “hull.” It supports a soaring 30-foot wooden mast bearing the dragon flag. A giant buoy-like heft of natural bluestone gives weight to the mast as it moves with the wind. It’s one of this exhibition’s most whimsical and inventive pieces, a compelling reminder of the North Fork’s seafaring heritage and a metaphor for the few degrees of separation between the artist, his creation and its setting.
Yugoslavian born Zoran Luka, a 30-something sculptor, lives in Denmark. He carved “Symphony” from a maple tree in Ms. Weil’s backyard expressly for this exhibit and it’s one of the most intriguing pieces in this show. Mr. Luka creates the illusion of music with his abstractly rendered instruments — a cello, violin and harp.
“I want people to imagine the musicians left on a break,” he said during an interview at Ms. Weil’s home. “They will come back. The viewer wonders how the music will sound, imagines the shape of music through the visually lyrical curves of the instruments themselves.”
Much of the sculpture exhibited here recalls the art of modern minimalist and environmental artists of the ’60s and ’70s. Avital Oz’s “Ill Castillo,” the most monumental work here, nods to this tradition. His gigantic naked frame of rusted steel sits within a grassy niche, its sharp angles and planes affording the viewer glimpses of earth and sky, depending on where one stands. Nature wants to embrace art’s child, but eventually the steel’s brute strength will be undone. Mr. Oz acknowledged this impermanence when he quipped, “I encourage it to rust, so it will disintegrate along with my ego trip.”
Rob Lorenson’s “Syosset #12,” a bright red geometric structure, likewise plays with geometric form, inviting a variety of landscape perspectives to be viewed through its asymmetrical angels. Robert Strimban of Cutchogue plays with opposites — curves and angles, black and white, male and female — in his aluminum sculpture aptly titled “Yin and Yang.”
Other artists conceived their sculptures more in terms of nature’s organic, flowing forms. Jayne Johnes’ “Open Heart” replicates in steel the delicately tangled eelgrass of a nearby pond. One finds no trace of welding in Molly Mason’s “Clepsydra” (the ancient Greek word for water clock), a seamless work that similarly mimics nature’s graceful forms.
Move over SoHo, here comes NoFo.
Juried Sculpture Garden
Open on weekends, July 18-Sept. 26, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at Peconic Landing’s Brecknock Hall, Route 25, Greenport. Free admission. Cosponsored by Peconic Landing and East End Arts Council.
Exhibiting artists: Dan Bergman, Steven Ceraso, Stephen Fabrico, Geoff Feder, Jack Howard-Potter, Jayne Johnes, Christopher Lewis, Rob Lohrenson, Zoran Luka, Molly Mason, Avital Oz, Donald Saco, Robert Strimban and Steven Zaluski.
Gala reception on Saturday, July 17, 5-7 p.m. Tickets: $60. (631) 727-0900 or www.eastendarts.org. All proceeds benefit EEAC.