Breaking Ground at Sculpture Fields

Soon....

Soon….

For the past several months things have been moving around Sculpture Fields at Montague Park in Chattanooga. Specifically, dirt.  Lots of dirt. Over 2000 dump truck loads of fill (20,000 cubic yards) have been shipped in to the park and formed into berms and mounds. This ‘phase one’ part of the project is expected to include 2000 additional truckloads of dirt to finish the landscaping in the next few months.  On November 18, there was a groundbreaking ceremony that included the Board of Directors of Sculpture Fields, several local politicians, as well as other fans of the arts.  On the coldest day of the year (it’s early yet, but it was pretty cold for the average Southerner) the ceremony was complete with speeches by John Henry (the park’s founding member), the Mayor’s office, and other brave and hearty souls. Everyone that participated even got their own souvenir hard hat and shovel.

John Henry giving the media the scoop

John Henry giving the media the scoop

Distinguished dignitaries came from all over the state!

Distinguished dignitaries came from all over the state!

when they break out the hardhats, you know things are moving along

when they break out the hardhats, you know things are moving along

the tent had a heater, so that was a popular place...

the tent had a heater, so that was a popular place…

As an active participant in the park, I was invited to come help with the dirt construction a week earlier.  I came down for two days and helped direct and count dump truck loads of dirt, which was not the most glamorous of jobs, but it gave the regular crew a break so that they could do other tasks.

dump truck be dumpin'

dump truck be dumpin’

On the days I worked, they were running 5 dump trucks with a turn-around time of 20 minutes each.  Last month, at peak, they were running 14 dump trucks, so there was a truck every 2 minutes or so. In my short tenure, though, there was a lot of down time on the job in between truck loads.  For part of this down-time, I was able to pick rocks out of the topsoil (which brought up a whole host of childhood memories) and the rest of the time I got in some pushups (a great way to stay warm).  I remember growing up on our farm in Nashville and having to ‘rock’ the garden (we had about an acre of garden) which involved picking out rocks from the tilled soil before we planted. As a perfectionist in many ways, this was absolutely not the job for me. I couldn’t ever decide at which point the size of the rock was too small to remove from the garden or leave in the ground. While my brother, untroubled by the paralyses of indecision, would clear most of the garden of rocks, I would clear only several square feet (but they would be the cleanest section of the garden, by far).  While I did pick up a few boulders, John Henry’s sculpture crew did most of the work with the top soil culling, allowing me to concentrate on personal fitness (I managed to get in 500 pushups on Friday).

dirt lumps!

dirt lumps!

There were two bulldozers (one big, one small) running during the time I was there.  The large bulldozer was for leveling out the large mounds of dirt from the trucks, and the small one seemed to be for finesse work to shape the berms and grade the tops.  There is something that brings the little boy out in me when I get close to that kind of heavy machinery, so it was exciting to be playing in a giant sandbox.

large bulldozer leveling  stuff

large bulldozer leveling stuff

lil' dozer dozin'

lil’ dozer dozin’

A.J., the general contractor assured me though, once you’ve been on a bulldozer for 15 years or so, it kind of gets to be rote (not his exact words, but you get the drift).  The dirt mounds were being built in layers where trucks would dump piles of dirt, the large bulldozer would come by and level them, and then the compactor would roll back and forth over the top. To me, the compactor looked like a giant meat tenderizer driving up and down huge steak-shaped lumps of dirt.  Or, maybe I was just hungry…

The meat tenderizer broke, so there was a torch involved...

The meat tenderizer broke, so there was a torch involved…

Speaking of food, the dressing for the berms was put in place using a large front-end loader. This was the most popular machine of the day, because it had a heated cab. John Henry and his grand-nephew Henry split time picking up loads of topsoil and spreading them out over the newly compacted and manicured berms.

early morning, good thing that cab is heated!

early morning, good thing that cab is heated!

topsoil dressing

topsoil dressing

topsoil waiting to be spread

topsoil waiting to be spread

Large berms throughout the park will create a nice sense of flow for the visitors as they explore the area. There is a sense of wonder that happens when one crests a hill and discovers more sights and sounds are to had beyond what was originally seen. I think this approach will work very well for the layout of the park, and it will keep visitors excited as they tour the sculptures. It will also help manage the traffic and keep things moving in some sort of orderly fashion.  I can’t wait to see it all finished with vegetation grown in and other planned features next spring.

