Artina2017: (Re)Use and Abuse of the Land is the second partnership between the Sandy Spring Museum and Washington Sculptors Group. The seventeen sculptures situated throughout the bucolic acreage surrounding the museum’s main building and artist studios attempt to reinforce the notion that nature is at its core a series of overlapping biological systems, our human existence being only one piece of this complex puzzle. The works range in size from the miniscule like Ode II sitting on a tree stump to Bastion which dominates the field in which it is placed. German juror Ursula Achternkamp chose 13 members of the group whose pieces (according to the press release), “focus on local or regional findings or research that address[es] global issues.”
Encouraging viewers to consider their relationship to the natural world while attempting to encompass the multiple ideas embedded in ecology is a tall order and not every work is successful in that regard. The most impactful works use a deft hand with materials, allowing the landscape itself to tell an almost autobiographical story. The ceramic mushrooms in Ode II by Marc Robarge subtly hide the artist’s hand, allowing the viewer to contemplate the lifecycles of nature unadulterated by the impact of mankind. A Place for Receptive Silence by Mary Annella Frank uses a simple framework of wood and rope to give primacy to the creeping vegetation scaling its sides. Octagon of Summer Grass by Diane Szczepaniak is perhaps the most simplistic work in the show (its title is an exact description) but also the most contemplative; take a seat on the small bench and meditate on our symbiotic relationship with nature.
Less successful in expounding upon the exhibition’s central themes are works where the materials overwhelm the natural landscape around them. Refuge for the Sandy Spring Museum by Maryanne Pollock, which features three painted canvas panels hung between trees, focuses the eye on its colorful swirls and distances the mind from the mature trees standing between them. Grant McFarland’s Bastion, a 10 by 12 foot monolith standing in a field, doesn’t replicate a natural structure so much as dominate the flat land around it. Sheep in the Meadow, an experimental work by c.l. bigelow and Kass Mcgowen is similarly heavy-handed in its treatment of the land (although that approach is, in this case, intended by the artists).
In other contexts, these works could be exemplars of beauty or challengers to our preconceived notions of ecology. One thing nature posits however (underscored by the more subtle works) is that it needs no mediator to impart its power. Artists cognizant of that power allow their materials to be bent to nature’s will, allowing their work to serve as conduits rather than harnesses of nature’s energy.
ARTINA 2017 runs though September 30, 2017 and is viewable on the grounds of the museum daily. For opening hours at Sandy Spring Museum indoor exhibitions, please visit their website here.
Banner image: Refuge for the Sandy Spring Museum by Maryanne Pollock.