At the Sculpture Exhibition

I’m just starting research on a new project about public sculpture in New England. In the paper I’ll be focusing on art in Fitchburg, MA. There are some great monuments and works from the late 1800s and new works that have been installed in the past few years. I’m looking for a way to create a dialogue between the two.

"At the Sculpture Exhibition," Charles Courtney Curran, 1895

“At the Sculpture Exhibition,” Charles Courtney Curran, 1895

Probably the most famous sculptor from Fitchburg is Herbert Adams. From the age of five he was raised and educated in Fitchburg. The above painting by Charles Curran depicts the National Sculpture Society’s second exhibition in New York City in 1895. Herbert Adam’s relief (designed by August Saint-Gaudens, carved by Adams) for the Judson Memorial Church is mounted on the Ionic columns in the background.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens relief sculpture carved by Herbert Adams for the Judson Memorial Church in New York City

Augustus Saint-Gaudens relief sculpture carved by Herbert Adams for the Judson Memorial Church in New York City

About the Sculpture exhibition and this painting, from the book Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery:

The exhibition “changed the way Americans experienced sculpture.” “…The society accented the pieces on view with a lush array of plants and flowers creating a tranquil haven just ‘one step from the noise of the New York streets.'” (see “The Sculpture Society” New York Times, 7 May 1895, 5.)

The artist portrays himself on the left and all the figures seem lost in contemplation. “Curran’s figures demonstrate precisely the kind of ‘idleness full of thought,’ the leisurely breathing in of a refined environment, that was commonly prescribed in the Gilded Age as an antidote to the stress of the modern urban experience. Amid such noble statuary, visitors might forget the bustling metropolis outside.”

From the American Art Annual vol. 1, 1898 (277):

“At New York, in 1895, for the first time, sculpture was accorded her rights, being exhibited for the first time by itself, and exhibited, too, with such a background of architecture, trees, shrubbery and flowers, as sufficed to suggest what beautiful results might be won, if it were employed with artistic feeling in conjunction with the efforts of the landscape gardener and the architect.

It is an education which reaches in many directions. It has taught the sculptors that they must labor outside of their studios in order to gain the ear of the great busy inattentive public. Insistence on the claims of sculpture is one of the hard facts to be faced and met if the art is to be brought from the cold and marble distance where it lies closer and closer to the sympathies and affections and needs of the public. Again it is an education for art lovers who have taught themselves to discriminate fairly well in matters of oil painting and water colors, but have only vague ideas regarding that branch of art in which the element that is strongest is form, not color.”

Resources to look at:


America Today

A few weeks ago I was up in New York for a friend’s wedding. Fairly recently we found out that we are going to be leaving the East Coast and moving out to Colorado. These two sentences may seem somewhat unrelated, but there’s a logic here.

Due to our impending move, any chance to visit New York has become a mad dash to see and absorb all the art I’m afraid I’ll never see again. I’m sure we’ll be back sometime, I still have friends and family there, but it might be years out. On this last visit we hit up the Met, the Cloisters (still technically the Met), and the Morgan Library. This post is about the Met and the wonderful exhibition “Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today Mural Rediscovered“.

I’ve worked on a lot on murals that I haven’t ever seen. Some are destroyed, most are in Mexico. Any chance I get to actually view a mural series I’ve studied makes me giddy. Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today is a series of 10 mural panels depicting “ modern America”. The series was originally painted for the New School for Social Research (which also features an excellent series by Orozco) and is filled with all the American “socialist” iconography that I love. We’ve got manufacturing, construction, transportation, the modern city etc… There are angles! So many wonderful angles. In the industry scenes all the men are anonymous extensions of the machines they use. Just another cog! It’s such a great work that really exemplifies the kind of progressive hold over, not quite full communist, public art that I love so much.

A panel from America Today

The mural has been gifted to the Met which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, it allows people like me to easily view it. On the other, it takes the work out of context and dampens the message. In the Met it serves as an artifact of it’s time. It’s a snapshot of when artists thought art could truly change society rather than a motivating force in a school devoted to progressive ideals. But I got to see it and sit in a room and really take in the work, so… maybe it’s alright where it is.

