RAM Talks Art: Rockford’s public sculptures: Art without walls

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118366661511839.jpg’, ”, ‘1. John Raymond Henry’s “Cape Variations”2. Terese Agnew’s “Rockmen Guardians” 3. Gene Horvath’s “Suspended Motion” 4. Gene Horvath’s “Sinnissippi River Crab” 5. Alexander Liberman’s “Symbol” 6. Robert McCauley’s “Inlet Markers” 7. Leonardo Nierman’s “Flame”’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11836643211701.jpg’, ”, ”);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118366439311670.jpg’, ‘Photos provided’, ‘Gene Horvath’s “Suspended Motion” (photo above), a stainless steel shot into space meant to resemble industrial parts made by the Baldwin Enkel Corporation, located at the main entrance to Sinnissippi Gardens. Created by internationally acclaimed sculptor John Raymond Henry in 1973, Beattie Park’s “Cape Variations” (bottom photo) is one of his earliest public sculptures—the first by the artist installed in Illinois, and the first public sculpture collected by the Rockford Park District.‘);

Summer offers residents and visitors to the Rockford region what other seasons sometimes can’t—a great excuse to get outside!

And Rockford possesses something many cities of its size don’t. Among work purchased and/or maintained by the Rockford Park District, the City of Rockford and Rockford Art Museum, Rockford has amassed an abundant collection of outdoor art.

Have you ever stopped to notice this artwork outside?

Rising a dozen feet off the ground and stretching 40 feet, it rests as a mild intrusion into the natural surroundings in downtown Rockford’s Beattie Park. Two matte black aluminum beams lean pensively against one another; the larger of the two beams is bent, gently angling skyward before dropping to the ground, creating a tripod. Footprints on the larger beam remain as a reminder where an adventurous child attempted to climb its bulk.

This 1,000-pound sculpture seems simple, plain, maybe even a little ugly. Although it is certainly not commonplace, “Cape Variations” can be hard to appreciate.

Created by internationally-acclaimed sculptor John Raymond Henry in 1973, the Beattie Park piece is one of his earliest public sculptures—the first by the artist installed in Illinois, and the first public sculpture collected by the Rockford Park District.

“Cape Variations” is more simple than other work Henry became better known for after co-founding the pro-public sculpture ConStruct Gallery in New York in 1979; the piece reflects a strong influence of Minimalism.

An artistic movement developed in the late 1960s, Minimalism focuses on the experience of the artwork. When visiting a museum, paintings are framed, sculptures sit on pedestals, and everything has its separate space; the Minimalists sought to get away from viewing art this way.

Instead, Minimalists thought art should alter its surroundings and, in turn, its surroundings should alter the artwork. The actual object—not what it represented—was of prime significance. It cannot be seen absent of its environment, nor can one simply look and “get it.”

This theory has had a profound impact on the presentation of public sculpture created during the last 40 years, and Henry’s work is no exception.

“Cape Variations” exists in the context of the grass and foliage of Beattie Park. While the foliage provides shadows, hides portions of the sculpture, and allows for a discovery of the art, the art breaks up the view of the trees.

While the trees are rooted and solid, the sculpture rests on three corners of its beams, barely touching the ground and defying the weightiness of the massive material that comprises the sculpture—it looks as if it could collapse at any minute, yet it stands entirely immobile.

Thanks to numerous sculptures in Sinnissippi Park, Rockford boasts an entrance drive on Highway 251 that residents of larger cities admittedly envy.

Take time this summer to do a walking tour through the beautifully landscaped park, and you’ll find art all around—from Terese Agnew’s “Rockmen Guardians” on the south end, to Rockford’s newest public sculpture, famed Mexican sculptor Leonardo Nierman’s “Flame,” on the north end.

In between, explore Gene Horvath’s “Sinnissippi River Crab,” composed of geometric rusty steel blocks that seem to crawl upon the ground, and then Horvath’s “Suspended Motion,” a stainless steel shot into space meant to resemble industrial parts made by the Baldwin Enkel Corporation, located at the main entrance to Sinnissippi Gardens.

Stand immediately in front of Alexander Liberman’s bright red/orange “Symbol,” look up, and try to avoid the impending sense that 30 tons of old steel drums, pipes and scrap metal may come crashing down!

As you pass Auburn Street on the Rock River Recreation Path, be on the lookout for Robert McCauley’s “Inlet Markers,” two totems featuring a deer and trout on top, reminders of the value of the nature of the bucolic trail and of Rockford.

There are many other sculptures throughout Rockford, Loves Park and Cherry Valley; take time to experience them. Notice the particulars of the piece—the color, the material and the location. Is the piece representational? If so, why did the artist choose that representation? And what does it represent?

How does the piece deal with its materials? If it is constructed of heavy material, does it defy or accept its weight? Is there a sense of motion?

Interact with public sculpture, ask questions, and you may find it time well spent.

And the best parts of experiencing public sculpture? Free. Art. Outside.

from the July 5-10, 2007, issue

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