On View at the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria
An ongoing exploration of landscape is at the forefront of Seattle-based sculptor John Grade's practice. Pulling from his avid travels through various terrains, including the arctic circle and the Great Basin Desert, Escalante plateau, and other canyonlands and mountains of the southwest, Grade absorbs and mirrors patterns found in nature, engaging these organic elements in his monumental, sometimes multi-site projects. His sculptures question the human journey through time and space through the lens of the environment, while many of his recent projects also allow for an interactive experience with the work.
Seeking to enrich and expand viewers’ (and his own) relationship to place, Grade subtly inserts his sculptures into the landscape, combining natural materials such as wood, stone, animal hides, and clay with engineered or man-made materials. Many of his installations, including Canopy Tower, a new commission for the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria, are sited specifically in consideration of environmental factors. The accompanying conditions of weather and nature, which at times can be cruel, enhance the story of the object—the work might adapt, degrade, or even fall apart, a process embraced by the artist. Such entropic shifting is a necessary part of the work, with chance, change, and environment acting as major elements in the life of the sculpture. Grade comes from a long history of artists working in the landscape, in particular, pioneering Land artists, both American and British, such as Robert Smithson, Richard Long, Andy Goldsworthy, and Nancy Holt (whose work Time Span, 1981, is also on view at Laguna Gloria). Using the earth as material, these artists engaged specific locations and created large-scale installations in remote areas. Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970, and Holt’s Sun Tunnels, 1973–1976, are sited in isolated areas in Utah, but both projects included major planning and construction. Long and Goldsworthy spent considerable time walking the landscape and activating it with more subtle materials, including their own feet, as well as natural materials found on location, creating ephemeral works of art. Meant to be experienced in the world, Grade's work takes a cue from each of these artists. However, he combines both monumental and ephemeral approaches in an attempt to meld object and environment in a seamless and unique manner.
For the commission at The Contemporary and his first project in Texas, Grade, an avid backcountry hiker, took interest in the areas off the traveled paths of the grounds of the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park and headed into the forest. Inspired by the wind blowing off the lake and through the many large, old trees that dot the site, Grade has conceived a large-scale inverted tower, suspended from three trees on the lower grounds. This tower, assembled and carved from ipe wood, hangs off the ground high enough for a viewer to duck inside into quiet isolation, allowing for two separate experiences of the piece. While the sculpture is stationary on the bottom half, creating a sense of shelter, the top half is given the flexibility to move with the wind, juxtaposing the sheltering experience with the flux of a wind-driven moment. The sculpture is also dotted with carved, fluted forms that extend out from the panels of wood, a process developed by the artist for a previous work, Wawona, in 2012. The fluted forms relate to coccolithophore—a form of phytoplankton that creates calcium carbonate shells and plays a role in the global carbon cycle. Within Canopy Tower, these punctures serve to admit light inside variably, highlighting the Brazilian hardwood and its contrast with the local trees. The movement of the upper tier of the sculpture affects the light spilling in, moving it across the interior in a sporadic dance.
Within his poetic methods, Grade leaves much to chance while exploring the exchange among material, form, and idea. The artwork “performs” with nature and is rarely seen in a static, pure state due to ongoing activation and shifting. As its quiet author, Grade subtly integrates the work into its environment, calling attention to the journey of the art object and the relationship of viewer and object to site and time.
This exhibition is organized by Rachel Adams, guest curator, with text also by Adams.
John Grade (American, born 1970 in Minneapolis, Minnesota) lives and works in Seattle. Grade creates large-scale sculptures that are exhibited internationally in museums, galleries, and outdoors in nature. His projects are designed to change over time and often involve collaboration with large groups of people to build and install. The artist is the recipient of the 2010 Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Tiffany Foundation Award, an Andy Warhol Foundation Award, two Pollock-Krasner Foundation grants, and the 2011 Arlene Schnitzer Prize from the Portland Art Museum. Past exhibitions include the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Emory University, Atlanta; Bellevue Arts Museum, Washington; and the Seattle Art Museum. Grade’s 65-foot sculpture Wawona is permanently installed at the Museum of History & Industry, Seattle, where it breaks through the floor and ceiling of the building, bridging the water and sky. The artist is currently working on a three-year project documenting and modeling changing landforms above the arctic circle, including sites in northern Iceland, Siberia, Greenland, and arctic Alaska.
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