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Garden State

Taking In This Summer's Crop Of Outdoor Works Around Historic Homeland Estate

PAPER CUTS: Alison Crocetta's "Tracing Influence" highlights the Evergreen Sculpture exhibit.

By J. Bowers | Posted 7/5/2006

Sculpture at Evergreen

At Evergreen House through Sept. 24

Evergreen House’s biannual outdoor sculpture showcase is always intriguing, because, really, how often do jaded Baltimore art lovers get to leave the stuffy confines of galleries and museums to wander through the sprawling, elegantly maintained grounds of a historic 19th-century Italianate mansion on a scavenger hunt for site-specific contemporary art? It happens but once every other year, and it’s a difficult formula to screw up. With environs this lush and inviting, the sculptures almost play second fiddle to the gardens themselves. As in years past, 2006’s crop of works fall into two categories: independent pieces that work with the environmental quirks of the estate’s 26-acre garden and pieces that rely on their innate connection to the Garrett family’s history or the architecture of their ancestral home.

With the aid of a map, available on-site or online, visitors can scout out all 10 sculptures—this year, the map is advisable, as several works are tucked away in the woods on the outskirts of Loyola College’s campus. New York artist Michelle Rosenberg’s “Call and Response” combines 19th-century “technology” and old-fashioned woodland lore to construct a birch-coated duck blind, lined with vintage-looking wallpaper and helpfully fitted with a rubber squeeze bulb and a brass phonograph bell. Above the bulb, an engraved brass plaque reads: “Anas platyrhynchos,” the Latin name for mallard ducks. According to the map, the other half of the sculpture, another duck blind with similar bulbs, lies across the estate’s Stoney Run stream, but with the thick summer undergrowth it was impossible to figure out what was going on, let alone lure out any Anas platyrhynchos. Still, even half-experienced, Rosenberg’s concept and execution are evocative and mysterious—artifacts from a Victorian mad scientist’s lair.

Fellow New Yorker Matthew Geller’s “Babble, Pummel, and Pride” is also meant to be experienced, not just seen. Placed near the estate’s square Friendship Garden, Geller's forest green steel-and-glass swing looks shockingly modern at first, its clean, sharp lines and angles amid the garden’s mossy decaying brick. But the piece’s real magic only occurs when visitors have a seat, watching and listening as a timed fountain of water hits the swing’s glass canopy, then dribbles harmlessly back toward the stream.

Winifred Lutz’s “time after time: a clearing” stands out by blending in. Rather than create a single sculptural structure, Lutz has blended several elements into an extant crumbling brick greenhouse wall at the north end of the garden. Visitors wander through a twisted wooden archway to find that Lutz has topped the clearing’s natural abandoned stumps with flat plugs of brick. The installation almost gets lost among the garden’s existing structures, but its direct response to the architecture is attractively understated.

By contrast, Susie Brandt and Kristine Woods’ “Baltimore Erratic” sticks out like a sore thumb—or, rather, like a shapeless mass of shredded plastic shopping bags and other detritus. The piece is mainly conceptual, meant to be an urban version of a glacial erratic—a chunk of rock carried by ice movement far away from the outcropping it originally came from—placed incongruously on Evergreen’s pastoral grounds. The idea is solid, but the piece itself isn’t much to look at, and viewers gain more by reading the accompanying plaque than actually looking at the piece.

The exhibit’s real gem can be found attached to the side of the Garrett family’s carriage house, just a few steps away from a series of fascinating gravestones honoring long-dead horses. “Tracing Influence” is a massive stenciled image of a woman, some peacocks, and delicate floral patterns, laser-cut into white waterproof paper and plastered to the side of the building like a giant, elegant doily. Created by Alison Crocetta, the piece is based on designs drawn by Jacqui Crocetta Grothe in response to a design book found in Evergreen House’s library. This mural-like piece is every bit as elegant and mannered as the mansion itself.

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