The sculpture park’s newest exhibition features the work of eight artists across various mediums.
by Christine Jackson
February 15, 2022
Basil Kincaid, Beula, 2018, Cotton, silk, velvet, brocade, corduroy, lace, polyester thread. Courtesy of the artist.
Laumeier Sculpture Park’s new exhibition, Salutary Sculpture, on view through May 15, is a meditation on the ways that eight artists’ pieces contribute to health and wellness, both in their subjects and in the practice of creating them. Co-curated by Laumeier executive director Lauren Ross and curator Dana Turkovic, Salutary Sculpture features both indoor and outdoor works, some of which visitors are encouraged to collaborate on. Laumeier also has a full slate of programming planned to supplement the exhibition, including a conversation series, art-making opportunities, and a film screening. We caught up with Ross and Turkovic ahead of the exhibition to discuss all that it has to offer.
Can you tell us a bit about Laumeier’s overall theme of health and wellness for this season?
Ross: Laumeier’s mission is to explore the intersections of art and nature. And health and wellness is something that organically fits into that ongoing exploration. Certainly this is not a brand new area for Laumeier to be doing. The park is, by its nature, a place for people to be well and define wellness, both physical and mental. That being said, we are leaning very heavily into this theme this year. And this exhibition, Salutary Sculpture, I think was really the inspiration to make this a special focus for the whole year. I think I could say the exact same thing I just said about the park about art. Art has a long-standing relationship with health and wellness, for the maker who makes art, but also for audiences who view it and participate in it. One could really make an argument that right now, in this moment in history, the need for self care and healing and restorative experiences might be at an all time high…I’d like to think that one of the sort of silver linings of the pandemic is that people may have a renewed appreciation for parks like Laumeier, these types of free green spaces where anyone can come and have an experience in nature, breathing fresh air, feeling the sun on their face, having space to stretch and explore. I think people really appreciate that this is not a luxury, but a necessity. Although this exhibition we’re presenting is mostly indoors, I think the fact that it is located and situated here in the park, where people can see the work and have that outdoor experience, is a great combination.
What can visitors expect from this new exhibition, Salutary Sculpture?
Ross: Salutary Sculpture brings together eight artists, and the really beautiful gallery that we have here at Laumeier allows us to show works that could not go outside. It allows us more options in terms of what we can show. The title Salutary Sculpture is maybe a little bit of a misnomer, because it’s not only sculpture in this exhibition. We do have sculpture, but actually it’s a pretty broad range of media. We have drawings and photography, and those things are more difficult to show outdoors. There are two pieces in this exhibition that are outdoors, and one of them actually predated the exhibition. Basil Kincaid, who is a St. Louis-based artist, has work indoors in the gallery, but he also has this piece outside that was installed in October. Basil actually comes from a family where he’s a seventh-generation quilt-maker. He learned it from his grandmother, and there’s a long history of quilting in his family, and he’s really embraced it as an art-making practice. When we started talking with him, he was really interested in doing something that would interact with one of the sculptures in our collection that’s on permanent view. It’s a work by an artist named Manuel Neri, and it’s a marble sculpture that sits surrounded by water in a small reflection pond. It remains outdoors all the time, but it has to be winterized to protect its delicate stone, so every year we wrap it for the winter. In conversation with Basil together, we came up with this idea that he would do a second layer of wrapping on top of our regular winter wrapping with one of his quilt pieces. So this year, after it was wrapped, Basil came and did a second layer of wrapping, and when the piece is due to have its protected layer removed in the spring, then [Kincaid’s] piece will actually be removed.
It sounds like a really interesting interaction between the two pieces, covering another artist’s work, but in a way that is beautiful and respectful.
Ross: There’s actually another component to that piece, which was unanticipated, but I think is just incredible and adds a whole other layer of complexity to it. We contacted Manuel Neri to get his permission to do this. We said, ‘There’s this young artist who wants to wrap your work and have this sort of interaction with your piece,’ and he gave his blessing. Then, just about one week before Basil came to install it, Neri passed away. He was 91. And it really added this new layer of meaning or interpretation to the piece. Basil had already selected the quilt he was using, which happens to be black. And it really transformed the whole thing into this sort of memorial. It really looks like a shroud. The sculpture is a figurative sculpture, although it’s very abstracted, but you can tell, even with the wrapping on it, that it’s clearly a human figure. It’s really just incredible. The day that Basil was here to do the piece, he said he felt like he could feel [Neri’s] spirit.
That’s beautiful. You mentioned another outdoor work as well. What can you tell us about that?
