Nestled within the hills and dales of northwest Connecticut lies a world-class sculpture exhibit that envelops you into its bucolic setting. With pieces as diverse as a “giant tulip” that could have been transplanted from another planet to neoclassical nudes, the show presents bronze and marble figures as well as abstract, kinetic, whimsical, industrialized and thought-provoking works in stone, resin, glass and metal.
Officially titled the WAA (Washington Art Association) Sculpture Walk, the exhibit is located in Washington Depot, first settled in 1734 and traversed several times by George Washington. Anchored by the town hall and central plaza, the show is the result of the ambitious mission of town leaders to stimulate people to explore the nooks and crannies of the village “and look at it from a different perspective,” says co-curator Barbara Talbot. Sixty-three sculptures by more than 40 artists are featured, ranging from small pedestal mounts to 10 feet and larger: many of these works were created by recognized and acclaimed sculptors whose works have been displayed around the world, including Wendell Castle, Julian Schnabel and Hugh O’Donnell.
For those who believe art’s purpose is to provoke, many pieces jolt our complacency, challenging our sense of entitlement and responsibility. This was part of the criteria in selecting pieces, said Talbot. “Given the disparity and divisiveness of the planet at the moment, bringing these disparate things together can create sort of a whole,” she said.
Confronting our insularity, “Punch is Homeless,” an imposing figure by Robert Taplin, mimics a familiar sight in cities around the world. Pushing his shopping cart overflowing with bags full of his lone belongings, Punch’s face is quite content despite his vagabond circumstances. “Punch is not looking for your pity,” said Taplin. “He’s not a pathetic figure. He’s just going about his business.”
Taplin’s social consciousness inspired him to design a series of Punch sculptures in recent years that celebrate the dignity and resilience of the working class. Partly a spinoff of the puppets Punch and Judy, who “are sort of a degenerate derivative” from the Italian character Pulcinella, Talbot explained that the outward appearance of such characters, with their hunchbacks, hooknoses and protruding chins, may cast them as uncouth and dangerous. That obscures an underlying creativity and intelligence, he said. “He’s like the outsider, the lord of misrule, who doesn’t follow the rules. He’s sort of a collection of things we are uncomfortable with.”
With a deeply felt angst about the future of our planet, sculptor Timothy Hochstetter’s work provokes, contemplating what future life forms might look like. “My spirit is tormented and torn and longs for our human species to take responsibility for evolutionary decisions,” he said. Hochstetter is driven by envisioning “what’s left after the anthropogenic phase [human-induced changes to earth’s ecosystems] of human habitation has left this planet. It’s like pushing the imagination into the future.” But, he said, “what imagination does is bring you back to the present moment to reckon with what your responsibilities are.”