Glenstone’s founders, Emily and Mitchell Rales, like artists with staying power: They buy works only by those who have exhibited for at least 15 years. But the Raleses back the artists they admire with all they have. Most of the artists in their collection are represented by more than one work, and in some cases, it’s dozens (the Louise Bourgeois survey now on display is entirely from their collection). They also commission new works from particular artists, installing the results carefully, often at great cost.
The inaugural display at the newly expanded Glenstone has many highlights, both inside and outside the museum buildings. Here are 10 of the best:
“Collapse” is a specially commissioned sculptural installation by Michael Heizer, a pioneer of the land art movement. The installation, first conceived in the 1960s, is open to the skies, but high, windowless walls cut off sight lines to the surrounding landscape, helping to create a dystopian atmosphere of dread. The sculpture consists of 15 heavy beams of rusted steel that appear to have been tossed haphazardly into a deep, rectangular pit lined with vertical walls. The beams, which lean both against each other and the edges of the pit, jut out aboveground at various points.
Ruth Asawa, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, invented the basic format of her suspended sculptures after seeing woven wire baskets on a visit to Mexico. She learned the basketmakers’ looped wire technique and, after returning to the United States, began pushing it in ambitious new directions. This key early work, with its teardrop or hourglass outlines, casts gorgeous shadows and evokes pendulous plant life.
“Book of Time,” by Brazil’s Lygia Pape, is a grid of 365 colored wooden reliefs evenly displayed on a single wall, like a giant annual calendar. Made a few years after Pape joined Brazil’s influential Neo-Concrete movement, the work feels like a salute to the passage of time and a quiet plea for a new social order. It reveals both the influence of Europe’s early, idealistic abstract artists — especially Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich — and more local currents in Brazil. Pape, it feels helpful to know, grew up surrounded by toucans and macaws.
“Split-Rocker,” which perches atop a hill at Glenstone, is a giant floral sculpture by Jeff Koons. It represents the heads of two child’s rockers, a pony and a dinosaur, cut in half and spliced together. Made from fabric and soil stretched over a stainless steel frame and flowering plants, it has its own internal irrigation system to keep the plants alive. Not as well-known as Koons’s “Puppy,” his only other flowering sculpture, it’s almost as hard to dislike.
An unexpected painting from 1958, “No. 9 (White and Black on Wine)” was made when Mark Rothko was transitioning from a wide repertoire of bright, glowing colors to a narrower range of indistinct maroons, blacks, mauves and plums. It was part of a series that constituted Rothko’s first attempt at fulfilling a commission for the Four Seasons restaurant at New York’s Seagram Building. The commission was fraught. Making murals for an upscale restaurant sat uneasily with Rothko’s socialist principles. After two years, he pulled out, but by then, he had produced about 40 paintings in three distinct stages. This painting, in a landscape format he subsequently abandoned, was one of the key pictures in the first stage.
Willem de Kooning’s “January 1st” was painted in 1956, the year his great friend and rival, Jackson Pollock, was killed in a car crash on Long Island. The tragedy left de Kooning, who had come to America from the Netherlands as a stowaway on a ship, ascendant among New York’s burgeoning avant-garde — the most eagerly watched and widely mimicked artist of his generation. “January 1st” was rotated several times as de Kooning painted it (you can tell from the directions of the drips). The artist was seeking to synthesize the colors of his famous “Woman” series with his earlier black-and-white abstractions.
“Gold Standard,” Robert Rauschenberg’s last “Combine” (a term coined for his theatrical hybrids of painting and sculpture), was made in front of a live television audience in 1964. Rauschenberg, who loved the performative aspect of artmaking, was in a Tokyo studio for the broadcast, titled “20 Questions to Bob Rauschenberg.” The artist was inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s embrace of found objects and chance effects; by the free mingling of dance, music and art he had encountered as a student at Black Mountain College in North Carolina; and by Hans Namuth’s 1950 footage of Jackson Pollock making his drip paintings. In making “Gold Standard,” a folding screen to which Rauschenberg pinned Japanese packaging, leather boots, a Coke bottle and a list of the 20 questions put to him in the interview, he wanted to shift art away from being a souvenir of experience to something alive and disruptive.
The brilliant David Hammons loves to provoke and sometimes gets more than he bargained for. His “How Ya Like Me Now?” (named after a rap song by Kool Moe Dee) shows the Rev. Jesse Jackson as a blond man with blue eyes. When it was installed in a parking lot as part of a 1989 exhibition about the blues, black culture and modernism, it was attacked with sledgehammers by a group of African American men who thought it disparaged Jackson. Hammons, who is also African American, repaired the work and now displays it, with an American flag, cordoned off by a barrier made from wire and sledgehammers.
Part of a series of works riffing on the same formal theme, “Big Phrygian” is a mature masterpiece, lovingly crafted from red cedar by Martin Puryear, one of America’s most accomplished sculptors. Its shape alludes to the Phrygian cap, worn as a sign of resistance during the French Revolution and later adopted as a symbol of liberty during the American Revolution. Its surface is painted in a hue that stamps itself on your retina. Puryear, who is African American, was recently chosen to represent the United States at the 2019 Venice Biennale. He was inspired to make “Big Phrygian” when he saw a 1794 engraving of a black man in France wearing a version of the cap, with the caption: “Moi libre, aussi,” or: “I am free, too.”
Charles Ray is a sculptor whose obsessive devotion to detail and finish is somehow woven into his works’ meaning. Several of his sculptures have been given their own large gallery at Glenstone. Machined from solid stainless steel, “Baled Truck” represents a truck that has been compressed into a rectangular block. You feel the sculpture’s weight — 12 tons — and imagine the power required to compress an actual truck in this way. To Ray, the sculpture “commemorates solidity and compression.” It’s less a representation, assembled from preexisting things, than a brand new thing in the world. Its sheer heft and shininess keep it so.