by Edward R. Brohel
(a permanent exhibition located throughout the Plattsburgh State University Campus)
Plattsburgh State Art Museum Sculpture Park, Platsburgh NY

Postmodernist criticism and historical principles have had more effect on themselves than on art production during the last thirty years.  More than ever, current operative principles, when they are formalized, have become the (responsibility) of the artist, a by-product of the process and the object.

In today’s creative cauldron, history is a list of highly accomplished, aesthetically fulfilled individualists.  Artists follow the implications and challenges of their own style, or non-style, the ideas or societal situations, which relate to their concerns or directions.

Today group exhibitions and contemporary collections are built on the broadest, most generalized commonalities, largely dependent on the genius and ability of the artist, a broad-based interpretation of modernist principles with postmodernists and easy general variations.

The Sculpture Park Collection at Plattsburgh State found its criteria of inclusion and is role in the college and community as it evolved.  The product of a close administrative collaboration between the Art Museum and the Art Department sculpture program, it created a unique multi-level education network on campus and beyond.  Artists came to Plattsburgh, the college did not go out “collecting.”  By creating an environment of learning, fairness, respect, professionalism, mutual benefits, energy and excitement, it became a place artists wished to be a part of.  Good artists know other good artists and pass on information about sympathetic environments to their serious work.  Artists create and discover their aesthetic by working.  They do so by working in a responsive, challenging and critical environment; in other words, an educational one.  All aspects of the creative choice, practice and installation have become part of the educational structure.  The artists not only initiated the environment of learning and growth but also benefited by it.  Putting commercial and media critical immediacy aside as they journey north, they entered the dialogue of growth with their pieces and the Plattsburgh State University community. 

Certainly the process of making art has been enhanced and professionalized by the sculpture park.  In addition, the collection of the objects throughout the campus has brought art into the very fabric of the college.  Students and community face art as they pursue their works.  Creative, contemporary visual exploration is a full partner in the general education of our students.  Art becomes part of the environment—the daily discussion of what the NOW looks like.  Too often in academic situations, visual expressions become an avoidance of the present—an escape into a past of ivy-covered fantasies.

The sculptures represented in the Plattsburgh collection are in the first ranks of contemporary three-dimensional expressions.  They are, in most cases, the modernist tradition avoiding the narrative and secondary reference of traditionalist modes.  Although avoiding strict postmodern regulations, there is occasional irreverence, historical reference or hermeneutic gymnastics.

Objects in most cases are self-contained in space.  They follow their own logic and operate in a metaphoric or aesthetic referential manner, not in a linear narrative.  William King’s Amitie, 1976, was the first monumental sculpture at Plattsburgh.  Modernist in its design and corten steel rusted surface, it openly endorses the presence of friendship and openness on campus.  Thoughts on Pheidias by Don Osborn, 1986, established firm material design and dramatic realities, which form a basis for ancient as well as modern references.  The work clearly defined Plattsburgh’s commitment to serious monumental work.

Brower Hatcher’s Adirondack Guide was created on the college campus as part of the artist’s Distinguished Visiting Professorship and the summer sculpture class in 1989.  “I’m trying to build an inclusive model that represents a unification of the diversity of things, as we know them, both abstractly and through structure and mathematical and figuratively through representation and symbol.”

David Stromeyer’s classic abstraction, Dinner Party, set in the highest standards of craftsmanship and with its choice in 1994 by the College Center Board, indicated a growing interest by the college in the Sculpture Park.

Jon Isherwood’s Knowledge, Innocence and Growth was created in 1995, specifically at and for Plattsburgh.  Dedicated to our education process, it was the first major work in stone and was created under a Distinguished Visiting Professorship.  Later in 1997, Mr. Isherwood placed a second work on campus entitled Gathering of Equals, in steel and concrete.  Both works incorporate his fragmented-whole style echoing his heritage, ancient and modern, bringing up to date the monumental traditions of mystery and material.

In the summer of 1996, the Art Museum invited sculptors to take part in an exhibition entitled Projects and Proposals.  This show proved to be a watershed in the development of the Sculpture Park.  Many artists participated, and the educational and aesthetic, potential and uniqueness of the program was presented.  The college administration fully endorsed the concept of a Sculpture Park and the other critical supporters—the Student Association, the Beautification Committee, the Museum Executive Committee and the sculptors themselves—reacted enthusiastically.

In 1997, stone in its mass, texture and formal potential continued to increase in the collection.  Standing against the historic tradition of Hawkins Hall, Dan Kainz’s elegantly restless Harmony created a romantic counterpoint to Harry Gordon’s rough, basic and direct Here I Am.  Rodger Mack presented Iroquois Crossing to the collection, which sealed Plattsburgh’s connection to both the Syracuse tradition of British American sculpture and its unique eclectic style of this artist and his educational commitment.  Shaun Cassidy came to the college with his structured, free associative, iconic style and produced Prussian Blue Hams in a workshop with students.  Formally “inside out,” it subliminally flashed before us 20th century horror.  Originally shown at Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island, New York, and referred to by the New York Times as an “Industrial bouquet,” John Hock’s Prometheus, installed in 1998, creates a proletarian assertion of formal classic values.  The latest addition to the park comes from Peter Lundberg, installation manager from Socrates Sculpture Park.  His sculpture entitled Mathnawi, created from modified concrete and stainless steel, graceful and purposefully awkward, finished and rough, presents a unity of contradictions.

John Van Alstine combines steel and stone in a monumental scale with jewler’s finesse.  Elegance of balance and material energizes the formal relationships and creates movement, animation and drama in his sculpture Broad Reach.  Royden Mills’ New York Summer, 1997, from the Triangle Workshop, explores the concepts and contradictions of void and mass in organic and fabricated forms.  Noah Savett’s Chaplinesque Totem and Warrior, 1996, present a series of paradoxes concerning form, material, and technique.  Every reaction is qualified with its opposite while the works maintain a singular integrity.

In the summer of 1999, three remarkable works were installed: Mari Shield’s NTW III, Karlin Waisman’s Puzzled, and Rebecca Smith’s Bear Trap.  Their concepts and open new directions drive these pieces.  NTW III stands on the library lawn in four carved tree elements.  Its expressionist thrust searches for meaning as it shifts formal relationships.  Waisman’s Puzzled, of cast aluminum elements, moves like a soft construction joining down the sides of the building tower.  Rebecca Smith’s Bear Trap sets out a gentle bead-encrusted presence, receptive to the involvement of the viewer.

A critical mass for a sculpture park has been reached.  It certainly can expand, but the current work represented makes a clear and unequivocal statement of quality, creativity, exploration and commitment.  Plattsburgh State takes the best in contemporary visual creativity as its signature for the future.

© Edward R. Brohel 1998