At Baltimore's Evergreen estate, outdoor sculpture exhibit is surprising

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2010

If the game of golf is, as Mark Twain said, a good walk spoiled, then "Sculpture at Evergreen 6: Simultaneous Presence" is a good walk perfected.

The biennial outdoor sculpture exhibition, on view through the summer on 26 pretty, landscaped acres surrounding Baltimore's historic Evergreen Museum and Library, is a great way to exercise both your feet and your mind. Bring sturdy shoes, a picnic lunch and a sense of balance. As the show's title implies, the 10 works on view, by 10 contemporary artists and architects from across the country, engage with the theme of seeming contradiction: past vs. present; nature vs. industry; haves vs. have-nots.

In the words of curators Ronit Eisenbach and Jennie Fleming, the show is an "embedded conversation on the intertwining of moment, meanings and place."

But forget the artspeak. Think of it as an art-themed scavenger hunt, where around every corner and hedgerow lies a surprise.

First, grab a map. They're available near the museum entrance. You'll need it to find such pieces as Meredith Nickie's "everything will be taken away." Tucked into a below-ground stairwell, it's an ordinary storm grate that has been covered in gold leaf. Ridiculous? Maybe, but no more so than the house's notorious Gold Bathroom, a privy dating from 1886 in which every wooden surface -- including the toilet seat -- was covered in 23-carat gold by the Garrett family, which lived there. Talk about Gilded Age excess.

Other hidden gems include Yukiko Nakashima's "Filling in the Void." Dispersed throughout the grounds in several dark corners, it consists of a series of small human figures engaged in enigmatic rituals. The curators call them "shadow children," presumably because their heads are always obscured. Several are tied to trees, straining against blue ribbons, a possible reference to wealth earned on the backs of child laborers.

Other works are easier to spot. Take David Page's "Skip." Near the museum entrance, the installation of railroad ties and a modified railcar allude to the source of the Garrett family fortune. You'll spot "Fallen Fruit," by the architecture and design firm Matter Practice, as you drive up to the building. It's a series of five oversize, fruit-shaped chairs that visitors can sit in, the better to contemplate the manicured artificiality of the lawn.

Among the best works are Shannon Young's "How Does Your Garden Grow?" and "Evergreen Commons," by Eric Leshinsky, C. Ryan Patterson and Fred Scharmen.

In Young's installation, just to the east of the estate's upper garden, shopping carts have been filled with soil and growing fruits and vegetables. It's a visually striking commentary on how detached modern consumers have become from food production.

In "Evergreen Commons," a miniature urban park has been planted on the estate, complete with park bench, basketball hoop, trash can and street light. (The graffiti were added by artists.) It's a toolshed-size chunk of the city plunked down in the country, which is itself in the city.

Kind of a brain teaser, when you think about it. Which you can't help doing, in this smart and lively show.

SCULPTURE AT EVERGREEN 6: SIMULTANEOUS PRESENCE Through Sept. 26 at Evergreen Museum and Library, 4545 N. Charles St., Baltimore. 410-516-0341. Hours: Open Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Picnickers can spread blankets on the ground, as there are no picnic tables. Please carry out trash. Admission: Free. Public program: On June 29 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Young will present a free performance in which she'll cook and serve -- in a nearby greenhouse/kitchen that is part of her installation -- whatever is ready for harvesting from her shopping-cart garden. Page will also perform that evening, silently inhabiting his railcar while wearing a padded suit. There will be a curator-led tour of the exhibition at 6 p.m. Young will offer additional cooking performances during three guided tours of the exhibition, on June 6, 13 and 27 at 2 p.m. (reservations and museum admission required). All tours and performances are weather permitting.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company