Foon Sham working with local craftsmen at Ars.Natura.Uta, Bolivia, designing a sculpture in brick.

International Sculpture Day 2016

The second iteration of International Sculpture Day (IS Day) was celebrated on April 24, 2016 by an estimated 10,000 participants in more than 20 countries around the world. Since the initial event in 2015, these numbers have more than tripled, which confirms the enthusiasm for IS Day and the foresight of Johannah Hutchison, executive director of the International Sculpture Center (ISC), who explained, “We introduced International Sculpture Day as a day when everyone could celebrate sculpture. It was a way to recognize the art form and educate the public about the role that art and, in particular, sculpture can play in our everyday lives.” This year, in order to extend the reach of IS Day, its on-line presence was expanded to create a unified community via social media, which shared photographs, video, and commentary from various events with a worldwide audience who could view and comment on the postings.

The final result of a sculpture-making flash mob at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum. Photo: Judith Page.

IS Day is a welcome gathering not only of practitioners, arts professionals, and enthusiasts, but also of the general public, which is hungry for information and the opportunity to participate in what to many is an arcane process. For example, Ben Keating of Keating Foundry (Jersey City, New Jersey) gave a tour of his foundry and a casting demonstration to rapt spectators, who were encouraged to provide a body part (in this case, a finger) to be cast in plaster. Participants included non-artists as well as artists (including painter Ray Smith), reinforcing the beauty of IS Day with a free-flowing comingling of people from all backgrounds, who enthusiastically participated in the demonstration and roamed at will through Keating’s vast facility, where they could examine works-in-progress.

This exuberance was present at events in more than 200 international locations, including England, Bolivia, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Australia, Italy, Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Nigeria, and in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. An on-line exhibition organized by John Atkin (London) and Sculpturesite Gallery (Glen Ellen, California) spoke to the power of international collaboration through visual media. On IS Day, Atkin hosted a Q&A Twitter feed as a way to develop a worldwide audience for the exhibition and to build a bridge between artist and viewer. In commenting on the on-line exhibition format, he wrote, “It won’t replace gallery spaces—seeing art in person is the best way to experience it—but I definitely envision expansion of the on-line exhibition. There’s lots of fun, creative stuff that could be explored and developed through the format that I’m sure we’ll see happening more and more over the next few years. I find that often when faced with strict limitations, as in sharing art on the Internet, more creative ideas can be established.”

Casting demonstration at the Keating Foundry, Jersey City, NJ.  Photo: Judith Page.

The spirit of collaboration was also present at Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park (Hamilton, Ohio), where the DAAP (Design, Architecture, Art, Planning) program at the University of Cincinnati presented “DAAP Sculpture Showcase”—installations by 46 students and professors from the program. Nearly 1,000 people viewed the sculptures, which were located throughout the grounds of Pyramid Hill on sites ranging from grassy knolls and wooded hillocks to landscaped patios and indoor galleries. Kelly Cave, the student coordinator, summed up the success of “Sculpture Showcase,” saying it “was better than we could ever have imagined. Not only were there many wonderful artists participating, but there was also an incredible turn-out from the community.”

Another collaboration of sorts took place at Grounds For Sculpture (Hamilton, New Jersey), which offered an Art-in-Nature “Hortisculpture” tour that provided fascinating insight into the relationship between the art collection and the surrounding landscape. Participants learned about the science of the individual plants and how they were used to “frame” the sculptures, much like the way an artist carefully considers how to frame a painting.

In Wroclaw, Poland, sculptor Miroslaw Struzik also emphasized site, conducting a tour of his work in the Botanical Garden and Futura Park. In the evening, he presented his Dandelion so viewers could experience its extraordinary delicacy enhanced by lighting. Ars.Natura.Uta, in the rural community of Achocalla, Bolivia, presented a site sculpture in progress by Foon Sham and a tour of the institute’s sculpture garden and ecological facilities conducted by director Teresa Camacho-Hull. Andrea Hull, who led a papermaking workshop during the celebration, commented on its success: “There was such a combination of community, both from the town of Achocalla and those who drove out from the city of La Paz, a mix of artists, agricultural workers, children, and the curious.” It was refreshing to discover just how many venues throughout the world are dedicated to site-specific sculpture and its relationship to the environment. The directness and informality of the contact between creator, audience, and environment made these events a resounding success.

Visitors enter the exhibition, “Another Else,” curated by Vedran Perkov, president of the Punta Arta Association, Zlarin, Croatia.

