Sunday, February 28, 2010

Photographing the Sculpture Garden

Previous post: Trying to Make Art at the Art Institute

Today’s assignment for Chris’ photo class takes me to the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center.

It is a stunningly beautiful winter day, warm and sunny - exactly the kind of day that makes me glad to live in a place with four seasons.

Chris gives us our assignments (reflections, shadows and light, abstraction, and something in the underground room) and tells us the Spoonbridge and Cherry challenge means he doesn’t want to see any pictures of the park's iconic sculpture unless we come up with something truly unique. Hmm. . . that could be a problem.

I pair up with a classmate and we wander into the garden. . . Where to start?

I work for the state department of transportation and, while I don’t do a single thing related to engineering, I’ve become sort of an infrastructure geek.

This means I immediately head for Mark Di Suvero’s massive sculpture Arikidea.

I love this sculpture. I love the rusty steel and complex lines, the steel cables, the delicate balance of its components. The industrial abstractness of it draws me in.

Even on a winter day I could lie flat on my back on the swinging wooden platform staring up at it for hours.

But I don’t think I can complete all of my assignments from this spot and my partner has disappeared behind the hedges. . . time to move on.

Not sure what this is, but I love the texture.

I don’t find Barry Flanagan’s Hare on Bell particularly inspiring in and of itself, but I do like the way it leaps out at unsuspecting passers-by.

I’m am drawn to Charles Ginnever’s Nautilus (I guess I just never get tired of steel), but I struggle with how to photograph it. The curve should make for a sinuous contrast to the sharp angles that form each segment, but I can see that I’m not capturing that through the lens.

It seems more interesting as a frame for the city beyond.

The same is true of Sol Lewitt’s X with Columns.

Ok, I admit it: Pretty boring.

Meanwhile, my partner has been wandering around staring up at Brower Hatcher’s Prophecy of the Ancients. As soon as I join her I can see why: It is very cool and the light is doing amazing things to it.

We wander a bit, not sure what to do. We try to shoot a number of different pieces, but nothing grabs either of us. I take a few boring shots and then start shooting the melting snow and ice itself and the few stray leaves trapped within – nature photography, of a sort.

We try some shots of Alexander Calder’s Octopus. . .

It should be just my thing, being made of steel and by an artist I’ve always liked, but I’m quickly drawn instead to some massive slabs with wonderful texture.

They are warm in the sun and, when I lean against one of them I see I can use a couple pieces of sculpture to frame and entirely different scene.

I don’t think that fulfills any of my assignments for today, but I like it, so there!

By now we are circling back on Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry.

What if I focus on its shadow?

What if I use it to frame the city?

What if I zoom in and make it as abstract as possible?

I finally give up, knowing I won’t have any shots worthy of Chris’ challenge. As I cross out of this part of the garden I turn and give the sculpture one final look and see my shot.

You can think of it as Spoonbridge and Cherry as Road Construction Season Approaches. So maybe this image isn’t destined for greatness, but I bet no one else took this shot!

Finally we head across the street to complete a required element of our assignment, shooting inside James Turrell’s Sky Pesher.

I find it a cold and unwelcoming space, so ignore it and start shooting my partner, who (like Chris) loves this space.

I’m feeling more inspired now.

Back outside we say hi to the gorilla gazing into the mirrored surface of a pond. . .

. . . and then head over to the conservatory and my very favorite sculpture, Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish.

The conservatory itself is warm and sunny and filled with scent of jasmine.

I love the glass fish because it is both delicate and industrial, an unnatural image of nature set amid dainty tropical plants.

It is, indeed, enough to make one want to jump for joy.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Making Art at the Art Institute

I’m taking a photo class taught by Chris Welsch this weekend. Besides being a wonderful writer and photographer, Chris is a friend and I’ve been waiting for some time now to have the opportunity to learn from him.

Of course, now that the time has come, I’m pretty nervous: Now he’ll see how good I really am. . . or am not, as the case may be.

The class is held at the Mpls Photo Center, which turns out to be an amazing place with comfortable spots to lounge, studio space and high-tech equipment for every need, and really great food. (I’ll definitely be spending more time here.)

And the class is fun. There are only eight students and – although we all seem pretty different – we fit together pretty well as a group. We spend the morning in the studio looking at images, learning from Chris and from each other, participating in a shooting exercise, and eating a really good lunch.

When it is finally time to get out into the field, Chris sends us to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Our assignment includes:
  • Visiting the Josef Sudek and Czech Photography exhibit if we haven’t already (sad to say, I haven’t);
  • Finding a good space and wait for someone to move into and make a good picture;
  • Using a low f-stop and playing with the focus to make part of the image sharp and part blurry; and
  • Playing with shadow and light.
The Sudek show is interesting, but it doesn’t leave me amazed or with a head full of with new ideas. . . well, except for the otherworldly images of Frantisek Drtikol that incorporate cut-out figures. Those keep drawing me back . . . which is the paper figure and which is the human?


Ok. Time to actually take some pictures.

We are supposed to be working in teams, but, after wandering together through a few rooms, neither my partner or I are feeling very inspired and decide to go our separate ways.

As soon as we part I turn around and see my first shot has been waiting behind me.

I also know I want to shoot the metal open-work Prairie-style door I saw on my way to the photography gallery, but I don’t remember exactly where it was.

Instead of asking or picking up a gallery guide, I wander for awhile, never really stopping to admire the art, but scanning the scene, hoping that something will catch my eye. Nothing does. How can an art museum be so uninspiring?

(Please note that I usually can get happily lost in some of the rooms here for hours. It’s not like I hate art!)

I finally give up and ask where the door I’m looking for can be found. (Literally, although perhaps that is true metaphorically as well, at least on some level.)

It is a great subject for a photograph. . .

what ever way you shoot it.

The afternoon is moving along and I’m not doing very well at getting through my assignments. Time to get serious about this. I love the Asian galleries, so maybe I can find some inspiration there.

Nah. Nothing very exciting there either. (Love the art, not my pictures of it or the other visitors.)

Back out in a main lobby I notice a large Buddha literally glowing in the afternoon light.

(I love those hands.)

The light is also doing lovely things to the Institute’s large Chihuly.

When I turn around from shooting the Chihuly, I realize that the Buddha I had just shot from the side is part of a larger scene that looks like a giant paper cut-out with silhouettes of Buddhas and museum-goers all mixed together. It is wonderfully dramatic and chaotic at the same time.

It is also amazingly difficult to shoot. It SEEMS like it should make for a great photo, but I can’t figure out how to make it look good in the camera until I cut out all the other shapes and focus in on that big beautiful Buddha.

Ok. That works.

What’s next?

I wait a long time trying to get a good shot up at a balcony, but the only person to walk by where I can actually see them is a guard and I’m checking a setting on my camera when she does. (My own fault, but still.) Now I know why we were supposed to have a partner – I could have sent Suzy up there to pose for me and potentially gotten something interesting.

I try a few other things that end up being equally uninspiring, although I do love the colors in the African gallery.

I’m hoping to find something bright and colorful in the Native American gallery, but instead of lingering there, I follow the crowds of people (really, actual crowds) into a bright room completely filled with strange objects. As Charles notes, it looks a lot like a garage sale.

It’s hard to even know where to look and it takes me a moment to realize that this is the Foot in the Door 4 exhibit where anyone can submit a work of “art” as long as it takes up no more than one cubic foot.

It’s certainly interesting.

Back at the Photo Center we do a quick edit and then view each other’s work and I wonder how my classmates saw so many things I missed?