View to the north from large berm

View to the north from large berm

 

atop the 9' berm. Hard to tell, but it is pretty slope-y.  Broken truck in background for scale...

atop the 9′ berm. Hard to tell, but it is pretty slope-y. Broken truck in background for scale…

In all, it was a great experience to be a part of such an innovative and rewarding endeavor. I believe when the park opens in the spring it will be a great destination for the city of Chattanooga, but also a draw for art enthusiasts all over the country.  The monumental scale of sculpture that is planned to be displayed will be very exciting to see, even for the casual art goer.

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The Concrete Underpass Hotel Conference

Pretty much sums it up...

Pretty much sums it up…

Last week, I had the chance to go to the MACAA (Mid-America College Art Association) conference in San Antonio, Tx. What to say…

Well, San Antonio was grey.  Very grey.  As in, concrete grey. There seemed to be miles and miles of interstate overpass, underpass, and on-ramps. Myself and my ad-hoc tour guide Brotha O were able to get around the city a bit in his rented dodge charger (we looked like some sort of nerdy, out of shape, middle-aged Starsky and Hutch cosplay wonks) to see what the city had to offer beyond the inner loop.  Surprisingly, the outer loop looked a bit like the inner loop.  We did have fun driving around and looking at the city, though. I think if I were a photographer I would have enjoyed it quite a lot because of the dystopian urban landscape mixed with commercial advertising and new construction.  It was really interesting to witness and I think ripe for some sort of photo essay. Maybe in another life.

Cool bus stop/urban dystopia. I like to think the shelter makes a 'T'

Cool bus stop/urban dystopia. I like to think the shelter makes a ‘T’

The first night of the conference I was able to see was a reception at the McNay Museum and a performance by the Art Guys. The museum certainly had some great pieces and was a quality institution to visit. The highlight of the night, however, was the Art Guys.  Their performance was funny, irreverent, and cynical—all things I like about art. They were very engaging to say the least.  They even handed out some artworks to some of the lucky people that seated themselves first. I managed to get an embossed dollar from them (signed and numbered) as did many in the audience.  There was one woman in the audience that I initially thought was part of the performance because she had that nervous-comedy-club-over the top-hysterionic-laugh that people sometimes get in audience situations. My first thought was that she was a plant by the Art Guys because of her loud and boisterous laughing, but realized that no, she was just having a great time. I am not sure whether I was disappointed or relieved.

Midnight at the 24 hour Mexican themed restaurant

Midnight at the 24 hour Mexican themed restaurant

One thing that happens at hotel conferences is that people not affiliated with the group always seem to enmesh themselves into the scene somehow.  The end effect can be super rewarding or, more frequently, quite the train wreck.  We had the distinction of witnessing the latter during the after party reception. A highly intoxicated woman walked up to the group and proceeded to tell us her life story of woe and sorrow. She opened with “My husband just cheated on me with me sister…” and the conversation went spiraling downhill from there until it devolved into a semi-lap dance/wet noodle grind on my friend’s chair. It was heartbreaking to hear casually presented stories of abuse and addiction in person from a complete stranger. It’s almost like the internet has made people feel anonymous for so long that they become that way in person, too. That may be a stretch, but it just seems like people have much fewer filters on what they say these days compared to just a few years ago. Or maybe at the underpass hotel, that is just what goes down…

glitter and tile at the cantina

glitter and tile at the cantina

We drove out to the University of Texas San Antonio (go Roadrunners!) for the MACAA members’ art show at the campus gallery on a warm and sunny Friday. The show itself was quite diverse and well represented, though not exactly challenging in content. I gravitated most to the winged wooden sculpture by Kurt Dyrhaug (I’m a sucker for well crafted stuff with cool content), but there were many other very nice pieces, as well.  UTSA is out of town a bit, so we had the opportunity to experience one of the finest examples of suburban sprawl in the country on the way to the show.  We decided to get a snack en route and somehow wound up at the sophomorically titled Twin Peaks restaurant. The place was as if a Colorado hunting lodge and Hooters had a sports-bar baby. It was a bizarre experience (as those type places always seem to be) and the fries were way too salty. To be fair though, because of a couple wrong turns, some crazy traffic, and a few thirsty passengers, we did manage to go there twice in one day somehow. I’m not sure quite what to make of that, but I can’t say it didn’t happen.

Go Roadrunners!

Go Roadrunners!

