Volume 16, Issue 23 - June 5 - June 11, 2008

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Picasso Visits Chesapeake Country

World-renowned artists as well as local talents grace the halls of Annmarie Garden’s new gallery

by Margaret Tearman

Part of the Re.action exhibition, Monte Shelton’s Large Spiral, abouve left, seems to ripple and vibrate.

Calvert County artists Jim Langley and Tommy Younger created Pneumatic Ball Return, above right, which was chosen from 200 entries to join in the Re.action exhibit.

Annmarie Garden’s new Arts Building, below, offers 15,000 square feet of space and includes exhibition space, a café, a gift shop and spectacular views of the surrounding park.

Pablo Picasso, Henry Matisse and Joan Miró never visited Chesapeake Bay.

Until now.

Today, art by these greats — alongside some homegrown lesser-known names — has a home at Chesapeake Country’s own Annmarie Garden.

Annmarie Garden’s new Arts Center is a first in Chesapeake country. It’s a real art museum with connections that promise visits by modern art’s most famous makers to this out-of-the-way location. That’s only part of its promise. The other part: Art we can all enjoy — without worrying whether we get it.

Open Doors — and Minds

Annmarie Garden’s 15,000-square-foot Arts Center, opened May 31, fits comfortably into the 30-acre sculpture garden. It does not overwhelm its setting. Nor does it compete with the statues that live there.

At first glance, the $3.3 million center appears to be not much more than a simple rectangular box.

But another look reveals the building’s own sculptural quality: The second floor mimics a boat with a reflective glass bow and stern protruding from its ends.

“The nautical twist is a nod to the building’s site,” says architect Richard Kleponis of the Annapolis firm of Wheeler Goodman Masek & Associates. The building sits behind the iconic sculpture A Tribute to the Oyster Tonger, in the Garden’s central plaza.

As well as a building with a theme, it’s a building with a purpose.

“We were asked to design a simple but elegant structure, something people will drive 30 miles out of their way to see,” Kleponis told Bay Weekly.

The interior is an open, light-filled space. Walls of windows offer unobstructed views into the surrounding sculpture garden.

The shining centerpiece of the wide-open first-floor gallery is Alexander Calder’s mobile, The Stainless Stealer, on loan from the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum. The 10-by-15-by-15-foot stainless steel and aluminum mobile is made up of forms of varying shapes and sizes that appear to float around other forms that remain still.

The second floor — or mezzanine — retains the boat shape and was designed to give a view of sculptures from above. This intimate space will be used as a separate gallery for special changing exhibits.

At the top of the stairs and achieving maximum exposure is a large acrylic sphere Dragan by Yugoslavian-born artist Mihich Vasa. Over four feet high and three feet wide, the sphere plays with natural light and color when viewed from different angles. It, too, is on loan from the Hirshhorn.

Aesthetics were not the only consideration in the building’s design; care had to be taken to protect the objects put into the exhibition space.

“The building’s mechanical system takes preservation needs into account,” explained Kleponis. “It maintains the temperature and humidity levels, both of which fluctuate with crowd levels.”

Thus all of those big windows so important to the gallery’s design are equipped with simple shades that can be lowered to protect the valuable artwork from the sun’s damaging rays.

The Art Center nourishes the body as well as the soul: a gallery-side café will offer lunch items and refreshments. Take-out art is for sale in the new gift shop where each month work by a different artist will be featured.

See Visiting Greats

One of two inaugural exhibits, Olga Hirshhorn Recollects, brings work by some of the world’s most important artists to Calvert County.

On loan to Annmarie Garden from the Corcoran Museum in D.C., this extraordinary collection of modern art includes pieces by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Joan Miró. As part of a large donation made by Olga Hirshhorn to the Corcoran, it includes art created especially for Mrs. Hirshhorn and her husband, the late Joseph H. Hirshhorn, the founder of the Smithsonian’s famed Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Olga Hirshhorn is a frequent visitor to Annmarie Gardens, often enjoying a stroll through the woodland setting with its sculptures already on loan from the Hirshhorn.

“On one of her visits to our garden, Mrs. Hirshhorn told us about her donation of modern art to the Corcoran,” said Annmarie Garden Director Stacey Hann-Ruff. “We agreed the collection would benefit our new Arts Center. She really helped to facilitate the loan from the Corcoran.”

The pieces chosen from the Corcoran collection do not require an art background to appreciate. You won’t have to stand in front of an abstract and wonder what you are supposed to be seeing or even what the artist was creating. The exhibit is unpretentious — in spite of the heavyweights included — and succeeds in making great art accessible.

You’ll appreciate the sweetness of maternal love in the Henri Matisse lithograph, Two Women With Child. Be awed by the great Picasso’s Head of a Boy or his personal gift to Mrs. Hirshhorn, Pour Olga Son Ami. Feel the vibrant color in Niki De Saint Phalle’s Last Night I Had A Dream or famed Spanish artist, Joan Miro’s Demoiselle a bascule.

