Art al fresco at The Mount and at Chesterwood

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Photo Gallery | 2015 SculptureNow at The Mount

Contemporary sculpture has its moment in the sun — literally — this summer in two, long-running outdoor exhibitions.

Chesterwood, the historic estate of sculptor Daniel Chester French in Stockbridge, broke recently from its longstanding call-for-entries, juried format to showcase a single artist or group of artists. This summer, it's the Boston Sculptors Gallery. It was a smart move that brought freshness and focus to an event that was becoming repetitious.

SculptureNow, a nonprofit founded in 1998, migrated among several county locations before settling in 2013 at The Mount, the historic home of novelist Edith Wharton in Lenox. Again, it was smart move. The Mount's grounds are spectacularly congenial to outdoor art. This one — a juried, call-for-entries show — is titled "26x28x50," for 26 artists, 28 sculptures on 50 acres.

Together the exhibitions showcase 52 artworks by 50 established regional artists ranging from abstract and figurative forms on pedestals to installations in metal, fabric, wood, straw, even fur.

Chesterwood has the edge on work that's surprising and challenging, while SculptureNow creates a more esthetically intimate experience at The Mount.

Unlike art conceived in a studio and displayed in a gallery, outdoor sculptures — especially site-specific ones — are meant to converse with their natural surroundings, energizing or growing out of the spaces they inhabit. Some have quiet conversations with their environments; others are more exuberant, and can surprise, delight and even amuse us.

In that realm, I would put Laura Evans's "Threading Yellow" at Chesterwood, a frenzied run of yellow tubing, tape, paint and wire that burrows underground, darts up a tree, and leaps down to earth to vanish in the underbrush like a creature being chased.

Caroline Bagenal's "Words and Leaves" at Chesterwood similarly links art and nature with hardcover books painted red and hung from the branches of a tree like ripe fruit, their pages metaphors for the leaves around them.

At The Mount, William Carlson's "Cognito" brings artful attention to an uphill grove of pines with 14 zigzag pattern constructions of wood strips, painted multiple colors and tacked to tree trunks like abstract line drawings. Visible from the main path, they enliven a patch of otherwise dense forest and invite viewers to wander among them.

Stephen Klema's "Hobbes Claw II," also at The Mount, is a freestanding half circle of multicolored wood, metal and plastic crafted to look like a bench-saw blade cutting into the earth atop a bed of wood chips.

Nearby, Ellen Watson fashioned two life-size topcoats of wool, polyester resin and fiberglass and placed them, headless, in a conversational pose as "Green Men."

Quiet exchanges between art and environment often need to be contemplated before they become clear.

"Andrea Thompson's "Time and Tide" at Chesterwood, based on the quotation "Time and tide wait for no man," is one. Three small boat-shaped hulls atop forward-slanting poles in a sunlit clearing look like a ghostly flotilla moving through the air.

Nancy Winship Milliken's "Landmark I, II, and III" pays homage to the Berkshire agricultural heritage with three, metal-framed towers, one hung with leather harness, set in a pasture and sided with stone, weathered barn board, and tufts of horsehair and wool.

Fay Chin's "Interior Exterior" at The Mount, a framework of aluminum quadrangles strung like a harp with vertical plastic cord and arranged as interlocking partitions, beautifully frames and contains the landscape while drawing viewers into and beyond itself.

Then there are pieces that are less site-specific, ones that carry their narratives within themselves.

Andy Moerlein's "Ancient Migration" at Chesterwood is among these. Borrowing loosely from Native American storytelling symbolism, the mixed-media construction has a big bird standing astride a river valley carved into the forehead of a massive bird skull set atop stick legs in walking positions. Visually, the present stands upon the past and the living upon the dead, as time, represented by the carved river channel and the army of legs, moves forward.

Beyond these eight pieces, viewers will find abundant postmodern approaches that borrow from many sources and opt for metaphorical rather than direct references. Some names — and artworks — will be familiar to past SculptureNow visitors, a repetition Chesterwood sidesteps with its welcome change of format.


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