Saturday, May 17, 2014

A man and his rocks

Editor's note: I have always been a big fan of Stone Field Sculpture. Some of my earliest memories of Hartford are of me climbing up the rocks. For the 30th anniversary of the piece in 2007, I founded the "Friends of Stone Field Sculpture" and had a picnic there. When iQuilt was planning on turning the rocks into some sort of stupid water feature, I got back in touch with Carl's wife to prevent foutainification of my favorite piece of public art in Hartford. Dario shares an affinity for Stone Field Sculpture and wrote this:

Leaning on my bike in the shade on a beautiful warm spring afternoon, gazing at the rock sculpture on the long isosceles triangle of a lawn in downtown Hartford, I realized actually how beautiful the scene was. Carl Andre's 1977 controversial sculpture of eight rows of boulders (the first at the tip of the triangle has only one; the second, two; the eighth which runs parallel to Main St. has eight, for a total of thirty-six) has aged very well. Rocks do that. The seasons pass and the rocks slightly weathered by time develop a patina. They are of basalt and gneiss, two types of rock easily found in this region. Since its creation, the "Stone Field Sculpture" has been a source of controversy. "It's just a bunch of rocks. That's not art! Anyone can do that!", decried many at the time and over the years. The City of Hartford even tried, unsuccessfully, to recoup the $87K it had paid the artist (not with taxpayer funds, by the way). The rocks have become part of the urban landscape, the sculpture is appropriate to the strip of no-man's land between Main St. and Gold (a short, winding street) and the city's oldest and most historic cemetery. The artist, Carl Andre, now in his mid-70's, is one of the fathers of Minimalist art. He is featured in a NY Times article (May 7, 2014) about the upcoming exhibition, a retrospective of his work, at DIA in Beacon Falls, NY. Andre is known for his use of local, simple, natural, but also industrial, materials and for arranging them in simple and suggestive forms. He is "exacting" in the materials' disposition. 

Prompted by the article and short video about the exhibition, I rode my bike from campus, down Vernon St., across the Learning Corridor, down Retreat Ave., through the Hartford Hospital campus, down Park, left onto Wadsworth St., across Bushnell Park, to the field of stones. And what did I see there besides a bunch of rocks? I saw something magical and quite beautiful. Buses unloaded students on Gold St. who marched up the sidewalk to catch their transfer on Main. Mothers and children cut through the field of stones, following their more direct desire lines. A heap of clothes and personal belongings was behind one of the boulders in the middle of the sculpture, not a late addition, but a temporary locker for one of the urban denizens. A passerby took a break and sat on the rocks. I wasn't sure myself if I could do so, the field of stones being a work of art and all. And then I realized, what Andre's sculpture does to us: It invites us to inhabit it, to view it as part of a landscape. It's next to a cemetery of headstones and it is a gracious, quiet complement to that historic and human artifact. I've ridden by Stone Field Sculpture on my bike hundreds of times and have always known it was there, but I have never really observed it. Why? Because we just don't look at rocks and because the beauty of the installation is not what it is, but how we interact with it. For many, Andre's minimalist work blurs the line between art and non art, but whatever is beautiful is aesthetic and art is the realm of aesthetics and, for me, Andre's field of stones was beautiful yesterday. I expect it to be so today, too.

1 comment:

Ashley Odell said...

Hey there! Are you still serious about Friends of Stone Field? If so, I'd like to get in on that. :)