January 5, 2009

Mark Di Suvero Sculptures

Mark di Suvero's sculptures are meant to be interactive. One of them even has a swing. Photo by tiswango.

The art season is nearly in full swing at Fairchild, save for some Botero sculptures that are waiting to be installed and some random Chihuly sculptures that are in permanent exhibition.

This year, the main artist featured is Mark di Suvero, who specializes in enormous steel installations. As a volunteer, I had the opportunity to take a wonderful class about the artist. I really appreciate the opportunity because in learning about the artist and his life I've come to appreciate his work all the more.

Mark di Suvero was born in Shanghai, 1933. He has led a fascinating life, which you can read more about here. Circa 1960, he worked odd jobs in New York City, during which time he suffered a near-death experience that would end up transforming his approach to art.
On March 26, 1960, he arrived with cabinets at a building under construction on 57th street in Manhattan. Since the cabinets were too big for the construction elevator, they placed them on top of the elevator and Mark rode along as the elevator operator managed the controls. The operator made a mistake, and Mark was crushed and was pinned under 2,000 pounds of weight for an excruciating hour while he was still awake. Many bones in his body were broken, including his back. He was paralyzed from the waist down. He spent two years in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities, and gradually regained some use of his legs. Most of his remaining life would be spent in a wheelchair.
From class booklet

Does this sound familiar? Painter Frida Kahlo also suffered a near-death accident and survived to paint nothing short of glorious. When you know this man's history, it is amazing to see these unwieldy, heavy and enormous scupltures gracing the expansive Lowlands (east section of the garden). There is no way you can't think of the enormous weight of these things. I'm still perplexed as to how steel was easier to work with than wood, but so it is.

It's also interesting that Mark di Suvero was so inspired by urban New York -- the last place you would associate with Fairchild. It's surreal to see large steel lines and diagonals in a very tropical, organic surrounding. The sculptures remind me more of the skeleton of skyscrapers, rather than the soft silhouettes of bamboo and palm fronds.

Yet we have to remember that the garden -- which appears like it has been growing its particular way forever -- was completely orchestrated by architect William Lyman Phillips 70 years ago, around the same time he designed Matheson Hammock Park next door (Miami-Dade county's first park). As a matter of fact, Fairchild is partly owned by Miami-Dade county, because its founder, Colonel Montgomery did a smart thing: he deeded part of the land so that the Works Progress Administration workers from the park could also work in the garden. And there was a lot to do: the original design worked around a significant limestone elevation, which you can clearly see in the main overlook by the arboretum.

So think about all this when you see the the juxtaposition of these steel sculptures against the plants and the sky. A botanic garden is not only there for scientific purposes (conservation and study) but also to tempt the eye and stimulate the mind. It is never a random collection of plants, but a well thought-out living museum of plants and art.

Thursday nights at Fairchild has already started. It's a great (and very romantic!) time to come see the art work in the twilight. If you go at night, let your nose pay attention to all the night-blooming flowers in the garden (and if you kiss your beloved, I won't tell!). If you go during the day, also check out the Keys Coastal Habitat trail and the scrub pine trail down in the Lowlands.

The art work will be on display until May 31st.

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