Call me a philistine…go ahead…I can take it

July 18, 2012

Let me tell you something. David Nash is sculptor in residence at Kew for a year. I went there yesterday and saw the sculptures.


So is this what happened?
A very, very old and magnificent oak died at Kew and at some point someone somewhere said, “Let’s give this very, very old, magnificent oak tree to a sculptor to make something commemorative with. Let’s then display this in the garden.” Someone else said, “Great idea, let’s have an artist in residence create something magnificent to honour this magnificent old oak and let’s let him use other bits of old wood around the garden for more commemorative sculpture.” Someone else probably said, “Yes, and let’s pay that sculptor loads of money.”

Do you know what happened with that very, very old and magnificent oak?

Now I’m the first person to admit that there are millions of things I don’t understand. And I really do try to always come to a piece of artistic expression, poetry, images, sculpture, with the attitude of, “OK, what do I understand?” and I take it from there.

I had a good look. Really I did. I saw rough-hewed huge chunks of wood, some of them burned black and I saw some of the wood chunks reproduced in bronze and painted black. Really and honestly most some of them looked like a pile of dinosaurs droppings.

You know I sometimes wonder what life would be like if I was so successful as an artist that I could have my own show at Kew. I’ve spent a lot, a lot of time there and have seen the most glorious works; seen glass installations by Dale Chihuly, toured the Mary Ann North gallery over and over, seen the most intricately woven willow seed sculptures by Tom Hare…well, you get the picture. (I’m not just turning my nose up on one form of art without at least some knowledge.)

I even read the press releases and the reviews of this instillation. This kind of writing gets me every time:

“Nash’s philosophy places particular emphasis on the fundamental role that nature plays in humanity’s continued existence. He sees the environment as our ‘outer skin’; we are not separate from it or its master – everything that we do impacts upon it, for better or for worse. His work results in sculptures in which form and material have a deep mutual sympathy, and retain some of the essence of their original form.”


Looking at these David Nash-es I had to wonder “why?”, you know, what drives an artist to create like that? Is it the love of working with wood? The rough and hewn bits of it? The charred blackness of it? How is it artistic expression in his mind? Or is it all just so much self/mass-delusion and money signs?

Then I had to amend my equation: “Modern art = I could have done that + yes but you didn’t” to “yes but you didn’t have the connections or the OBE”.

Is there something I’m missing? Please, please explain.

Prepare to be overwhelmed...Art in Action 2012 !
A lovely day at Royal Botanic Garden Kew...and a cup of tea

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  • Reply Beth MacKinney July 18, 2012 at 6:25 am

    Lol. Basically, he created a sculpture that does have balance and form, but it’s likely that it will not “speak” to most people on an inner level because a) they don’t go in for abstract art made from chunks of burned looking wood or b) they aren’t David Nash. And then there’s the emperor’s new clothes syndrome. Then there are the people who will hate it, but are just afraid to be real enough to say, “That looks like a pile of dinosaur droppings.” for fear they will look unsophisticated themselves.

    I have an art degree, but I’m with you on this one. There’s abstract art that I like because of the colors and patterns and composition, but this one doesn’t quite make the cut for me.

    • Reply Veronica July 18, 2012 at 11:02 am

      Oh yes! I totally subscribe to the emperor’s new clothes theory. 🙂 Thank you so much for sending me the link to Hiromi.

  • Reply catherine llewellyn July 18, 2012 at 7:14 am

    i’ve seen a lot of pap like this in gardens and parks lately – i get the impression people think they’re being racy and unpredictable, edgy, leading edge – thing is, something that is unpredictable or on the edge of the norm isn’t necessarily better than the norm – sometimes it’s just stupid. The other comment is to do with where the thing is sitting – it doesn’t in any way seem to have been created with the surroundings in mind – the grass and everything else around it are beautiful, and this fights with those – it’s not big, it’s not clever – oh actually it is big – but it’s gauche and clumsy and insensitively placed in an otherwise gorgeous environment.

    • Reply Veronica July 18, 2012 at 11:06 am

      I was thinking exactly that Catherine, and, as I walked thru the gardens I kept a lookout for a better position for ugly monstrous burned wood, but only managed to find more ugly monstrous burned wood pieces. The funny thing is that apparently the artist situated the sculptures with the pebbles or charcoal edges to keep the children off but it hasn’t worked and has inspired the children to throw the edging material at the sculptures! At least someone is liking it. 🙂

  • Reply Esther Bradley-DeTally July 18, 2012 at 11:36 am

    you pretty much expressed it; varied are the degree of minds!

  • Reply Muddy Kinzer July 18, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Actually, I don’t mind this so much. I’ve seen worse! The color & the symmetry of the circles are kind of cool. But I wouldn’t have known that it was made out of wood if you hadn’t mentioned it. I do wonder what could have been created while maintaining the integrity and appearance of the original oak tree. Also, this sculpture looks more industrialized instead of natural, so I’m not sure if a garden is the best venue for it? I had this same reaction to an inner tube sculpture in Central Park. Maybe it was interesting, but a bunch of inner tubes just didn’t go with a park setting for me.

  • Reply bolton carley July 18, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    fully willing to admit that it looks somewhere between a game of jenga and those playskool bead rings. i’m sure that makes me uncultured and i’m okay with it as i have no art background and appreciate those that call a spade a spade. well said!

  • Reply Monique Liddle August 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    I’m with Muddy in the sense that I’m glad you said this came from an old tree because I would not have known. I, too, wish the sculptor would have sculpted something that maintained the essence of the tree. If this is art about discnnectedness, then the artist succeeded. Instead of a beautiful, free-flowing, organic tree, something phallic now takes its place.


    • Reply Veronica August 3, 2012 at 4:44 am

      Oh Monique, it’s just so sad. There is a book, and actually, loads of these projects. They are called one oak projects where a mighty oak is felled and the wood divided between artists and sculptors. Some of the work is breathtaking.

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