Minneapolis

“Sculpture on Site”

Walker Art Center

“Sculpture on Site” promised to display not only the work of Twin Cities artists Dorit Cypis, Chris Larson, and Robert Fischer but the artists themselves, as they each produced a piece specifically for the show. If the conceit sounds spectacular, like an ethnographic display of exotic peoples at a turn-of-the-century universal exposition, the Walker offered its public a rare and valuable glimpse of artists at work by inviting these three sculptors to treat the gallery as if it were their own studio.

Fischer’s oddly comforting Cargo Plane (all works 1998) took shape during June. For several years the artist has been making whimsical yet sturdy vehicles (usually boats), which, like Cargo Plane, are rigged with functioning lights and enough space for passengers. Beginning with a real single-engine aircraft in a state of disrepair, Fischer riveted and painted, as museum guards and visitors looked on and chatted with him. As he worked, the artist began to construct a small portable cabin, which offered him an occasional respite from public view and later served as a kind of camper top for his plane. Always strong, Fischer’s work suggests at once soothing memories of travel and an impulse toward escape. Within the context of “Sculpture on Site,” Cargo Plane perhaps spoke more to the latter.

In July, Larson’s sprawling untitled installation slowly emerged from a pile of raw lumber. Like a surrealist experiment in automatism, the artist worked without a preconceived plan, fashioning a distinctly medieval-looking mechanism, with large wooden wheels, platforms, and ramps. Working for the most part while the museum was closed to visitors, Larson was nonetheless influenced by the open display of his work-in-progress. He said he found himself daily striving for resolutions to individual problems posed by the piece. As a result, viewers witnessed the installation unfold with an uncommonly choreographed grace.

Dorit Cypis’s Out of Time, a subtle meditation on the body, being, and nature, was assembled in August. Early on, one wall was hung with fleece, recently sheared from lambs, as if to index the most intimate surfaces of the body. Cypis then glued delicate strands of wool to the wood grain of plywood planks, which lined two other walls of the installation. Tiny video monitors, showing taped footage of pastoral landscapes interspersed with a live feed from a surveillance camera, were embedded in each plank; to view the footage, the viewer had to draw close to the wood and wool. The camera in turn recorded visitors’ movements around the installation. In dialogue with the premise of “Sculpture on Site,” which put the artist under the visitor’s scrutiny, Cypis’s installation stared back.

An experimental exhibition, “Sculpture on Site” made visible the slow transformation of raw materials into elaborate large-scale installations; each piece was a blossoming of a markedly individual aesthetic. While the performative aspects of “Sculpture on Site” disrupted the disciplined and sanctified space of the museum, resulting in a successful, fresh, and engaging exhibition, it also provided unexpected lessons about the ontology of the artist’s studio itself, and the importance of privacy in the process of making art.

Patricia Briggs