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Two new works at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum

51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln, Massachusetts

Hawaii California Steel (Figure Ground), by Letha Wilson, 2017. UV prints on Cor-Ten steel, 110 × 76 inches.
Photo: Anchor Imagery, courtesy of the artist

Two recent additions to the grounds of the deCordova offer a remarkable and riveting contrast in attitudes toward the sculptural, natural, and architectural realms. JaeHyo Lee’s 0121-1110=113035 (Lotus), on view through July 1, 2018, is an 18-foot-tall conical sculpture made from discarded pieces of chestnut wood. This beautifully crafted form has been carved from chunks of wood that have been charred, bolted together, and then shaped into a perfect conical tower. The pure geometry of the cone intersects the organic forms of natural tree trunks, resulting in a truly mesmerizing work. You can get up close, peer into the dark interior, and get lost in the charcoal spaces. Then, back on the surface, you lose your bearings in the meandering lines and warm colors of tree rings that distort into strange amoeba-like shapes, which you have never seen before in wood. These forms have an almost cosmological geometry that suggests a range of scales from cellular organisms to invisible magnetic waves to the interactions of galaxies.

About a hundred yards away stands Hawaii California Steel (Figure Ground) by Letha Wilson, a study in materials both intensely real and magically illusional, on view through May 31, 2018. Eight-foot-tall sheets of rusted steel have been stood up, cut, folded, and welded together — but only after the application of two photographic images into the very surface of the steel. Palm fronds from Hawaii and a detail of rock from Colorado cover the surfaces of one side of each steel panel. From one direction, the images blend into the landscape and take on a certain kind of camouflage; from the other direction, the natural surface of rusting steel suggests the sculptures of Richard Serra. The result is a complicated play of deceptive imagery and honest materiality.

So on one hand (Lee), we have the celebration of material and crafts in the carving of forms that reveal hidden secrets within the wood. On the other (Wilson), we have a thoughtful investigation of material and image that suggests ambiguities outside the material. Both pieces stand alone as wonderful examples of contemporary sculpture, but installed as they are in dialogue with each other across the road at the deCordova, they present a truly fascinating discussion on the nature of materiality and its perception.

0121-1110=113035 (Lotus), by JaeHyo Lee, 2013. Chestnut wood.
Photo: Courtesy Cynthia-Reeves