Nymphs in the garden

Leave it to an artist from Iceland to bring out the power of San Antonio’s green space. Horizons, by acclaimed sculptor Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, in association with the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center’s Art In The Garden series at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, is an exhibit that will not only help one appreciate what we have in Texas in terms of the leafy-green stuff, it also drives us to contemplate where we fit in.

Sculpture, when associated with location, can be the most powerful medium. Used in a gallery setting, a sculpture becomes a singular object to be processed and absorbed. This works especially with the classics (e.g. Rodin’s The Thinker), that allow the viewer to study the piece on smaller, more confined terms.

The art form takes on a whole new meaning when used outside the gallery wa;;s, with the surrounding environment becoming yet another tool for the artist to bring out new dimensions or new ideas in his or her work. Although obvious, look to the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor as the most recognizable American example, a wonder of copper and iron welding that became a symbol of a new future for hundreds of thousands of immigrants, years before extensive, miles-long fences, oppressive border patrol, and right-wing media bashing.

Thórarinsdóttir is one of the better artists incorporating the elements into her art. With over 30 years under her belt, and countless exhibitions around the world, she’s had the opportunity to place her pieces amongst some pristine and dramatic backdrops. Horizons, is one of the more intimate of her outdoor works, but largest in terms of area.

A dozen, life-size, ambiguous figures sit and stand amongs the trees and bushes in the “East Texas” portion of the Botanical Gardens, along a pathway surrounding the pond. They appear waiting in silent guard, contemplative looks on their faces, camouflaged against the browns and greens of the foliage by the rusty hue of their surface. Almost secretively placed, the magic is in discovering each piece and what its relationship is to the scene enveloping it.

All of these heavy, cast-iron humanistic representations were originally made from plaster casts of Thórarinsdóttir’s 26-year-old son, who has been the model for her work for 15 years. Each figure is composed piece-by-piece, each weighing 230 kilograms (507 pounds), with the dozen sculptures taking two years to complete. This is the third stop for the North American-only show, with the others being in the Katonah Museum of Art in New York and the Dixon Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

Eleven of the figures stand in different poses along a walking path. Some face into the woods, some toward the lake, some with hands folded, some with arms to the side. Each of these contains a strip of reflective green glass in the torso, connecting them to each other and to the forest colors. Upon closer inspection, they also have twigs and branches set into them, melding them further with the pastoral setting.

One lone piece sits on a bench, hands on lap, its gaze – we can’t really call it he or she – fixed on water. Is the figure sad? Hopeful? At peace? Meditating? The answer lies in those who view the pieces. During an interview with the artist, a tiny caterpillar crawls along the head of the piece, evoking a timeless feel, as though the sculptures will last long after we are gone, a recording of what came before.

The stroke of genius of Thórarinsdóttir’s work is how we interact with each of the dozen sculptures. They invite us to touch them, sit next to them, and get a better sense of what they are. In the process, it humanizes the figures as well as ourselves as we inject our own personal experience into the viewing. In doing so, it makes Horizons almost transcendental in nature, bringing out the relationship we have with our surroundings, taking us to some place spiritual, if not otherworldly.


Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir: Horizons


Through September 2009


San Antonio Botanical Garden

555 Funston

(210) 829-5100



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