Review: Sculpture Garden / by John Ruppert


Evergreen House Hosts a Monumental Outdoor Exhibition Sculpture at Evergreen

At Evergreen House through Oct. 31

One thing you don't expect to find installed on the well-manicured front lawn of Evergreen House is chain-link fencing.  After all, this Johns Hopkins University-administered house museum in North Baltimore is the epitome of late 19th- and early 20th-century elegance. The arts patron who made it her home, Alice Warder Garrett, loved beautiful objects and, for that matter, beautiful people and parties. The house and its decorative contents remain almost exactly as Garrett knew them, but the grounds have been temporarily remade, thanks to the exhibit Sculpture at Evergreen, whose contemporary, site-specific pieces relate to the artistic spirit of the house and the 26 acres surrounding it.

John Ruppert's "Four Orbs' for Evergreen," which you encounter along a front driveway as long as any you'll find in a Merchant-Ivory film, is the perfect introduction for this exhibit. And the show itself is an enjoyable and sometimes exhilarating example of what happens when sculptors respond to both natural and built environments.

Ruppert took a utilitarian material associated with industrial and backyard uses, bent the chain-link metal to form orblike vessels, and installed four of these orbs--three made of aluminum and one made of rusted steel--on the lawn rolling from Evergreen House down to the 4500 block of North Charles Street. These are very large orbs, each averaging 10 feet in diameter and 10 to 12 feet high. However, they're anything but weighty. Because they're made from chain-link fencing, you look through them as well as at them. They're even open-topped, making them more akin to an elegant vessel than a confining cage. And they're placed on the lawn in such a way that you can readily look from one to the next--through the next, actually--and see the house and grounds in a different way. One great view is to look through these curving forms and directly toward the bracingly vertical Corinthian columns on the house's portico.  

"The forms cascade down that expanse of lawn and play off the architecture," Ruppert says in an interview, adding that "the curve that's happening [in the shape of the orbs] is an extension of the curve of the driveway and the land. As you walk around, you become more aware of the site. The orbs frame things."

The interplay of orbs and lawn extends to the lawn itself, which is unmowed inside the orbs.  Ruppert notes that "the grass inside becomes a little sanctuary, and birds can fly in and out."  

In a sense, Ruppert's sculptures aren't the only ones for the birds. There's a lot of whimsical creativity displayed by the 10 mostly local sculptors, who were selected from the 120 artists who applied to be in this exhibit.

John Ruppert exemplifies what exhibit judge Michael Brenson was looking for when he made these 10 selections, because, as the former New York Times art critic says, Ruppert's "sculpture is done within the context of the space around it." Brenson says he wanted sculptors with "openness and curiosity about the site. It was a chance for them to respond to the site and not just do what they'd put in a gallery or another place."