boutell: (shave)
We revisited Grounds for Sculpture yesterday. A good time was had, but a massive retrospective of every mediocre sculpture by Seward Johnson is not necessary. I don't care that he owns the place.

He sculpts the ordinary, and also recreates famous paintings. In small doses it's cute. In large doses it becomes aggressive propaganda for normalcy. SIT ON A BENCH! KISS YOUR WIFE! BE GLAD WWII IS OVER! 30 FOOT TALL MARILYN MONROE! LOOK AT THIS FAMILIAR PAINTING! OR ELSE!

I wouldn't be so unkind if half of them weren't 30 feet tall.

Even Norman Rockwell engaged with civil rights issues, and he was painting his subjects while they were much closer to the present day. Seward Johnson is just... there, taking credit for restating the obvious, 30 to 100 years later.

One of his statues is accidentally meaningful: a bronze of a businessman with a briefcase sitting in lower Manhattan was buffeted by debris on 9/11. Johnson has, tastefully, refrained from repairing the original. He has also recreated the piece, surrounded by faux debris, at Grounds for Sculpture. I could quibble, but I'm going to give him a point for effort on this one.

Surviving WWII veterans have also adopted his giant sculpture of the famous VJ day kiss in Times Square. Hey, I'm happy to support anything and everything that works for surviving WWII veterans. Sincerely. But this strikes me as another accident. In the artist's window of reference, there's nothing remarkable about it. It gains its significance from the fact that living memory of WWII is slipping away.

Probably his best intentional piece is the Chamber of Internal Dialogue. Externally, it's a small house with sculpted reliefs of Munch's "The Scream" and Odilon Redon's "Silencio." Internally... it's a little bit clever. If he's going to relentlessly present the familiar, I much prefer he juxtapose it like this.

Grounds for Sculpture is still an awesome destination with a lot of fun pieces and an ideal place to chat with friends as you wander. Sandman fans will especially enjoy the muses garden and the triple goddess. But man o day, I'll be going again sometime after the RETURN TO YOUR NORMATIVE ROLES show closes.

September 2014

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