By Paul Angiolillo
If the site is appealing, I’ll travel almost anywhere to show my outdoor sculptures (okay, a modest stipend doesn’t hurt). But it’s a boon when the place is closer to home. I was pleased, then, to be selected to participate in a temporary exhibit (through Labor Day) on the grounds around City Hall in Newton Mass., just a couple of miles from my home and studio.
If you’re in the area, it’s worth a visit. (It’s right on Commonwealth Ave., a.k.a., the Boston Marathon route into the city, and just across from main library.) The grounds themselves might qualify as environmental art. Designed by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, the 10-acre parcel of land, which completely surrounds the city hall and war memorial building, comprises a sweeping lawn, a tree-lined pond, two stone bridges and many other small green spaces and copses. It would make a great setting for any kind of sculpture show that I can think of. Yet, while Newton hosts a big arts festival each year in and around the buildings, 2017 is the first year that it’s hosted large outdoor sculptures.
The exhibit’s co-curators, nationally known sculptor Ralph Helmick and professional art consultant Andrea Foggle Plotkin, both Newton residents, took advantage of this multi-faceted landscape to choose sites for 17 sculptures, by 14 artists, that play off their immediate surroundings. A low-profile, fan-like piece, built from brown plastic decking (“S-Whorl” by Peter Dellert), rises slowly out of a lawn. Tucked into a smaller, semi-wooded area, two stainless steel spheres (“Bubblewrap” and “Supermoon” by Gints Grinsbergs), appear along a path. Walk across the stone bridges, and one is greeted by large monoliths of granite embedded with colored glass (“Couplet” and “Earthshine Milestone” by Antoinette Prien Schultze).
“The reception to the exhibition has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Linda R. Plaut, director of the mayor’s office for cultural affairs, who wrote to all the artists in mid-June, asking if they’d be able to keep the show up through Labor Day (Sept. 4), instead of the planned July 31 closing date.
One always hopes such first-time outdoor exhibits — well-curated, well-situated, and well-received — become a regular event. It’s self-serving, I realize: But don’t such open-air exhibits of “big art” often draw people into space otherwise under-used or under-appreciated? When I get on that jag, though, I remind myself just how much work such an exhibit takes: composing the call and dealing with the submissions, keeping in touch with a gaggle of artists, designing and producing the program notes and signage, organizing an opening, giving a talk and maybe a tour or two, and dealing with the vagaries of the weather and occasional clumsy or over-curious visitors.
I also remind myself, though, that it must be quite rewarding (and fun) to work with others bringing art into the public sphere (or public square). Certainly, making art can sometimes feel like a hermit’s existence. To paraphrase a line (about mortality and the grave) from “To His Coy Mistress” by the great 17th-century English poet Andrew Marvell: “The [studio’s] a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace.”
Newton City Hall is located at 1000 Commonwealth Ave., just across from the main public library. The outdoor sculpture exhibit there, “Cadences,” is on view through Labor Day (Sept. 4). Artists in the show: Paul Angiolillo, Michael Bonadio, Joe Carpineto, Peter Dellert, Murray Dewart, Choe DuBois, Kevin Duffy, Gints Grinbergs, Bruce Hathaway, Sidney Hutter, Jenny Rangan, Antoinette Prien Schultze, Brendan Stecchini and Michael Updike.
(Paul Angiolillo is a sculptor and writer who lives and works in Watertown, Massachusetts. His sculptures and functional arts can be viewed at www.paulangiolillo.com.)