Demonstrations offered another way of connecting with and informing an audience. In addition to the Keating Foundry tour, Mana Contemporary (Jersey City, New Jersey) featured over 30 open studios, including Korean artist Seungmo Park, who makes aluminum wire-wrapped sculptures. The Petaluma Arts Center (Petaluma, California) organized a tour of Sonoma State University’s sculpture facilities, where attendees could view works-in-progress by sculpture students.

Artist talks were also in evidence. One of the most creative approaches was Pacific Northwest Sculptors’ Lightning Round of Artist Talks. Eight Portland sculptors shared their work, the inspiration behind it, why they make sculpture, what drives them, and the passion behind their process. The effort was a great success according to one of the organizers, Alisa Looney, who wrote, “We had a fabulous IS Day event in Portland, with standing room only, and were so happy to be a part of it.”

Many events featured curated exhibitions, two of which highlighted emerging artists. “Another Else,” curated by Vedran Perkov, president of the Punta Arta Association (on the island of Zlarin, Croatia), featured four Croatian artists brought together for their diversity. Primarily installed in a rustic, stonewalled building, the work was distinguished by its use of text according to guest critic, Davorka Peric: “Where the text is not only a linguistic or a visual one, but the one that includes the language of everyday life, companionship, and sitting together at the same table.” At Mana Contemporary, “Wake the Town and Tell the People,” co-organized by INS and curated by Ysabel Pinyol, presented 18 emerging artists, who addressed social change in a variety of innovative and technically diverse formats. Works included Cosmo Whyte’s monumental wall of amplification, a curving arc of speakers that was both intimidating and comforting and, according to essayist Suzanne Seesman, “communicates music’s ability to bombard, wash over, and move through human bodies.”

Students from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, restoring a public sculpture for International Sculpture Day.

Then there were “wildcard” events so compelling that sculpture lovers might have wished for a magic carpet to transport them to each one. For example, a tailgate party is one way to get into the mood for an event, and at the Krasl Art Center (Saint Joseph, Michigan), the Tailgate Sculpture Party was the main event. Sculptural kebobs were grilled, family-friendly beverages were served, and outdoor games were played on the grounds. Across the state, at Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum (University Center, Michigan), a flash mob gathered to make sculpture. Attendees were asked to bring two objects of wood, ceramic, metal, fabric, or plastic to collaborate in assembling an artwork. Treats were on hand to keep the creative energy flowing. More libations were served at the Pacific Rim Sculptors party and exhibition at Art Object Gallery (San Jose, California), featuring its 28 members. And, who can resist a sculpture scavenger hunt? The Arts Council (New Orleans) asked lovers of sculpture, games, and social media to take photographs of themselves with one of the hundreds of public sculptures throughout the city and post them to Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. The best photograph in each platform received a prize.

In a more serious vein, Professor Nwanna Clifford, coordinator for Anambra Guild of Sculptors (Awka, Anambra State, Nigeria) chose to “sensitize the public about the importance of sculpture in our environment” by reclaiming lost and defaced sculptures in the community, restoring the sculptures and their sites. The numerous photographs posted on social media present joyful images of the careful process, but also reinforce the importance of conserving site sculptures.

Students from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, restoring a public sculpture for International Sculpture Day.

At Lynden Sculpture Garden (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), artist Yevgeniya Kaganovich and her student assistants addressed environmental concerns by constructing an installation out of disposable plastic bags. Kaganovich’s durational installation, grow, is a system of interconnected, plant-like forms simulating a self-propagating organism in multiple stages of development. The system grows over time, its growth rate determined by the number of bags accumulated in the official recycling bin at Lynden. “My goals for grow,” writes Kaganovich, “are to transform an artificial manipulated material into a seemingly unchecked, feral, opportunistic growth; to visualize and punctuate reuse by juxtaposing it with slow, methodical, labor-intensive making that plays with control, ‘craftiness,’ and precision; and to speculate about how artificial life cycles are sustained.”

In each of the many International Sculpture Day activities, the participants were of primary importance. These individuals—who made the day so successful—included the thousands who physically attended an event and those who participated on social media; the administrators, staff, and volunteers from the 200 participating organizations; the curators who organized exhibitions; and the writers and critics who communicated essential information about the events to the public. Major kudos, though, go to the artists who participated in IS Day and who spend countless hours working in their studios, day after day, year after year, dreaming, sketching, constructing, and completing all the tasks that range from the mundane to the miraculous that culminate in a work of art, so that they have the opportunity to share their unique vision with the world.

Judith Page is an artist based in New York.