Seeing a work in person is always so much more gratifying than seeing it in a book or on a website. I often think it’s kind of silly that we modern art historians write extensively about works we’ve never seen, but we do because it’s convenient. When you see a work in person you see so much more. Murals are especially tricky. You can’t ever experience the “monumentality” of a mural when it’s shrunk down to 6×6 inches. The figures in America Today are roughly life size, and the mural is meant to be displayed as a sort of panorama covering all four walls of a room. Viewing it in person you get a much better sense of  Benton’s America. In person movement becomes apparent. Benton’s use of color reinforces the feeling of the vibrant loud city, in a way that’s just not possible unless seen in person.

You also notice more important things that help you read the work more completely. Benton’s America is very gender segregated. I never really read that way before but when viewing the work as a whole it’s incredibly obvious. I knew that men made up the majority of figures in the mural, and that they were the only figures in the scenes of industry, but they are also the only figures who take part in any labor. Women in Benton’s America dance, flirt, and are ogled by men. The only “employed” women are burlesque dancers and the women mother in corner is one of the few not being leered at in some way. Women also only exist in the city. The rest of the country is too rough and tumble, or maybe too mechanically complicated for lady folk. It’s an interesting contrast, one I might write more about some day or might not.

Photographing art, our favorite past time.

The takeaway is that this mural is fantastic, and you should go see it. The exhibit closes in April, though I suspect the mural will be on view much longer than that.


On the plane DC -> Boston

On the plane DC -> Boston

I’ve recently moved from Washington DC to central Massachusetts. I started work at MIT in September and am excited to explore the arts there. But I’ll leave that for another blog post. Right now I wanted to share some recent connections that are leading me back to a paper I wrote for my master’s degree a year or so ago.

The paper is about three WPA post office murals in Vermont and New Hampshire. The first connection to the paper that appeared mysteriously in my life was a couple days ago as I was in the art library looking for a book on contemporary multi-cultural art.Next to the book I was going to get was the book Marguerite & William Zorach: Harmonies and Contrasts. Marguerite Zorach was the painter for one of the New Hampshire murals that I looked at. I looked through the book and did not see anything related to her work with the WPA, but I was struck by the happenstance to run across her name.

My second connection encounter happened this morning. One of the murals is located in Northfield, Vermont. Going through some photo albums at my parents place I found an album from a graduate of Norwich University, also located in Northfield. The album is from the early nineteen-teens and shows the grounds of the university and many photos of students. Some postcards found near the album identified the place as Norwich University.

Photo albums. Joseph Peirce album of Norwich University in center.

Photo albums. Joseph Peirce album of Norwich University in center.

Looking through the special collections and archives at Norwich it looks like they have some photographs from 1914, some of which are identified “Joseph M. Peirce”. Joseph Peirce was my mother’s godmother’s father, and was the owner of the album at my parent’s place. Most of the other albums and photographs are his daughter’s Phyllis Peirce. I’m somewhat interested in taking a trip up there now to see the 1914 photos and comparing them to the album I have here. Of course while I’m there, I may as well check in on the post office mural too.

As much as I would love to take some time to travel north and continue learning about Peirce’s time at Norwich, I won’t have the opportunity for a while due to work. Instead I’ll be posting the mural paper as my next blog post.


Make it new? Conversations about abstract art at The Clark

I visited The Clark in Williamstown, MA this past Saturday. The reason for the visit was a symposium featuring artists talk about the current exhibition of abstract art at The Clark titled Make It New: Abstract Painting from the National Gallery of Art, 1950-1975. I didn’t get a chance to see the exhibition but I was happy to walk through the gorgeous new addition by Tadao Ando and enjoy three stimulating conversations.

The symposium brought together distinguished artists and writers to share and reflect on their thoughts about abstract art and the history of abstract art as represented in the exhibition. For this blog post I just wanted to highlight some of the discussion that I found interesting and show some examples of the artists’ work.

Conversation #1: Poet and critic Vincent Katz and artist Brice Marden

In this discussion a couple themes emerged that were carried through the other conversations – the issue of titles for abstract works, and the idea of creating “difficult” art. When it comes to naming work, Marden said he was more romantic about it than some. The Ab Ex ethos would be more inclined to simply name the piece “Untitled” or a number.

