The show was like topping a delicate wedge of artisanal cheese with a handful of artisanal trail mix. Both the Christian Science Plaza and the sculptures themselves are exquisite on their own, but together the experience felt disjointed and oddly incompatible.
By Margaret Weigel.
I am an unrepentant fan of art in public spaces, whether that art is sculpture, murals, sound, or graffiti. So it is with a sad and somewhat confused heart that my experience at Convergence: Boston Sculptors Gallery Exhibits on the Christian Science Plaza (through October 31) did not live up to my expectations.
To be fair, my expectations were high. The Boston Sculptors Gallery is an artist-run cooperative known for its roster of outstanding practitioners; The Christian Science Plaza, the centerpiece of the Christian Science Center, is an oasis of tranquility in the center of downtown Boston located just steps from the site of the recent Boston Marathon bombings. But while the pairing seems well-matched on paper, in practice the show was like topping a delicate wedge of artisanal cheese with a handful of artisanal trail mix. Both the Plaza and the sculptures themselves are exquisite on their own, but together the experience felt disjointed and oddly incompatible.
The sculptures, over 20 in all, run the gamut from large-scale metalwork, abstract trees constructed out of metal, what looks like the start of a giant bird’s nest scaling the side of a building, and towering, if docile, tigers fashioned out of Styrofoam. One of the (perhaps unintended) implications of a show that features such varying styles and shapes was trying to determine just what was a sculpture and what was not. More than once I approached some architectural feature of the Center—an outflow pipe, a sign promising “stairs” on a flat Plaza—in my sincere effort to view all of the art on display. Suffice it to say, I suspect I overlooked a few pieces.
While the variety of work is impressive, the different styles and tones can be jarring. For instance, Tiger Mothers, by Donna Dodson, resembles two outsized Gummy Bears (Gummy Tigers?) sitting across from one another on their haunches surveying one edge of the Plaza’s reflecting pool. While Tiger Mothers is whimsical, it is situated a few steps away from Murray Dewart’s One Bright Morning, a much more somber piece that triggers reflections of space, time, and impermanence. One could imagine spending an afternoon watching the shadows cast by One Bright Morning shift as the sun moved through the sky and pondering mortality and other heavy topics—as long as you didn’t sit facing the backside of one of the Tiger Mothers. Poised, Dobson’s collaboration with Andy Moerlein, a towering bird constructed out of tree saplings and wire ties, manages to feel both dignified and intimidating—the perfect watchful eye.
Work situated further from other sculptures fares better; it is a wise choice that most of the artwork was situated along the edges of the Plaza. Sally S. Fine’s Minoan Reflections is a magisterial figure, decked out in gold and aged copper, that seemed to not only capitalize upon but benefit from its location tucked into a building alcove. I watched a mother try to wrangle two tweens enraptured by George Sherwood’s Wave Cloud, an elevated circle filled with what seemed to be hundreds of flat metal pieces that twinkled with each wind gust. Situated near the edge of the reflecting pool, Wave Cloud fully interpreted and complemented its environment. Michelle Lougee’s knitted, coral constructions—casually scaled poles along one side of the pool—provide playful bursts of color.
The presence of some other sculptures in the show, however, seem like they could be equally at home on any available patch of land in any urban setting. My inner cynic/practical side wonders whether the artists knew ahead of time where their work would be situated on the Plaza and were able to create accordingly . . . or if a few simply rummaged through their existing works to display. Interestingly, Jim Henderson’s Three Bronze Trees, despite hailing from 2009, are an appropriate and thought-provoking addition to the Plaza collection.
With a range of art this diverse, I suspect that a visit to the Convergence: Boston Sculptors Gallery Exhibits on the Christian Science Plaza show offers something for everyone and then some. But I can’t help thinking that if this jumbled collection of work had been presented in a gallery show, the curator would’ve been taken out back and flogged, or at least denied future funding. To be fair, the show’s uniting feature is that the sculptors belong to the same art collective. So while the show does not work as an integrated experience, one might think of it as a dim sum brunch: there are items on the menu that you will like, along with some pieces that will not be to your taste.