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This ambitious survey exhibition of the work of the internationally renowned Scottish artist, poet, and garden designer Ian Hamilton Finlay showcases over 200 objects including sculptures, prints, and books. The show is the first museum exhibition of the artist’s work in the United States since his show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1992; the exhibition is also the first of the artist’s work in the United States since his death in 2006. In addition to filling deCordova’s Linde and Foster Galleries, the exhibition contains a number of works installed outdoors in the Sculpture Park.
After founding Wild Hawthorn Press in 1961 and publishing hundreds of artists’ books, Finlay rose to prominence as one of Great Britain’s foremost experimental literary artists making concrete poetry, a practice which wed language with sculptural form. In 1966, he and his wife Sue Finlay built Little Sparta, a garden in Dunsyre, Scotland, which became the site for the ultimate realization of his aesthetic program. Finlay treated Little Sparta as a site for engaging with cultural inquiry and criticism rather than as a sanctuary or more traditional pastoral setting; he literally placed language into the landscape in monumental form, encouraging a discourse on the reconciliation between nature and modern society.
Finlay freely mined human history to source imagery for his work. He believed that most positive symbols in Western culture had been drained of their meaning through consumerist assimilation and desensitization, and so employed universally powerful symbols of violence and authority such as machine guns, tanks, and guillotines in his work. Finlay’s merger of beauty, violence, and the sacred spoke to his belief in the disintegration of contemporary society’s cultural ideals. When encountered in juxtaposition to emblems of nature and classical idealism, Finlay’s epigrams provoke contemplation of society’s need for a reclamation of civic and aesthetic values.
Several works demonstrating Finlay’s signature fusion of classical beauty and violence are on view in deCordova’s exhibition. Apollo/Saint Just after Bernini (1985-2003) is a suite of bronze sculptures of the youthful Olympian deity, each equipped–upon closer inspection–with modern weapons such as hand grenades and submachine guns, rather than flutes or harps. Similarly, Finlay’s Aphrodite de la Terreur (Aphrodite of the Terror) (1987) is a plaster sculpture of the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality–this time adorned with a modest red necklace, a chilling reference to the red string worn around the necks of mourning relatives of the beheaded during the French Revolution.
Finlay’s work often commands attention through his simple visual and verbal plays on language: Wildflower Vase (1985) is an ephemeral bouquet in a classical white vase labeled with the text "Wildflower: A Mean Term between Revolution and Virtue." Finlay’s text causes the work’s immediate beauty and representation of nature to become a prompt for the contemplation of communal mindfulness. In a comparable gesture, Finlay’s Panzer Leader (1976) is a cast tortoise whose shell is embossed with the word Panzer, a German word that can be translated as tank, armor, or turtle shell. Although Panzer Leader appears to be an unassuming, tank-like reptile at first glance, Finlay’s application of language quickly renders it a more sinister evocation of the thunderous crush of German tanks during World War II.
Finlay’s challenging engagement with landscape and history does not make allowance for a passive viewing experience. The artist’s work encourages viewers to question the role of the detached consumer and to utilize the tools of awareness that Finlay presents in his work in order to consider their responsibility in articulating the future of society.
Funding for this exhibition has been provided by an anonymous donor and Joyce Linde.
PLATFORM is a series of solo exhibitions by early- and mid-career artists from both the New England and national arts communities. These shows focus on work that engages with deCordova’s unique spaces, both indoors and outdoors, and social, geographical, and physical location. The PLATFORM series is intended as a support for creativity and expression of new ideas, and as a catalyst for dialogue about contemporary art.
This selection of works from the Permanent Collection celebrates the written word and its role as a longstanding inspiration to artists working in all mediums. Whether found or constructed, language catalyzes the imagination.
Artists whose works will be in the exhibition include Thomas Barrow, Bruce Barry, Alan D’Arcangelo, Robert Cottingham, James Dow, Lalla Essaydi, Walton Ford, Lee Friedlander, Al Hansen, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Sister Corita Kent, Emmett McDermott, Larimer Richards, Jon Sarkin, Aaron Siskind, Joseph Wardwell, and Andrew Witkin.
2011 Rappaport Prize recipient Orly Genger's monumental installation Red, Yellow and Blue is among deCordova’s largest and most ambitious installations to date. Originally commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy in New York City, where it was on view during the summer of 2013, Genger’s project is a notable collaboration for both MSPC and deCordova, as it marks the first collaboration between the two institutions.
Red, Yellow and Blue features Genger’s renowned usage of hand-knotted, paint-covered rope, configured in bright, undulating walls in three primary colors that wind through deCordova’s 30-acre lawn, pathways, and hillsides. At deCordova, the work is comprised of about 1 million feet of rope collected from the Eastern seaboard and 3,500 gallons of paint, weighing in at over 100,000 pounds. Red, Yellow and Blue is adapted from its initial presentation in New York City’s Madison Square Park to the contours of deCordova’s grounds. The miles of crocheted and layered rope articulate the topography of the Sculpture Park, reference the familiar low-lying stone walls that line the New England countryside, and offer fresh opportunities to engage with the landscape.
“For its second life at deCordova,” Genger notes, “I wanted to create a piece that would encourage visitors to travel through the Sculpture Park grounds as opposed to holding visitors in a space as it did in Madison Square Park. Like an elongated sentence meandering through the landscape, Red, Yellow and Blue will move and transition from ground to ground and color to color.”
Genger’s piece alludes to the work of modernist abstract painter Barnett Newman’s 1960s painting series Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?, and Minimalist sculpture by artists such as Richard Serra, Robert Morris, and Tony Smith. Genger’s installation, however, stands in sharp contrast to their industrially made, assertive monumental forms. The woven sculpture makes visible the thousands of hours of labor by a team of people to create a work not made by a machine. According to Genger, “I wanted to create a work that would impress in scale but still engage rather than intimidate. The tradition of knitting caries the sharing of stories and the installation draws on that idea.”
Credit and thanks:
Orly Genger, Red, Yellow and Blue, 2013 © Orly Genger, commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York, NY; loaned courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy, Larissa Goldston Gallery, and Orly Genger. Major funding for Red, Yellow and Blue at deCordova has been provided by Joyce Linde, Robert Scott and Diane Spencer, and Don and Jeanne Stanton. Additional funders include Linda Hammett Ory and Andy Ory, John and Susan Flahive, Tony and Amie James, Mary Levin Koch and Bill Koch, The Robert E. Davoli and Eileen L. McDonagh Charitable Foundation, and others who generously raised their paddles in support of the project at deCordova’s Party for the Park 2013.
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What Color Are You: Red, Yellow or Blue? Become a colorful contributor by making a gift to the annual fund. Your gift supports projects such as Orly Genger's Red, Yellow and Blue.
Follow along with Orly Genger in the making of Red, Yellow and Blue! Watch as the rope is transformed from its nautical origins into vibrant sculptural installations in New York’s Madison Square Park, and deCordova’s Sculpture Park. Photographs courtesy of Laura Ludwig, Orly Genger, Laura Beshears, and Julia Moody.