Brice Marden, Study for the Muses (Hydra Version), 1991-1997

Marden elaborated on the tension between abstract art and realism that he experienced in the 1960s. He described it as a battle over which style of art was more valid and described himself as a “vehement abstractionist.” In the end the battle was lost, since abstract and realist art are both considered valid today. Or as other artists commented, today we have a hybridity of styles, form, and content.

When Katz pushed Marden to explain “vehement abstractionist” Marden responded by saying that it had to do with how much the artist led the viewer and that realism does it by providing a convenient reference. He explained that it used to be that Norman Rockwell was the devil, and now no one gets too riled up about Norman Rockwell. Using Jasper Johns “Target” as an example, Marden went on to explain that one of the main concerns for abstract artists in the ’60s was the question “What’s real?”. Focusing on the divide between real and purely abstract, Marden commented that illusionism had no place in abstract art. He pointed out that in abstract expressionism the little things matter a lot: if there are overlapping planes, the exact positioning of the lines, etc. Today, in contrast, it is hard to tell what matters.

Conversation #2: Artists Byron Kim and Glenn Ligon:

Byron Kim and Glenn Ligon in conversation at The Clark on Sept. 6, 2014.

Byron Kim and Glenn Ligon in conversation at The Clark on Sept. 6, 2014.

Kim and Ligon exchanged friendly banter as they discussed works of art that particularly appealed to them. These included selections by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt (poorly reproduced above), and On Kawara. The artists also brought and talked about examples of their own work.

Both artists talked about where they begin works of art – for Ligon it was text, for Kim it seemed to be visual experiences found in daily life mixed with a desire to create abstract color-focused paintings. Ligon talked about choosing texts and how he uses text to get to abstraction, that the words become difficult to read, but they are still meaningful, and that ultimately they drive many decisions about how the work will turn out.

Glenn Ligon, Untitled (Conclusion), 2004

Kim talked about the titles of his works, his undergraduate education as an English major when he studied 19th century poetry and aspired to be a poet, as well as visits to the Rothko Chapel, and how “time is so strange…in general.” I found it incredibly helpful to hear Kim talk about his process in creating his paintings of the night sky as seen from the city. He explained some of his doubts in creating the works and how input from other artists like Ligon really affect his decisions.

Conversation #3: Artists Amy Sillman and Thomas Eggerer

Both artists are currently faculty at Bard. Since Eggerer hails from Germany, his perspective on the abstract expressionists was very interesting and very different from the American artists. The Germans it seems find the machismo and expressiveness of ab ex a little embarrassing. Instead of looking towards De Kooning or Pollock for leadership or inspiration, the German artists Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter led the way. In this conversation I learned more about Eggerer’s work than Sillman’s, but got the impression from her probing and easy way of talking that Sillman is probably an amazing teacher.

Thomas Eggerer, The Privilege of the Roof, 2004

Eggerer declared himself “more than just a happy figure painter,” and Sillman admitted, “I’m rather hostile toward pictures.” The fact that both are looking at and creating art from two different perspectives and attitudes was very clear, but also made for an entertaining dialogue.

With the artists featured in these discussions we got to see the relationship between abstract and realist art as it exists today – not completely at odds, but firmly rooted in separate genealogies. Overall an interesting symposium that made me think and laugh a bit. The weather was stormy throughout the day but on the way home to Fitchburg, my mom and I saw an amazing full rainbow. Here’s a pic of one from Chicopee, MA.

Salvatore Scarpitta’s Traveler

Salvatore Scarpitta’s Traveler exhibition opened at the Hirshhorn last Thursday; it will be up until January 11, 2015.  The exhibition is a mix of cars, fabric wrapped canvases, and sleds made out of found materials. Seeing cars in a gallery is usually impressive and always fun. Because I had seen photographs of the cars and read about Scarpitta’s obsession with racing I was looking forward to seeing them but I wasn’t prepared for seeing the sleds. Made from material he found on the street the sleds lack the color of the cars, instead they consist of a charcoal and dull gray color palette. In comparison to the cars they look somber and recall the practical and mythic uses that sleds, snowshoes, and skis embody. Sleds can be used for practical reasons instead of the shiny cars that reflect a daring death defying past time, not related to necessity.

