- “High Water” by Michael Gervais
Burlington’s South End Art Hop is celebrating its 19th year in 2011, but the outdoor-sculpture component didn’t appear until 2003. Its stated purpose is to “showcase larger sculptures, installations, murals and other public works of art.” There aren’t any new outdoor murals affiliated with the 2011 Hop, but plenty of large sculptures have sprouted along the Pine Street corridor. An interesting development in the category this year: Several of the pieces include multiple components.
The trio of pieces making up “Circus Series #7” by Gerald Stoner, installed in front of Lake Champlain Chocolates, seems to defy gravity. Composed of welded, weathered steel, each stands about nine feet tall. Stoner’s compositions gracefully balance geometric shapes, with cut beams perched on thinner forms and designs ground into the rusty surfaces. Each component is capped with a 4-foot-diameter ring. Artists’ titles don’t always illuminate what’s going on in a given piece, but Stoner’s reference to the circus seems apropos for these tall, jumbled abstractions.
Francis Carlet’s aggregation of three “Dragon Flys” can be seen in the trees in front of the Burlington Electric Department. These, too, are made of weathered steel, but are more modest in scale; the largest is about five feet tall, the other two closer to four feet. Carlet combined small shapes and items, such as chains, gears and other mechanical detritus, into freestanding, vertical compositions that resemble neither dragons nor flies. Instead, they are lively abstractions that seem frozen mid-frolic. Carlet’s installation is essentially three steel assemblages that interact with one another despite being separated by several yards.
A tandem team of “Saw Horse Horses” by Robert Hitzig straddles the train tracks in front of the Maltex Building. The Montpelier artist’s equines are a bit bigger than life size and made of weathered, 2-by-6-inch boards. The horses’ eyes are screws and washers, while their manes are outward-pointing nails. Hitzig is best known for his highly polished, tinted-wood wall pieces that highlight the medium’s grains. “Saw Horse Horses” is definitely a rustic departure from his elegant studio work. It is nevertheless a successful piece, especially as sited in the postindustrial context of the South End. As with the rusting metal commonly found in the Hop’s outdoor sculptures, Hitzig’s use of vintage wood gives new life to a decaying material.
Next door, in front of Farrell Vending, Bruce Hathaway placed five silvery, stainless-steel standing ribbons collectively titled “Jumpin’ Fish.” Each is like a twisting, Dr. Seussian ladder, with the bands in each fish resembling rungs. There are four or five fish per structure, connected nose to tail. Some jump upward, while others cascade downward. Hathaway has created a wonderfully playful piece, full of movement and humor.
Michael Gervais surely created “High Water” prior to Vermont’s experience with Tropical Storm Irene, but it’s hard not to make a connection. Sited in front of New World Tortilla, the piece consists of two curved, 5-foot-tall, light-blue elements connected back to back, like a wave. They seem about to roll over a 3-foot-tall, dried-out driftwood stump. Though its color is bright, the sculpture has a somber tone.
Many outdoor sculptures from previous years have been permanently installed — the Art Hop program, available at locations throughout the South End, indicates what’s what. Each Hop offers an opportunity to regard these works anew. Good art has a pretty long shelf life, after all. When have you ever heard someone complain that Michelangelo’s “David” was too old?