Carver's new cultural center: Sculptors' Dominion Invitational

Concentrations of concrete poetry, sculpture gardens offer the spectacle of artificial objects in natural settings. They are sprouting up all over. To see a garden planted with bronze instead

Herb Goldman's aluminum resin sculpture, Mother and Child. Photo by Mark Greenberg
of broccoli, one need travel only to Austin, to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, or to the Cullen Sculpture Garden in Houston. A new one, the Nasher Sculpture Garden - 2.4 acres beside the Dallas Museum of Art - is scheduled to open in October.

Ignoring the lawn flamingos in a nearby neighborhood, Gilbert Barrera claims that the collection of more than 200 pieces he has assembled constitutes "San Antonio's first outdoor sculpture gallery."

What is intended as the first annual Sculptors' Dominion Invitational, an exhibition and sale of primarily large-scale, outdoor works, is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays throughout May. The site is "Villa del Carmen," the seven-acre estate at 11354 Vance

11am-4pm Saturday & Sunday
Through May 25
Villa del Carmen
11354 Vance Jackson
Jackson between Huebner and Wurzbach, which is owned by Barrera's parents, Roy Barrera Sr. and Carmen Barrera.

Like his father, a former Texas secretary of state, and his brother, Roy Barrera Jr., chairman of the Bexar County Republican Party, Gilbert Barrera earned a law degree. However, he soon found statues much more inspiring than statutes. "You either have a passion for something, or you don't," he says. Barrera followed his passion, and gave up the law in order to sculpt and teach others the fine art of carving. Recently elected president of the Texas Society of Sculptors, he vowed to bring the work of the best sculptors he knew to his home town. Less than six months after conceiving

Vision by Roberta Louise Pearl. Photo by Mark Greenberg
the idea of Sculptors' Dominion Invitational, he has brought them to his home, located within his parents' opulent North Side compound.

The senior Barreras probably had little idea what they were getting into when they agreed to allow a few sculptures to be set up in their yard, but any irritation was assuaged by their son's promise to donate a percentage of the proceeds to Wolf Trail, a summer basketball camp for inner-city children that is his mother's favorite cause.

While examining pieces by hundreds of artists at Sculpture in the Park, an annual exhibition that has been held in Loveland, Colorado, for the past 20 years, Barrera asked himself: "Why do I have to come three or four states to see something this magnificent?" He noticed many Texans among the visitors and buyers, and he realized that San Antonio was missing an opportunity to host a major outdoor show. He solicited recommendations from fellow sculptors and invited more than 100 artists - men and women whom, in a phrase that evokes Phidias less than picnic

Included are a few pious effigies of cowboys, soldiers, and praying Jesus, but connoisseurs of kitsch will be disappointed by the paucity of their pickings.
chefs, he calls "gods of alfresco" -- to participate. About 40 percent of the exhibitors are women, and about 80 percent are Texans. In order to gain the trust of artists for his new event, Barrera waived the entry fee and reduced the gallery commission charged on sales to a mere 15 percent (commissions are usually closer to 40 or 50 percent).

Barrera either has extraordinarily eclectic taste or else refused to impose a single sensibility on selections for the show. Included are a few pious effigies of cowboys, soldiers, and praying Jesus, but connoisseurs of kitsch will be disappointed by the paucity of their pickings. A visitor has to be dazzled by the vast variety of styles, in media as varied as wood, fiberglass, granite, acrylic, clay, terra cotta, stainless steel, limestone, iron, marble, cloth, and aluminum. On a mellow evening in May, the oak-studded grounds of the Villa del Carmen seem to have been transformed into a garden of unearthly delights. Hanging from the trees near the entrance are long, gnarled pieces of wood that, painted bright yellow, red, and blue by Henry Waddell Jr., could be mistaken for space aliens. Like fossilized vertebrae

Laura Sturtz' aluminum sculpture, Hands rises out of the ground at the Sculptors' Dominion Invitational. Photo by Mark Greenberg
of some strange extinct species, Caprice Pierucci Taniguchi's haunting wooden structure lies on the ground. About 60 of the smallest and most fragile of the sculptures were placed within the Barreras' buildings, but most of the exhibition is set outside, scattered across the rolling hills and carpet grass of the property. Some of the largest pieces were positioned just inside the gates, a tease for gawkers driving by on Vance Jackson.

Barrera's own work, studies in classical statuary that include a torso of Aphrodite after Praxiteles and a Phidias Apollo, stands far from the entrance, and from Herbert Long's homages in concrete to Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti. At about 15 feet each, Betsey Dudley's 10 towering columns of metal mesh are among the tallest entries in this large-scale show. Roberta Louise Pearl's sequence of bronze miniatures depicting her Jewish grandmother's flight from Russian pogroms is among the smallest. At 5,000 pounds, Jesús Moroles' massive granite fountain, installed in the Barrera swimming pool, seems to carry the most weight at the show; and to carry it away, a collector needs to part with $45,000. Nearby, an airy installation of yellow fabric by George and Catherine Cisneros stretches from ground to tree wafts in the breeze. Sculptors' Dominion Invitational is a seductively tactile experience, and it is difficult to resist the temptation to trace one's fingers over the sensual Italian marble in a piece that Jania Ashby calls Eve and the Apple or the voluptuously smoothed limestone of John VanCamp's Petting Zoo. It is difficult not to grin at James LaPaso's goofy, huge aluminum mobiles or at Laura Sturtz's aluminum Hands that invite one to sit on them. The gods of alfresco are smiling.

Sculpture is the most hands-on art, and Hands would not be a bad alternative title for the entire event; "Sculptors' Dominion Invitational" echoes with the name of an expensive gated barrio. At $10 a head, the show, timed as an addendum to Fiesta, is unlikely to outdraw NIOSA. Nor will Luis Jimenez' $40,000 fiberglass eagle and Candyce Garrett's $30,000 red granite Heart and Soul be selling like hot funnel cakes. But gathering the varied creations of more than 100 contemporary sculptors into a single San Antonio yard sale was a monumental undertaking. Barrera is already talking of an even larger field next year. If his family's seven-acre homestead cannot contain it all, he is looking to a 35-acre lot across from University of Texas at San Antonio that they also own. Apart from the durable handiwork of talented artisans, nothing is set in stone. •


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