Sculptures reshape a New Hampshire mountain
BROOKLINE, N.H. - The sign to the Andres Institute of Art is so small and the landscape is so big that it’s easy to drive past and never realize that a mountain full of outdoor sculpture lies just up that narrow access road. You have to keep a sharp eye out for the turn - and that’s the point of all that art: to make you look a little closer and weigh some of those heavy questions about what constitutes art and how the beauty of nature and art intersect and diverge.
But before engaging in such peripatetic philosophizing on the 140-acre site, it’s a good idea to douse yourself in industrial strength insect repellent. From spring into fall, mosquitoes cluster on the woodsy, shaded trails in swarms nearly dense enough to block out the sun. (Well, they are not that bad, but they are accomplished phlebotomists.)
The institute was the brainchild of engineer Paul Andres, who owns the property, and sculptor John Weidman, who serves as the institute’s artistic adviser. Each year since 1999, the institute has invited a small group of sculptors from around the world to participate in a multi-week seminar (scheduled this year for Sept. 11-Oct. 2). Each makes a sculpture that is installed on the property with the help of volunteers. The grounds are open all year so interested hikers can enjoy the work in every season.
There’s a small parking lot at the entrance where trail maps are available from a wooden box. Eleven trails of varying levels of difficulty traverse the hilly landscape of Big Bear Mountain, and the map indicates where each of the more than 60 pieces of sculpture is situated. We chose the hourlong hike up the asphalt-topped Parkway Road Trail, which earns its “difficult’’ designation only by dint of the steep finish as you approach the sculpture studio and Andres’s home near the hilltop. Eleven works are visible on the road, and at least another dozen can be seen by making short side treks from the trail.
Shortly up the main trail, we were literally ambushed by art: Colombian artist Carolina Mayorga’s group of five rusted steel silhouettes of figures wearing caps and carrying rifles. Almost hidden in the foliage, they seem to be waging a guerrilla war in the New Hampshire woods. At the Andres Institute they are labeled “Untitled,’’ but Mayorga lists the group as “Ambush I’’ on her resume.
A little farther on, Russian artist Alexander Molev’s “Enjoying the Stars’’ depicts a figure of quilted metal standing on a rock and gazing skyward with a spyglass telescope. It is much less menacing and much more uplifting than Mayorga’s work, even if you don’t read the hastily handpainted sign near the sculpture that proclaims “my greatest wish is [that] all the people come to eternal values more and more often.’’
Not all the sculptures are so doggedly representational. Taiwanese artist Yin Peet’s “Aura,’’ near the top of the hill, frames a granite boulder with a semicircle of metal pipe from which a triangle, a square, and a circle hang. They could be wind chimes on steroids - or a profound commentary on eternal forms. It is just such ambiguity that makes hiking the property and looking at the sculptures so rewarding.
Jenny Page’s “Primarii Lapidus’’ are irregular blocks of granite on which the New Hampshire sculptor has inscribed patterns. The works are so subtle that they blend into the landscape. You have to look closely to see the art hidden in the nature. But that’s the idea, after all.
As we came back down the mountain, we saw the woods with different eyes. Had we missed some sculpture on the way up? Or were the boulders covered with dramatic patterns of lichens, the shattered remains of a stone wall, and even the piles of barely concealed abandoned tires just natural occurrences that our perceptions turned into works of art?
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at email@example.com.