During the last week of September I drove up to Woodstock, New York, to see Paths: Real and Imagined, a show of outdoor sculpture curated by Nancy Azara. The show was at Byrdcliffe, one of the original arts and crafts colonies in the United States, now a non-profit organization that serves artists through residencies, classes and exhibitions. Paths Real and Imagined celebrated the 50th anniversary of Byrdcliffe as an art center.
Nancy, a sculptor with a loft in TriBeCa and a home on a hill above Woodstock, conceived the show as a kind of journey—for the curator, the artists and the viewers who walked the grounds to view the work. Her premise: "A path can connote both the unknown and the familiar; the path to spirit and the path to home." Her invitation to 30 artists with ties to the area was to create and install a path into or through the grounds. Lucky me: I got the curator’s tour.
As the weather turns colder and the days shorter, this seems like a good time to revisit a glorious fall day when the sun was shining brilliantly in a clear blue sky and there were still enough leaves on the trees to dapple the ground with pools of light and inky shadows. These are some of the pictures I took, posted more or less in the order in which I saw them as Nancy and I drove along the road, parking frequently to push through the grounds on foot to spend time with each work.
Sandy Straus: Joyful Path to Nowhere, 2007, painted wood
This is the first work you see when you arrive on the grounds. The sources of the patterns, says the artist, are "Plains Indian parfleches, African mudcloth, Japanese imari porcelain, Oriental rugs and my imagination."
In the distance is Shelly Parriott's Color Field: Rainbow Hues, 2007, powder-coated perforated aluminum. Below, a detail of the work:
Sarah Draney: Bark House, 2007, plants, ceramics, mixed media
The work, about five feet tall, is set into a small plot off the road. Maybe it was the setting, but there was a Brothers Grimm quality to the work--modest, mysterious, perhaps a tiny bit menacing. I loved it.
Nancy Azara: Time/Path, 2007, carved and stained cedar planks
This totemic work almost recedes into the landscape, as if it might have been there since the beginning, until you catch a glimpse of the blood red backing, which slices freshly through the greenery. (I'd like to see what it looks like in winter, too, when I'll bet that red cuts like a hot knife through the snow.) You get a better sense of the work's monumental scale, below. The carvings are images of Nancy, her partner, their granddaughter, a raven symbolizing a recently departed friend, and spirals suggesting the cycles of life and death.
That's Nancy standing before her sculpture, below:
Jason Lujan: Some Wander by Mistake, 2007, acrylic, leaves, ink.
This is just a stand of birch trees until you see the garlands of painted maple leaves twining around the trunks, below:
Ursula Clark: Cosmic Wheel, branches and vines
When I came upon this work, nestled into a stand of tall trees and slumping ever so, I had a profound sense that it had somehow returned to its origin after millennia, maybe eons, of spinning, its work finished.
Sarah Greer Mecklem: Smoke Rings. Making art out of the dirtiest of detritus. Perfect, yes?
Doris Licht: Here She Is, 2007, ceramic
You're seeing a detail; the full work is in a copse of trees, with sculptural elements secured to the trunks, suggesting the remnants of a Druidic ceremony, perhaps. Says the artist, "Like life, these totems are a work in progress that will be with me until the end of the journey."
Chris Dunback: Sugar Free Jazz, 2007, paint and canvasComing upon this work, which was set away from the road and down in a small clearing, was like coming upon a waterfall--with the eyes, rather than the ears, taking in the "sound."
Donna Byars: Dream Stones/The Gifts, 1979-2007, cast cement
To get to this work-- three tablets set onto a ledge, each tablet depicting a hand offering an object-- you leave the road on foot and follow a dry riverbed or viaduct some 300 feet into the woods. It's not an easy walk. The dappled light heightened my sense of walking into someone's dream. Indeed, says the artist, "I have chosen the inner path of dreams, a path I have been following for many years."
So inviting, this welcome mat in the woods, until you realize what it's made of. Dooling sees it as "a utopian gesture," a peaceful path between communities. (I had a more visceral reaction, from a memory of long ago: When you live in the country, fall is a time when shotguns ring out and you take care not to wear anything that might mistake you for a deer--like a white scarf or mittens, lest you be mistaken for the fleet-footed creature and taken down with a shot.) Carol Field: Petroglyph Pathways, 2007, paint on rocks I would have missed this work, one of many, had Nancy not pointed it out. Of course, once I knew what to look for, the petroglyphs were everywhere, such as on the rock in the center of this photograph.
Carol Field: Petroglyph Pathways, 2007, paint on rocks
I would have missed this work, one of many, had Nancy not pointed it out. Of course, once I knew what to look for, the petroglyphs were everywhere, such as on the rock in the center of this photograph.
Roman Hrab: Endless Squiggle, 2007
I've included two images of this work, the one above to show you how it's set into the vast landscape of the grounds, and the one below to show you the work close up--a kind of garden or tended terrain of what looked to be lustered ceramic pieces.
Sal Romano: Floating Column, 2000, copper and water
Manuela Filiacii: New Bridges, 2007, cement block
When we came to this work, arranged more or less in a circle on a flat lawn, Nancy said the pieces had been moved--some toppled as if to have been used as stools-- so we set them back into place. I was struck by how typographic the piece seemed, how conversational.
Bo Gehring: Monk's April 2, 2007, painted cast aluminum
This piece, about eight feet high, is the artist's impression of a Thelonious Monk piano solo. "Music, which exists only in the time domain, is realized as a physical sculpture," says Gehring. (See the "Z" marker in the bottom left of the picture? We're coming to the end of the exhibition. )
Grace Wapner: Travelers, Artists, Lovers and Thieves, 1991, porcelain and bronze
Nancy described this work in the catalog as perhaps representing "a jaunty group striking forth on paths unknown." When I saw this work, one of the last in the show, I was thinking about how rootlike the bronze elements seemed, and wondered whether the piece was in the process of being uprooted or sending runners down into the earth. Nancy's take, perhaps suggested by the artist, was something completely different. I suppose our different viewpoints present a metaphor for this compelling show: that different paths can converge or not, and even the same path can diverge in different ways depending on who's on it.
Kudos, Nancy Azara, for a beautiful show!