Ross: The other is by an artist named Marcos Lutyens, and he will also have work the gallery, but in addition to the indoor piece, he will be debuting in very early March a piece by him outdoors on the exterior of the Aronson Fine Arts Center. It’s called “Rose River Memorial,” and that is actually a memorial to COVID victims. The piece consists of red roses that are made out of a felt made from recycled plastic bottles, and the felt is shaped into roses that are strung onto monofilament, and then they hang, almost like a beaded curtain, on the outside of the building. And the idea is to come as close as possible to having the number of roses match the number of people who have died from COVID in Missouri. The piece was shown in Kansas City in the fall and it had 10,000 roses in it, which at the time it was installed was equal to the number of victims in the state, and the roses were made by Girl Scouts based in Kansas and Western Missouri. Those 10,000 roses came to us, and it’s our goal to add another 6,000. We are working with Girl Scouts in the region, as well as some other partners, to help make roses. It’s really just an incredible community-driven project. Throughout the entire run, we’ll have a station where anyone can sit and make roses and contribute them to the total.
Turkovic: It also coincides with what Marcos and a few other people who are involved are working on with some hopeful legislation [to make] the first Monday in March a COVID memorial day. They’re hoping to get that day turned into a national memorial day for COVID [victims], so the date of the opening coincides with that day as well.
How did you select this group of artists to bring together?
Ross: The curatorial process is really always one that involves ongoing research–looking and reading about art, talking to artists, and kind of accumulating these lists of people who are doing interesting things. Very often when you look at a lot of artwork, things kind of present themselves. We started with a few artists on our radar, but then did research to find more, and, like anything, once you start digging, things present themselves. It’s such a big topic in a way. And I think eight is a really good number of artists to show in that space. In some ways, I think one could do a much, much larger presentation on the theme because it is so timely and relevant. But we are working within these parameters, and I’m really excited about this group of artists that we’ve pulled together, because there’s a variety of different takes in terms of their interests and what they do, but I think they all compliment each other really nicely.
Are there any in particular that you’re personally excited to see?
Ross: I’m really excited about all of them. I think another theme that’s common for many of them, although not all, is that a lot of them came to the work that they make now through a process of their own personal healing from injury or illness. That was a very specific thing that we were looking for and interested in. It’s not the case with every single artist, but for some of them it’s been a very personal healing journey. And I think, for others, it’s been a little bit more of a communal or social process of wanting to heal their communities. They all have really interesting backstories to how they came to do what they’re doing. I’m not sure if either of us could say it started with one artist in particular, but I think there were a couple like that who were on our radar, and then it sort of went from there.
Turkovic: Some of them initially came from a personal experience, but I think so many of these artists you could apply universal experiences to as well. I think especially with Marcos’ COVID memorial, that is universal and one that everyone can connect to. As a curator interacting with the public, I think the kinds of questions that I get from visitors are usually questions like, “What inspires them to make that work?” Or “Why this object?” Or “Why does it look this way?” And I think with this exhibition, it really helps to connect people with why artists make what they make. That process is one of therapy for some artists.
How do you hope people interact with these works?
Ross: We try not to go in with our own preconceived notions or expectations about what people are going to see and how they’re going to respond. We do know that, in many cases, artists have particular stories they’re interested in telling, and we try to do our best to bridge them to audiences. It just so happens that, because of the theme, there’s a lot of really fascinating backstory to every artist. And Dana and I have written an essay that will be published as a brochure. As we started writing, it was like the essay grew and grew and grew. We had an idea of what we wanted the word count to be, and we ended up going bigger because there was so much to say about every artist. At the same time, I don’t think visitors absolutely have to know every detail to connect with the work, to appreciate it, to understand it. All of this work is so visually compelling that I feel really confident that people are going to be drawn in just through the initial experience of seeing it, and then hopefully they’ll feel inspired to learn more. This topic is one that is so applicable to everyone. I think it is very relatable. So people will, I think, bring their own experiences when they’re viewing it, and I think that’s always the case with contemporary art.
Turkovic: Towards the beginning of the pandemic, people were looking for places to just get fresh air, to get out of the house. Naturally, parks do that. Those are the spaces that were open. Those are spaces where you’re not on top of other people. You’ve got fresh air, you can get your exercise. [Parks were], for many people, their way to cope with the situation. I think a hope with this exhibition would be, for all of us having [this] experience, that our focus can be more directed towards our environment and our responsibility to take care of those spaces as well. With Laumeier being a park, that’s another conversation we can have. That would be a wonderful thing for people to take away from the show, too–this sense that self care is hugely important, but perhaps we share responsibilities for caring for each other as well.
What do you most want people to know about Salutary Sculpture?
Ross: I said earlier that I thought if there was one silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that people appreciate that parks are necessities and not luxuries. I have to say that I feel the same way about art. That’s always a wonderful takeaway that people might have, that art, creativity, and expression play really fundamental roles in our lives, that it goes so far beyond being a luxury. These are human necessities. If I had to wish for a takeaway, that would be one of them.
Turkovic: And I think maybe mine would be, if there were someone, a visitor, who maybe wasn’t artistically inclined, somebody who’s never picked up a paintbrush, or done a ceramics class, or made art, to not feel intimidated by it. Maybe find a way to connect with themselves and other people through art, just by making something. That would be my hope.
Jackson is managing editor of St. Louis Magazine. Like this story? Want to share other feedback? Send Jackson an email at email@example.com.
February 15, 2022
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