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The Picturesque Green Cube: Site-Specific Practices at American Sculpture Parks and Gardens

Rebecca L. Reynolds, University of Chicago, Junior Fellow 2006–2007

After 1960, spaces known as a "sculpture parks" began to open across the US and Europe in what one curator has called an "international vogue." My project as a whole was concerned to trace the development of site-specific art in American sculpture parks after 1965, with the thesis that while site-specific art has been considered an urban and political form inherently opposed to the assumptions found in the form of the sculpture park, in fact it developed in sculpture parks as a response to the landscape space found there. I postulated that artists appropriated concepts and practices from the domains of architecture and landscape architecture in undertaking site-specific projects in these landscaped spaces. While I believe that this thesis holds true for some sculpture parks, such as the Laumeier Sculpture Park (St. Louis MO), I found that I needed a more complex framework to address the variations between the different cases that I had chosen. To correct this, I have found it helpful to distinguish between site-specificity as a practice undertaken by artists, the model used at the Laumeier, and other models that I have uncovered in the research undertaken during the period of my fellowship.

For the first chapter, on temporary outdoor displays of Minimalist sculpture undertaken between 1965 and 1968, I theorize site-specificity as a mode of viewing, one undertaken by critics and viewers for artworks that had not been designed for a particular site. In the second chapter, a comparative treatment of Storm King and the Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Garden, I employ the vocabulary of site-specificity to describe the actual design of sculpture parks as "specific sites." I contrast the two cases as examples of competing solutions to the sculpture park/garden format in picturesque and architectural styles. While I argue that the choice of style was significant, I have also concluded that such differences were overridden by the function of such spaces as 'outdoor museums.' Not only does this function distinguish the post-1960 sculpture park from what others have argued are its precedents (ancient monuments and aristocratic gardens), but it also reveals a tension at the heart of the project between the perception of sculpture parks as alternatives to museums and gallery spaces, an attitude held by artists in the 1960s, and their relatively easy manipulation into green versions of the “white cube” gallery.

Professional activities undertaken during fellowship

"The Green Cube: Developing a Site for Minimalism at Storm King in the early 1970s," paper delivered for symposium, Sculpture in Arcadia: gardens, parks and woodlands as settings for sculptural encounters from the 18th to 21st century, Department of History of Art and Architecture, The University of Reading, UK, 26 February 2007