Bureaucracies can be daunting, even to those accustomed to working within them. To artists, they can be downright terrifying.
Coordinating a major event like the River Sculpture Festival, an outdoor contemporary sculpture exhibition at French Broad River Park, posed the usual logistical headaches for Arlene and Robert Winkler. But in addition to having to raise money and make tough choices about which works to include in the show, the couple faced technical issues and artist anxieties peculiar to the site.
Somehow the Winklers managed to pull it off. The exhibition features a diverse group of sculptures — and most are quite successful.
Many of the great European cathedrals incorporated labyrinths. For the next few weeks, you can walk a different sort of contemplative path at French Broad River Park. Here in the park, when you arrive at the center of the walk, you face the rushing French Broad instead of an altar. As you gaze upward, you see tree branches and clouds instead of arched ceilings and frescos. But the undercurrent of reflection persists.
Wayne Kirby picks up on the theme of sacred geometry with his sound sculpture “Theta Phi,” dedicated to the late Bob Moog. This piece, situated in the gazebo near the park entrance, is one of several not to be rushed. Ten minutes here will put you in the perfect frame of mind to walk the labyrinth!
Kathryn Philpott-Hill contributed three strongly conceptual works to the exhibition. Possibly the most postmodern of her works is her “Previously Owned.” Obsolete refrigerators are planted in a Stonehenge-like arrangement, some still bearing the stickers and magnets of their former owners. There’s nothing ragtag about Philpott-Hill’s other two pieces, which are extremely clean-lined and sophisticated. “Who’s The Fairest of Them All?” is an ambitious work about vanity, composed of a mausoleum-sized cement block structure as graceful as a Greek temple. A square waist-high window reveals a mirrored back wall and six black coffins.
Sean Pace’s “Leaning Tower of Education” is a 20-foot steel tower completely covered with books — all kinds of books. Gardner’s The History of Art holds a prominent place among encyclopedias and books on criminal law, surgical nursing and farm animals.
If you come upon Karen Ives’ “Sit Upon,” you may think she’s lost her edge. Keep walking: You’ll find her “Tree Comb,” which will reassure you all is well. The wooden piece braces against a leaning tree, its orange teeth cut to fit against the tree.
Hayden Wilson used a large piece of wood salvaged from Hurricane Frances to create a tripod with iron stakes attached by motorcycle chain. The work is titled “Frances.”
“Learn to Fly” by Brian Glaze is an impressive abstract work in silver and OSHA orange. Abstract as it is, you can easily imagine a mother bird standing over her offspring.
There are stylish modernist works by Dale McEntire and Martin Webster, and a glowing red monolith by Harry McDaniel that stands elegantly before the dark green of late-summer trees. Cindy Wynn’s “Tristan’s Spaceship” looks for all the world as though it just touched down so that its bulbous shape could be echoed by the lacy cutout orb of Ralph Berger’s “Buoy.”
Dan Millspaugh gives a nod to formal concerns with his “Penta Print,” and Mimi Strang gratifies our desire for whimsy with her “Shape Totem.” There are two refined works in wood by Robert Winkler, and three innovative works by Tom Barkstedt called “RiverLights.”
The exhibition offers three works that approach figuration: “Friends” by Barron Brown, the very handsome “Farmstead” by Rudy Rudisill, and Joseph Race’s “La Fleur de la Fille.” Perhaps the best summation of the exhibition was enthusiastically delivered by a 5-year-old standing in front of Kathryn Philpott-Hill’s “Previously Owned”: “Mom, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!”
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]
The River Sculpture Festival continues at the French Broad River Park on Amboy Road through Oct. 29. Free admission. 255-3766.