See Olga Hirshhorn Recollects in the mezzanine gallery through September 21.

Touch Amazing Contraptions

The second inaugural exhibit, Re.action, is unusual in another way for an art gallery. It encourages visitors to reach out and touch things.

“There is nothing like this in the region,” said Hann- Ruff. “We want visitors to get physical with the art. We want you to run your hands across chimes. Push a button and see what happens. Turn a crank. Spin a pedestal. It’s all about movement and expression of creativity.”

Sprawled over the main floor and anchored by Calder’s mobile floating overhead — alone worth more than the entire building — the exhibit includes pieces that literally move or visually suggest movement. Parts move, balls fly and arms rotate.

One of more than 70 pieces in the Re.action exhibit at Annmarie Garden’s new Arts Center, Vermont artist Joe Chirchirillo’s Waterfall conveys a sense of moving water.

Two boxes broadcast the famous Abbott and Costello skit “Who’s on First” — in Morse Code. Karl Lautman of Rhode Island built that talkie. Bradley Litwin of Philadelphia built the contraption with the catapulting ball, aptly named Catapult. Vermont artist Joe Chirchirillo’s Waterfall is a tower of copper tubes soldered together to catch water dumped by old cans.

“Art is sometimes looked at as a female thing,” said Hann-Ruff. “In Re.action, we included pieces that would appeal to the guys, the engineers. Stuff that moves, has gears, mechanical pieces that will have them wondering how does it do that.”

There is some local motion in the exhibit. Jim Langley and Tommy Younger were delighted — and surprised — when their Pneumatic Ball Return was chosen. Having a piece of art on exhibit is a first for both.

The Pneumatic Ball Return is a large brightly painted box with tubes of different colored balls that, with a push of a button, cycle through the piece for five minutes.

“I drew some pictures, but the mechanical operation wasn’t working,” said Langley, who in his other life is curator of exhibits at Calvert Marine Museum. “So I called in Tommy. He’s so good with gadgetry and loves a challenge.”

Younger, who volunteers his skills in the marine museum’s cabinet shop, was happy to learn that their piece was chosen for the exhibit.

“The design is all Jimmy’s,” said Younger. “I just helped with the mechanicals, the way it functions.”

“I think art that changes with motion and noise holds people’s attention longer than static design,” Langley said. “I hope this exhibit gets people in Calvert Country more interested in the arts.”

The exhibit is juried, meaning artists entered their work into a competition for a place in the exhibit. Pneumatic Ball Return was one of more than 200 entries judged by Mark Ward, former deputy director of Baltimore’s Visionary Art Museum.

“Artistic value is important, but there is another component I considered, and that is originality and imagination,” Ward told Bay Weekly.

The 70-plus pieces that Ward ultimately chose for the exhibit are indeed bold, creative and active. But are they art?

“It is goofy fun,” says Hann-Ruff. “These pieces challenge us to get beyond that question and just enjoy the creativity.”

See Re.action through August 31.

Randy A. McDaniel’s sculpture 210, Picket Fence, invites visitors to brush a hand gently across the surface.

Growing Annmarie Garden

Already renowned for its sculpture park, Annmarie Garden’s new Arts Center is another branch of its ever-growing collection of world-class art. With help from museums like the Corcoran and the Smithsonian’s Affiliates program, and from special relationships forged with dedicated art collectors like Olga Hirshhorn, this arts garden is coming into full bloom.

Not only architect Richard Kleponis’s new building but the whole art garden gives people a “good reason to drive 30 miles out of their way.”

The Smithsonian agrees.

“Annmarie approached the Smithsonian with a wonderful idea of a sculpture garden in southern Maryland,” explained Harold Closter, director of the Smithsonian Affiliates program. “They were very committed in their desire for this partnership to benefit the local community.”

The Smithsonian Affiliates’ loan program enables local and regional museums to include works from the Smithsonian collections.

“We work in all kinds of communities — cities, rural, small towns — and we work with all kinds of museums, some of the biggest in the country as well as small and emerging museums,” Closter explained.

Because not everyone can — or is willing — to visit the Smithsonian’s museums in Washington and New York, the affiliate programs bring some of the institution’s vast collections to them.

“It’s turned out to be a very good partnership,” Closter said. “The connection with art and nature is lacking in most museums. Annmarie Garden’s Sculpture Park offers a whole new dimension.”

It also makes one more reason to visit the southern tip of Calvert County.

“Southern Maryland is a mixed bag. We’re saying it doesn’t matter what you know about art. Just come here to have fun,” said Hann-Ruff. “Our goal is to engage people. One doesn’t have to be an art aficionado to enjoy art.”

Annmarie Garden Sculpture Park and Arts Center is located on Dowell Road in Solomons, Maryland. The sculpture park is open daily, 9am to 5pm; the Arts Center and gift shop are open Tuesday thru Sunday, 10am to 5pm. Admission to Re.action and Olga Hirshhorn Recollects is $3 for adults, $2 for children; children 4 and under are free: 410-326-4640; www.annmariegarden.org.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.