Jeff MacGregor writing for the states, “The sleds began in the 1970s, made of whatever he gathered from the New York sidewalks. Odds and ends bound tight with gut and rawhide, they were wrapped like mummies. As primitive as they are bleak, the sleds are about what we all carry, what we all drag through life. Each as hopeless as a lost expedition.”

Screenshot from Hirshhorn website featuring a close up of Salvatore Scarpitta's, Cot and Lock Step n. 2 Cargo, 1989/2000

Screenshot from Hirshhorn website featuring a close up of Salvatore Scarpitta’s, Cot and Lock Step n. 2 Cargo, 1989/2000

Born in New York City and raised in Hollywood, Scarpitta moved to Italy in 1936. During World War II he experienced living in an internment camp and after escaping lived in hiding in the  Apennines Mountains. He also became a member of the Allied sub-commission for Monuments and Archives in Italy (see the Monuments Men website). He didn’t return to the States until the late 1950s when he joined Leo Castelli’s gallery and began spending a lot of his time at drag car races. It’s an incredible life and the show at the Hirshhorn does well to give you a taste and introduction to his work. I left the show very curious about the artist and I’m hoping to read and learn more about his life and art in the future.

Made in the USA & Phillips After 5

On the first Thursday of every month the Phillips Collection hosts Phillips after 5, an after hours event centered around a specific theme, usually having to do with the current exhibition. July’s Pa5 landed on the 3rd and coincided with the museum’s new collection-based exhibition Made in the USA, a thoroughly patriotic event all around.

Made in the USA highlights the museum’s extensive collection of modern American Art, and is fully representative of modernism in the US throughout the 20th century. As someone who has worked extensively within this genre/period it warms my heart to see some of my favorite, yet often overlooked, artists given pride of place in the gallery. Too often American modernism is dominated by its exceptional abstract artists – and O’Keeffe, Pollock, Rothko, Calder, etc., are all well represented here – but what’s fantastic about the Phillips’ American collection is the depth of “American modernism” it contains. The opening piece to the exhibition is Walt Kuhn’s 1931 painting “Plumes”, a work I think is aptly suited to demonstrate America’s fascination with and wariness of its new modernity, a thread I’ve tried to explore in my own work and one I think gets lost in the traditional narrative of masculine bravado that is Abstract Expressionism. While the early 20th century art scene was dominated by varying forms of abstraction, Realism was still very much a thing and has unfortunately gotten a bad rap as ugly, sad, art. I blame you Greenberg!

 WALT KUHN (1877–1949)   Plumes, 1931

WALT KUHN (1877–1949)
Plumes, 1931

Duncan Phillips set out to build a collection which would “reveal the richness of the art created in our United States, to stimulate our native artists and afford them inspiration.”–Duncan Phillips, 1921. The end result is an eclectic mix of styles, subjects, and techniques as varied as the American population itself. While Made in the USA is just a collections exhibition, it’s the type of exhibition we need to see more of.

Also did I mention the party? Pa5 is a great event, one definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. The highlight (other than the fun of booze and snacks in the gallery) is the sheer number of spotlight tours, lectures, and other special programs that run during the night. At no other time can you be so fully engrossed in an exhibition whilst a Chicago blues band reverberates through the galleries. Also there’s booze…

Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at GW

I was excited to attend my first Wikipedia Edit-a-thon today at George Washington University with Kristen Korfitzen! To read more about the meetup check out their Wikipedia page about the event which was lead by National Archives Digital Content Specialist and Wikipedian-in-Residence Dominic McDevitt-Parks, Jennifer Kinniff of GW, and Chloe Raub of Catholic University.