The San Antonio Art Museum

The San Antonio Art Museum

The keynote speaker for the conference (held at the San Antonio Art Musuem) was Joe Seipel, the Dean of the College of Art at VCU. Virginia Commonwealth University is one of the top sculpture schools in the nation, so it was great to hear what he had to say. He had some great points about preparing art students to be artists, but also preparing them to be great people that think critically and act accordingly.  He showed many of his past works such as the Enviro-plug, a genius performance-art piece of sorts, as well as other interesting sculptures. In addition to the keynote, the museum had a nice reception on the patio next to the RiverWalk.

Reception at the San Antonio Art Museum before Joe Seipel's Keynote

Reception at the San Antonio Art Museum before Joe Seipel’s Keynote

Other venues that were great to visit were the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum and Artpace, which appeared to be some sort of residency/gallery situation.  They had a food truck out front, so it couldn’t be all bad, I suppose. The Blue Star was a great space that fronted the RiverWalk and also had a couple galleries nearby. The area was a nice art experience, over-all. At both places, the staff was helpful and very friendly, an art trend that seems to be disappearing of late (I’m looking at you Chelsea).

Of note for the actual conference-y part of the conference, there was a special presentation for Jack Gron, professor and former director at Texas A&M Corpus Christi for a lifetime achievement award from the MACAA President (Jeff Adams) and vice president (Chris Olszewski).  It was a nice presentation that outlined Gron’s service to the teaching community as well as his service to the conference community.  A wealth of professors in the country were either taught by Jack (including me) or were influenced by him in some way.  It was great to see him get some recognition for all his efforts over the years.

Jack, Chris, Jeff giving the award

Jack, Chris, Jeff giving the award

ISC Conference in New Orleans

This year’s International Sculpture Center conference was in New Orleans, which was quite the host city.  There was incredible food, music, and….. oh, yeah, sculpture. The conference featured 250 artists and sculpture enthusiasts and 19 panel discussions, in addition to a host of other activities.  I got there a few days early to explore the city a bit before the conference started. I stayed in the French Quarter, which I would definitely recommend because there is so much to see and it is easily walkable.  I do not, however, recommend wearing sandals when walking about in the Vieux Carre…

Not many people out yet, but still lively

Not many people out yet, but still lively

I did a fair bit of walking for a few days and even took the cable car (which was agonizingly slow, but super fun). The city was surprisingly small in terms of getting around and unlike other southern cities, I never felt like I had to have a car.

Overall, the city felt very friendly and the people that I met were terribly interesting.  One server I met during lunch had a PhD in political science, which I thought was awesome. Awesome because everyone should be educated in such a way, no matter what their job.  Though it’s not city specific and just a sign of our times, it still had a funky N.O. disconnect to it for some reason.  Maybe because she was so much happier there in New Orleans as a server and not an academic in some small town away from family and friends..

filming of some chef show for television

filming of some chef show for television

One thing I loved about New Orleans was how unapologetic people were about what they did and how they lived.  For instance, I went to a bar for a happy hour drink and was chatting with the bartender (as much as I am capable of ‘chatting’ I suppose) and generally having a good time, when the air-conditioning vent above started dripping everywhere around me. When I pointed this out to him, the bartender said, “Well, it’s a human city”.  That really summed up the whole New Orleans experience for me as well as anything could have.

dixieland band approximate to massive construction project

dixieland band approximate to massive construction project

I walked past a street band that was performing next to a construction project, an occurrence that I also thought summed up the experience well. No one seemed to mind or even to really acknowledge the fact that the band was being drowned out at times by the cement mixer next door. Some of the construction workers were on break (probably) and sitting on steps across the street enjoying the show, while other workers were busy rattling away at their jobs.  It’s as if the band was in its routine in their regular spot with the understanding that the construction was just a temporary inconvenience that would be gone in a few short months.  This tolerance for hardship and unconcerned perseverance had a city-wide feel to it for sure.

So, there seemed to be just random stuff going on all the time...

So, there seemed to be just random stuff going on all the time…

The conference itself had a lot of activities and events that appealed to artists, collectors, and all comers interested in sculpture.  There were artist talks, expert panels, city tours, and social gatherings.  I would recommend the conference to anyone interested in networking or just looking to learn more about sculpture in general. I took a city tour of artists’ and collectors’ houses in the city. It was a great way to see the local-centric view of what art is like for the folks in New Orleans.

