Paradise This Week, Jan 13, 2005

Sculpture Key West: By land, sea and air

By Margit Bisztray

It isn’t difficult to understand how art might have a problem holding still and acting proper at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. Like everyone and everything set free in Key West’s most scenic, green area, art can’t help but roam, and climb, and gaze longingly at crystal blue water, nor can it resist playing hide-and-go-seek, stretching up towards the sun and letting breezes from two bodies of water caress its surfaces.

As Sculpture Key West’s 10th annual exhibition prepares to open January 16, art has been slowly but steadily engaging with the Fort Zachary Taylor environment: blooming in fields, entwining with architecture, waking sleepy corners with dramatic jolts of color, and toying with the meanings of history and the essences of place. From Susan Rodgers’ tumbleweeds of yellow plastic tubing in the “prairie” around the fort, to Anja Marais and Rudi Repenning’s carousel abandoned in the pine forest, to Rick Worth’s Dali-esque watches drooping on rocks along the Key West channel, Sculpture Key West is about to slap living, creative talent onto the pedestals of history and the canvases of nature, opening up exciting discussions between the past and the present, between indoor and outdoor space, between Key West and the world beyond, and between the diverse artworks themselves. Savannah, Georgia, sculptor, Ken Reker, will even install an ornate, empty 8’ X 9’ frame, emphasizing that the very event–––the juxtaposition it poses between modern sculpture and lovingly preserved history–––is in itself art. That it is worthy of “framing,” worthy of contemplative gazes and worthy of alternative angles.

Following a decade of growth and progress, Sculpture Key West 2005 will feature 84 pieces by 68 sculptors from such diverse origins as Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and all over the United States, as well as the original, local artists who conceived of and have provided the backbone for the event through the years. Jim Racchi, one of the founding artists and a park employee says he is thrilled with how the show has progressively grown, and how it continues to attract a wider and wider range of artists. “We are especially proud of our many international participants,” Racchi adds. Twenty-three of this year’s sculptors will appear for the first time.

Offering guidance and advice, and assisting with the application and installation process, is Blane De St. Croix. A sculptor and professor at FAU (Florida Atlantic University), Mr. De St. Croix has been a juror for the National Endowment of the Arts three times. His insight and experience fortify not only the current exhibit but also the resolve of the Sculpture Key West Committee: to draw attention to art in the Florida Keys, and to encourage art-enthusiasts to travel for the culture here.

Beyond its educational and cultural extensions, Sculpture Key West is a joyous and engaging event for all ages. Who can resist smiling in the presence of acclaimed artist Robert Hickman’s 9’-high “Singing Lighthouse” that will play Donna Fargo’s 1974 hit song “You Can’t Be a Beacon if Your Light Don’t Shine”? And who won’t be tempted to wander dreamily through Austrian artist Gerhard Fousek’s spiral of golden arrows, deciphering which one points north, which one towards home? When a 30’-long driftwood tree washed ashore after hurricane Georges in 1998, who would have imagined that an artist named Karley Klopfenstein would one day wrap it in red satin and call it “Red Tree”? At no other time of the year is it possible to run into a herd of steel buffalo, an alligator made out of bike chains, an oversized osprey or a dinosaur on a routine stroll through the Civil War era ramparts.

Other works in this year’s exhibition bring to light the living, human history of the fort; that is, a deeper, subtler meaning than its structural function. Luisa Caldwell from Brooklyn, New York, will hang a curtain of Victorian glass beads in one of the archways in the fort in her piece entitled “This Way to the Boudoir.” While beautiful, the curtain is also a provocative reminder that the fort once housed people; it hasn’t always been a monument. Eliza Proctor, also from Brooklyn, makes this statement more figuratively in her work entitled “A Conversation,” in which steel and aluminum vines take “root” in the cistern and “grow” through the horizontal layers of the fort, connecting internal spaces and the past with the ever-changing world outside, the present itself.

Throughout the nearly-eleven-week show, Sculpture Key West will hardly hold still. Rodgers’ tumbleweeds will tumble. Robert Chambers’ “Zendrome,” an acoustic dome, will glow at night, waxing and waning in brightness for passing ships. Terry Thommes’ buoy shapes will bob in the channel, and the peace symbol constructed out of plants by Jimmy Wray and a collection of Junior High art students will grow, evolving into variations on a shape over the course of the show. Sculpture Key West promises to offer something different with every visit, but anyone who only visits once should seize the opportunity to do so at the gala event, Art Lights Fort Taylor, the evening of February 26. Music, entertainment and food will contribute to a feast for the senses, and the drama of both the fort and the sculptures lit in the context of the quiet park, is an unforgettable combination, absolutely not to be missed. The public is also encouraged to vote for “Best Seen By” favorites, either by land, by sea (on sails aboard the Schooner Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships) or by air (aboard any in- or out-going Cape Air flights during the duration of the exhibit). Judge it according to feats of balance, imagination, harmony or optical illusion; respond to a preference for stone, laminated vinyl, copper, aluminum, marble, glass, dirt, stainless or rusted steel, Styrofoam or satin, but do take time to participate. As Carol Schreck, Chair of Sculpture Key West, says of the installation, “Sculpture Key West’s dialogue between environment, art, history and community can shift the patterns by which we live and interact.” Just when you thought today was just another walk in the park.

Sculpture Key West runs until March 25. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 305-295-3800, or visit www.sculpturekeywest.com.