Larger than Life

Steven Biller Arts & Entertainment

Ten avant-garde sculptors — each with an appreciable measure of notoriety for integrating art and landscape — form the mighty season-premiere exhibition, Material Terrain: A Sculptural Exploration of Landscape and Place (Oct. 15-Dec. 18), at Palm Springs Art Museum. Heavyweights Dennis Oppenheim, Ming Fay, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Donald Lipski headline the touring show of 26 monumental works.

The massive installation engages on first sight. It’s exhilarating, with big surprises in form and especially in materials — including polyethelene, aluminum, chain-link steel, flax pulp, poured Fiberglas, even wheat grass — the stuff
of contemporary landscape-based sculpture that teeters the balance between natural and constructed environments. The artists’ works lead us toward revelatory perceptions of how we view ourselves — and the things we create — in the context of nature.
Brooklyn-based Fay, possibly the most adventurous of the group when it comes to materials, casts his work to reflect and transcend the forms found in nature. Oppenheim, the often-controversial conceptual artist who twists and turns every tradition with social subtexts, offers one of the exhibition’s most challenging pieces: the arresting and fiery Digestion (1988) — deer bodies of poured Fiberglas and copper tubing.

Michele Brody, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, integrated native prairie grass in her first living installation, which she called an “experiment in growth.” Her entries in Material Terrain are Grass Skirt IV (2002) and Grass Skirt X Large (2002).

Kendall Buster also has several large-scale sculptures in the exhibition. His pieces “exist somewhere between object and architecture, functioning as both sights and sites,” wrote David Cateforis, associate professor of art
history at University of Kansas in Lawrence, in an essay for the artist’s exhibition at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo.

Material Terrain — organized by the nonprofit International Arts & Artists and curated by Carla M. Hanzal of The Mint Museums in Charlotte, N.C. — is on an 11-city U.S. tour that continues through 2008. (It costs about $15,000 to transport the show from one venue to the next.)