Bruce Davenport in his home/studio

Bruce Davenport in his home/studio

A local artist that I enjoyed meeting was Bruce Davenport who lives in the lower 9th ward.  Though not a sculptor, it was great to see his work and to hear him talk about what he was accomplishing through his art.  He is certainly a character and his art really spoke to me in a visceral way, I really felt a connection to the ideas behind his drawings as he explained them. It would have never occurred to me to portray his ideas like he does, but that’s the beauty of the art world in a nutshell.  The group I was with also went to the Art House on the levy (an art center/collective/collaboration overseen by Bob Tannen (I think), who is a fixture in the New Orleans art (and bridge) scene) in the lower 9th, as well as some of the newer homes that have been rebuilt in the area.  These homes have modern and efficient designs, though somehow they still retain some of the same feel as the original shotgun type architecture.

New home in 9th ward

New home in 9th ward

The panels for the conference were lively and interesting and were hosted in three different venues: the Contemporary Art Center, the Ogden Museum, and the Renaissance Art Hotel.  The keynote speakers were Fairfax Dorn and Alice Aycock. By all reports, the panels were informative and interesting.  I tried to see as many as I could, but since many were going on at the same time, I had to skip around a bit to catch as much as I wanted to.  A couple speakers I saw were a bit unseasoned (I think just super nervous which maybe caused some robotic-ness) but the content was well worth staying in my seat to hear. All the other speakers I saw were both dynamic and entertaining while delivering insightful talks. There was a wide range of topics and themes covered by the presenters such as community and art, writing, public art, etc. One panel that I thought captured the spirit of the event was ‘Ignite the Art Spirit Through Interactive Community and Collaboration’. This panel was moderated by Crimson Rose of Burning Man, and had some great projects outlined by the speakers in a highly informative yet unpretentious and real way.  In a ‘human’ city, this group of speakers seemed to embody the spirit of the town in which they were presenting.  Some other highlights include Michael Manjarris’ discussion of Art New Orleans, Abby Suckle’s frank and hilarious discussion on writing about art, Delaney Martin’s Airlift project, and many others. I didn’t see everyone speak by any means, but I thought the ones that did speak were well done. Even though I had a small part in putting together some of the ideas for the panels, it’s hard to imagine the outcome of all the speakers until you see it in person, and over-all I was very pleased.

Two board members of the ISC, Chakaia Booker and Carole Feuerman, had exhibitions up during the conference.  Chakaia had work at the Newcomb Gallery at Tulane University and Carole had sculptures at Octavia Gallery on Julia Street.  Both were great looking shows at very nice venues. There were many other art shows around town in galleries and museums that showcased New Orleans’ interests in the arts as well.

ISC Board Members at Chakaia Booker's exhibition

ISC Board Members at Chakaia Booker’s exhibition

I went to several museums such as the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA. The Ogden had a great selection of self-taught and outsider artists that I really enjoyed. There was also an opening reception there for the conference with live music that was a really fun event as well.

Beautiful woodwork at the Ogden

Beautiful woodwork at the Ogden library

The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden was a highlight of the trip. It is a world class sculpture garden with many of the top artists in sculpture history as well as current sculptors represented.  The layout was beautiful and the pieces had an intimate feel to them, each with their own space.  With over 60 sculptures on site, it’s hard to imagine a more complete collection of outdoor sculpture in scale and scope. Don’t miss a chance to see it if you are in the vicinity.

at the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

at the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Jaume Plensa at the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Jaume Plensa at the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

I also got a chance to visit the World War 2 Museum, which was really cool.  They had planes, tanks, and many stories of veterans from the Pacific and European Campaigns. There was even a WW2 veteran on hand to talk to people.  Make sure you don’t go out of sequence when viewing the exhibits though, as I was reprimanded for not going in chronological order for some reason. No spoilers about who won, I guess…

At the WW2 Museum

At the WW2 Museum

In all, it was an absolutely fascinating town and a great destination city.  I found the conference to be engaging and well run by the staff of the ISC. The speakers and events surrounding the conference were excellent and I hope to see everyone at the next ISC event.

Reception at the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Reception at the Besthoff Sculpture Garden

They take their Halloween seriously here

They take their Halloween seriously here, though it’s hard to tell in the picture. Not even October yet…

About 4,000 calories for dinner....

About 4,000 calories for dinner….I’m done with seafood for a while I think.

Mardi Gras tree at Tulane

Mardi Gras tree at Tulane

The Sculpture Gardens at Le Domaine Forget

16 sculptures installed on the grounds of the Domaine Forget, a music conservatory and 130 acre sculpture park. This inaugural show will be on display for 2 years.