Dominic explained some of the basics about Wikipedia and how it can be useful for libraries. He talked about his list of Top 5 things to know first that included

Wikipedia is a collaborative encyclopedia

  1. Neutrality (NPOV)
  2. Verifiability (V)
  3. No original research (NOR)
  4. Assume good faith (AGF)
  5. Be bold (BOLD)

After we were introduced to some of the key concepts of Wikipedia we were encouraged to start editing. There were some archival materials and books available for us to use. I ended up looking through The Guide to Black Washington by Sandra Fitzpatrick and Maria R. Goodwin and edited two small articles. These were only small safe edits, but I was just trying to get my feet wetHere is a screenshot of one of the articles I worked on about the Langston Terrace Dwellings in DC.

Screenshot of Wikipedia article on Langston Terrace Dwellings.

Screenshot of Wikipedia article on Langston Terrace Dwellings.

After editing for a couple hours Chloe Raub gave us some advice about how to use Wikipedia in libraries and with classes based on her experience at George Washington University.

Here is a list of some of the key points that I took from the session.

  • One of the key things for libraries to keep in mind when starting to use Wikipedia is that there is no option for an institution level account. Each person involved has to have their own.
  •  When you first log in go to Beta and turn on Visual Editor and then save preferences. Then you can hit “edit beta” and will get a visual editor.
  • In the visual editor there is a “cite” button which makes citing easier.
  • Wikipedia language – better to not make assertations, but say so and so says this and then cite it. Need to say why the person or thing is notable.
  • No original research – has to be from secondary sources. Can use primary sources as quotes or images. Can look at catalog records and finding aids, especially if they have a lot of prose in the front matter. The descriptive matter that archivists create can be used in Wikipedia.
  • Weird to Wikipedians that people get paid to edit Wikipedia, hence conflict of interest and new terms of use say that paid editors must disclose their affiliation. NARA has their own guidelines.
  • Don’t edit articles about your staff or library. But do edit the articles about your collections – that’s where you have the expertise. Act transparently.
  • Don’t appear to be a spammer – ie adding a bunch of links in a short amount of time.
Chloe – talking about using Wikipedia in your library
  • Identify Articles to be expanded / articles to be created
  • ex. GW added link to Ben’s Chili Bowl finding aid on that article under the External Links
  • Library could join GLAM
  • There is a list of active GLAM projects. So one can see what other people are doing. GW had a wikipedian make a page for them.
  •  At GW for quality control sent out 3 articles a week and got staff to rate them. That info went onto the articles Talk page. They put their matrix on the talk page to get others to assess the articles too.

Examples of events and activities a library could host / contribute to

  • Editathons
  • Class projects
  • Wikipedian in Residence

Fitchburg Art Museum

This was my first visit to the Fitchburg Art Museum in a long time. I grew up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and remember visiting the museum on class trips and for art studio classes. It was the first museum that I spent much time at. I also completed a summer internship at the museum during my undergraduate years. It is a small museum with an encyclopedic look at art history. The galleries on the first  floor consist of Asian art, South American art, Greek and Roman art, and then in a separate space Egyptian art. Much of the art is on loan from the Sackler Museum in Washington D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the the Harvard affiliated Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Dancing Ganesha, India, 900-1000 AD, sandstone, Fitchburg Art Museum. Photograph by Tad Suiter.

Dancing Ganesha, India, 900-1000 AD, sandstone, Fitchburg Art Museum. Photograph by Tad Suiter.

Also on the first floor is the Community Gallery – a hallway space reserved for art created by students. The current exhibit consisted of papier-mâché dogs designed to reflect the art of famous artists. My favorite was the Jim Dine dog by Daphne Wong.  Each work also featured an artists statement and in Wong’s we learn that her inspiration was Dine’s Valentine paintings and Five Feet of Colorful Tools. I like the mix of hearts, pastels, and tools.

Upstairs, the main exhibition was Jeffu Warmouth: NO MORE FUNNY STUFF.

Dueling Banjo and exhibit text for Jeffu Warmouth show. Photo by Tad Suiter.

Dueling Banjo and exhibit text for Jeffu Warmouth show. Photo by Tad Suiter.

The show closed on 6/1 and if the day before it closed was any judge of attendance there might have been a couple people that got out to see it on its last day. Warmouth is an artist from New England who teaches at Fitchburg State College. Much of the work here was video and installation based. Some highlights for me included an installation of competing fast food chains “JeffuBurger” and “JFC”. At JeffuBurger I ordered the Massachusetts burger which consisted of a meat patty shaped like the state, topped with baked beans, cranberry sauce, and Boston creme. I then got to watch Jeffu take a bite.

