publication of the International Sculpture Center
The DeCordova 2003 Annual Exhibition
DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park
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Wheelwright, Rockababy Moon, 2003.
Granite, 49 x 80 x 51 in.
Photo credit: Mark Wilson
For Joseph Wheelwright, stones speak. They have personalities. They have
names. Some imply gender, age, and ethnicity. For much of his career,
this Boston sculptor has been carving stone headsnothing you would
mistake for Houdon, understand. Quirky, idiosyncratic heads, man-in-the-moon
heads, pocked and cratered heads. Wheelwrights forte is an out-of-the
box mode of creating, a lack of inhibition that results in work of considerable
drollery and occasional grotesquerie, all in evidence at this year-long
exhibition, which opened last June at DeCordova.
tend to acquire a single Wheelwright moon and place it in
a landscape, where such stones quietly exude the spirit of nature. On
the museums sculpture terrace, 10 heads, most of them new, interact
in a cumulatively compelling way. They have a presence akin to that of
the Easter Island heads, yet Wheelwrights fantasies are alternatively
too human or too bizarre
to be reverenced. Even stylistically, no two are much alike.
In 1980, not long
out of Rhode Island School of Design, Wheelwright made a series of drawings
of the phases of the moon. He then embarked on a project to produce in
bronze one small moon sculpture a year; the first 22 are on display in
a DeCordova gallery. These palm-sized objects attest to the artists
talent for caprice, enhanced by witty titles. Some, like Long Moon and
Flat Smiley Moon could come straight out of nursery-rhyme books; others,
like Ho Chi Moon are pure fun and pun.
His earliest large
moon, Resting Moon (1994) was commissioned as a memorial and is located
on a private school campus. Wheelwright found a boat-shaped wedge of rock
on the grounds and, using the narrow edge as the profile, carved on it
a serene, introspective face. Such natural wedges continue to inspire
his eccentric moon visages. Only one moon rests on the museums terrace,
Rockababy Moon, sleeping enigmatically. A pagan power emanates from it,
as well as from the two oldest worksListening Stone, commissioned
in 1995 by DeCordova, and the 2000 Self-Portrait Stone.
Wheelwright can never
be accused of repeating himself, but sometimes his whimsies lead him astray.
His recent Stone with Random Features can be read variously as a rabbit,
a lizard with a human nose for a tail, or a fish with a human ear/gill,
the sum total very low on redeeming aesthetic qualities. Indoors, he ruins
a nice piece of gneiss by carving and painting one blue eye atop it à
la Monsters Inc. and drilling a red mouth-orifice elsewhere. Theres
much to savor in Wheelwrights more restrained fantasies, such as
the Rock Climber who finds a foothold in an open mouth, the tiny Men on
the Moon scattered over a long-suffering moon-face, and The Expedition,
in which tiny mountaineers march over a head/summit.
Wheelwright is not
the first artist to turn a tree upside down and see that it looks like
a figure with roots/hair sprouting from its head. His names for these
Druidic apparitions are evocative, and it may be that such works serve
the purpose of introducing the very youngest viewers to the possibilities
of an unfettered imagination. Yet perhaps such exercises are beneath the
attention of a serious artist.
Hollinger, Butterfly, 2000.
Mixed media, responds
to sunlight, 13 x 9 x 8 in.
Photo credit: Peter R. Harris
The journey, not the destination, is the mantra for this years DeCordova
Annual. An emphasis on inventive process rather than artifact gives us
an artist who knits objects from industrial materials like lead and eight-inch
fiberglass batting (David Cole), another who bounces a film projection
off a water-filled globe (Bruce Bemis), a welder who works exclusively
with 12-inch steel spikes (John Bisbee), a woman whose medium is super-sharpened
pencil stubs (Jennifer Maestre), a simplifier who reduces everything (currently,
vehicles) to spherical shape (Lars-Erik Fisk), and a builder of freaky
little light-activated objects that straddle the gap between art and science
Kudos for variety,
but once the viewer grasps the process, for most of these objects and
installations theres little to linger over. Analyzing Fisks
risible ball/Volkswagen to see what he left out is amusingit is
equipped with such details as dome light, speedometer, windshield wipers,
and ash tray, but the tail light is proximate to the door handle and the
driver would have to be a six-year-old. Most engaging are Hollingers
minutely crafted machines. His tiny bat skeleton flies, his blown-glass
heart pumps blue blood, his contrived Jellyfish, whose parts are all synthetic,
swims with thoroughly convincing motion.