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

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.

Comments: 9

  • July 18, 2012

    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.

  • catherine llewellyn

    July 18, 2012

    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.

  • July 18, 2012

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

  • Muddy Kinzer

    July 18, 2012

    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.

  • July 18, 2012

    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!

  • August 2, 2012

    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.


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