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JeffuBurger – Massachusetts burger

Taking up a whole wall was a grocery store installation of boxes and cans, each with a custom label featuring a pun or abstract idea. There was much to read and look at here, and even later I find enjoyment in ones that I missed at first.

Jeffu Warmouth groceries

Jeffu Warmouth groceries

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Jeffu Warmouth groceries

Most all of the labels for the exhibit and throughout the museum were available in English and Spanish which I thought was interesting and a sign that the museum is trying to accommodate and engage with the Spanish-speaking demographic in Fitchburg. The museum worked with a class at Fitchburg State to create some interactives. My husband Tad enjoyed stretching his sketching skills.

The next gallery featured all video installations. A couple were video game influenced. My favorite was a set up of four TV monitors each with a Jeffu face in them. They would randomly start screaming.

The last room we went in was showing videos created by Jeffu. They were short films featuring vegetable (and some fruit) puppetry. These were funny and reminded me of the Food Party videos Thu Tran does on YouTube.

After leaving the Jeffu exhibit we checked out the photography exhibition “Building a Collection: Photography at the Fitchburg Art Museum.” This exhibit included some spectacular photographs including images by Harold Edgerton, Kenro Izu, Alfred Stieglitz, and Charles Sheeler’s camera case.

Overall, definitely a fun museum experience with a wide array of art from different cultures and time periods. I didn’t talk about the Egyptian art much in this post, but there were a few interactives we really enjoyed. These included a royal thrown that visitors are encouraged to sit on and a chance to interview for a job in Ancient Egypt. Also there were many painted panels of ancient tombs by Joseph Lindon Smith that were interesting. We flew through the African art which is located sort of awkwardly on a sky bridge that connects the two main buildings. I’m looking forward to see what comes next for the Fitchburg Art Museum.

Wan Qingli at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

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Wan Qingli, Wishing Each Other Longevity, 2004. Artist’s inscription, “Wishing each other longevity. Painted after returning from the seaside in the twelfth month of the year jiashen, Wan Qingli.”

After seeing the small exhibition “Inked” at the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM), I had to buy the book featuring paintings by Wan Qingli. The book titled “A Brush with Irony: Paintings by Wan Qingli” is the exhibition catalogue for Qingli’s show at the Museum and Art Gallery at Hong Kong University in 2006. The show at the SAAM is only one room’s worth of work, about 7 works total and it left me curious to know more about the scholar / collector / artist. Some of the works at the SAAM include a large multi-scroll work of an ocean scene, and several thinner scrolls that feature animals, cubed fruit, and two foot prints and a urinal. The works also include colophons, artist’s inscriptions, and seals, which provide context for the images, highlighting the humor and sense of irony found in the works. The text is translated and adds much to the images.

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Book cover for A Brush with Irony: Paintings by Wan Qingli.

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Wan Qingli, My Zodiac Year, 2006. Artist’s inscription: “My zodiac year. Playfully painted in the first month of the year bingxu, Qingli.” I was born in 1982, also year of the dog!

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Four panels out of work of fifteen. Wan Qingli, In the Middle of the Song No One is in Sight, 2003.

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Wan Qingli, In the Middle of the Song No One is in Sight, 2003.

The entire work “In the Middle of the Song No One is in Sight” is available to explore from Google Cultural Institute.

Gallery –

The following photos are of the works exhibited at the SAAM. Sorry for the low quality 😦

Group of Four Trees by Jean Dubuffet

I am happy that I got to see Jean Dubuffet’s Group of Four Trees (1969-1972) sculpture out of my window last weekend while staying near Wall Street in NYC.  The financial district boasts some cool sculptures and is so small it’s easy to walk around and see all of them. The Louise Nevelson Plaza and the Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi were also not far away and I came across them by accident.


View from Club Quarters hotel.


From high above I thought the trees resembled a Chinese dragon, with the trunks resembling legs, but up close they sort of look like mushrooms more than trees. They are white with black outlines which makes them look like a three dimensional drawing before it has been colored in.