The natural world often inspires artists by opening up experiences to conceptualize and perceive nature allowing them to respond in new ways. Their intervention alters the formal structure of the environment where a blurring of the boundaries between art and nature becomes the norm. While some on-site installations disrupt – one need only to look at the monumental engineered pieces by the late Jeanne Claude and Christo – others by Environmental Artists most notably the British Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long, are concerned with incorporating a strong ecological component.
Which brings me to artist Sandra Muss whose collaboration with the Kreeger Museum in Washington D.C. resulted in Portals (2016) an interactive, lyrical, meditative permanent installation in The Woods section of the 5.5 acre newly expanded sculpture garden. Situated behind the majestic travertine clad museum designed in 1963 by the Modernist architect Philip Johnson as a private residence for art collectors David and Carmen Kreeger, the installation is only hinted at, having been positioned in the wooded area at the end of a steep hill.
As the visitor draws in closer, seven 10 ft. stainless steel mirrored portals swathed in rust wire frames with vines strewn across emerge on pathways. The rectangle structures, a study in light and movement, have well spaced openings alluding to the possibility of a deeply personal experience into another realm. While the mirrors frame the tree varieties and reflect other sculptures scattered throughout the garden, they also capture the lyricism of nature’s fluctuations.
Dividing her time between Miami Beach, New York City, and a studio in the Berkshires, Muss’s far-flung travels to New Zealand, the Artic Circle, and Nâ Pali Coast in Hawaii inform her work. Known for large-scale paintings, sculptures, and assemblage art, Muss’s central theme on transformation both metaphorical and spiritual is embodied in Portals moving her into new aesthetic territory quite successfully.
A visit to the Kreeger Museum should include a viewing of its fine collection of 19th and 20th century paintings and sculpture, plus a smaller group of traditional Asian and African art.
Portals by Sandra Muss at the Kreeger Museum; Photos: Colin Winterbottom