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Yard Scale

Another Round of Witty, Impudent Outdoor Works At One of Baltimore's Toniest Addresses

Will Kirk/JHU
DEF BY INFLATION: Sharon Engelstein's "Green Golly"

By Deborah McLeod | Posted 7/16/2008

Sculpture at Evergreen 2008

At the Evergreen House through Sept. 28

The manicured grounds of Evergreen House--the Gilded Age abode of Baltimore's railroad-owning Garrett family, now overseen by Johns Hopkins University--find their serene composure set aside every two years for a summer-long sculpture show, curated by a guest art luminary. Award-winning Washington curator Andrea Pollan is this year's arbiter of boisterous art that invades a sylvan setting. Leaving her tiny Curators Office gallery, where new things incubate and grow great, she has provided some iconoclastic shape to Sculpture at Evergreen 2008. It's a good show for arguing over, and that's a good thing.

Sharon Engelstein's "Green Golly" is, however, the best, most outrageous fetish form this venue might ever find on its grand neo-classical doorstep: a chartreuse gusseted canvas orb that achieves its regal corpulence via gas pump. Thus, like the monstrous holiday inflatables found on so many American lawns, Engelstein's "Green Golly" spends its downtime as a fabric puddle. It's the kind of collateral humility that levels all things. It is no waving snowman though; "Green Golly" is an about-to-burst succulent gooseberry of natal, sexual, and manifest-destiny circumstances. It's a pregnant belly with a popped navel, a breast with an aroused nipple, and a 3-D cartoon of a turgid locomotive leaving to go off to work. The grounded blimp's scale works admirably for its complex visual task. Seen from outside you get to know its absurd height and hemispheric pomposity a bit, but from the mansion's interior it infuses the most luminous and lovely glow of early-spring green that it quite embarrasses the exquisite Tiffany light fixtures nearby.

"Green Golly" has a color-coordinated accomplice around the bend in Wee Lit Tan's "Ephemerally Everchanging Evergreen." Tan has resurfaced a corner of the house with a large grid composed of fused apple-green acrylic strips. It essentially reproduces the architecture behind it as a "wire frame" computer graphic the way an engineer might illustrate the structure of a form as a see-through network of intersecting lines. The translucency of the green acrylic emits a jewel-like but also wraithlike effect. Dimensional squares repeat the leaded glass squares in Evergreen House's fenestration. Tan undermines the necessarily predictable pattern he's established by breaching one off-center area. Splitting it along a vertical line, he forces an elongated diamond-shaped fissure into the design as an intervening force. This act of defiance in an otherwise geometric conformity endows Evergreen's own little diamond-shaped leaded glass accents with some relevance, rather than let them remain impassive as pure decoration.

Down the hill, where two beautiful tepees sit in an adjacent juxtaposition to the grand manor, is another matter. These tepees were handcrafted by Sioux Indians and erected by artist J. Hill for this show. Their charge is to invade the grounds of this white man's empire and to take it back, if only for a summer. Additionally, they acknowledge the Garretts' collection of several old tepees, enjoyed by the family as novelties. Hill has faced his tepees not upward toward the house as a repudiation of the deeds of railroad barons but outward toward the driveway. This orientation, barring any other artistic intervention, makes them not too removed from commissioned tourist attractions. It's interesting to look at a genuine tepee and consider living one's life there, looking through their upper aperture to the heavens, but it may be disappointing to some not to find something more in them.

Across the road is "Shooting Electrons," a neo-Sol LeWitt piece. The placement of this retro sculpture allows us to encounter historical artifacts on both sides of the entrance, and it is handcrafted by Mike Womack. Here, the appropriator has, in fact, intervened artistically by wrapping his open en pointe cube with multicolored outdoor rope lighting. Womack's treatment brattily disproves the notion that artistic intervention into a pre-existing idea is the key to something extraordinary.

Down some concrete steps and back to something wonderful, now, are Hyungsup Shins' fractal-inspired electric wire vines. Entwined in an old wisteria trellis, Shin's wickedly exquisite twisted knots and braids of shimmering metallic ribbons and telephone wire lace themselves irrevocably to the sturdy weathered structure. Like an invading plant specimen from another universe, they are much too fascinating to cause alarm, no matter the potential repercussions of letting the strange phenomena remain to flourish and propagate.

The final high point of this diverse show of true highs and a few lows is found at the end of a lengthy path through the underbrush beyond a lower parterre, where "Lighthouse, Beheaded" awaits. It's a fine example of curator Pollan's sense of humor, not to mention that of artist Adam Frelin.

A small, derelict, and broken lighthouse sits amid vines, up on a wooded hill. Because it feels not unlike a crime scene, you approach it with the deepest of solemn sympathies, followed soon by an irreverent chuckle. As an analogy, this toppled lighthouse is a requiem to ever again knowing the way home. As a representative lawn ornament of the ubiquitous and cheesy kind, it's delightful to imagine old Evergreen's highbrow denizens harboring a penchant for this proletariat embellishment. With both of these effects in equal play, Frelin's piece is the secret cultural skeleton in the sculpture on the grounds closet.

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