How long do you think art should last? By that I mean the individual pieces that artists make: the paintings and sculptures, pottery and assemblages, drawings and collages.
On the Lynden grounds there is a collection of approximately 50 sculptures. Most of these works were made in the 1960s and 1970s. Visitors to Lynden and other collections usually do not think about the effort that must be given to “preserving” the art they look at. The Lynden collection will not last forever unless time, money, and considerable effort continue to be provided to repair, to remove dirt and oxidation, to repaint, and to otherwise ensure the sculptures will be around for many more decades to come.
Lynden no longer actively collects work to remain permanently in the collection, but it commissions artists to create works that live briefly, for a few days to a few months or a few years. As part of my residency at Lynden, I have been making a series of temporary sculptures that I call “Pop Ups.” These Pop Ups are intended to remain/live only briefly. They are not made from metals, stone, or materials that can withstand Nature’s elements for decades. Instead, they are expected to be more ephemeral, and made of wood, found objects, cloth, or even paper…perhaps something quite unexpected. They respond to site, season, and the materials at hand.
Artists create work for many reasons: to achieve some notoriety; to speak to others; to voice an opinion and viewpoint; to establish a legacy, guaranteeing that they and their concepts will be remembered for a greater length of time.
Yet how many pieces of art that have been made on Earth still exist, compared to the billions of art objects that were created and that are now gone? Is anything created with the expectation that it will last forever? Cosmology tells us that planets and stars are not immortal. We know that mountains can be worn down to nothing given enough time.
Some of us who create art question the longevity of our works, just as we do our own impermanence. We know that art is really not “forever.” The performing arts are an example of art forms that depend on persons, indeed generations of persons, to remember and perform “old art” in order to make it live again. Literature must be preserved on paper or in digital form to continually be read and enjoyed over time. What order of magnitude is it comparing what we have lost to what remains?
Ultimately, it is not whether a sculpture is made of steel, iron, bronze, or stone—as the permanent sculptures at Lynden are–that determines if it is of substantial artful quality, worthy of being discussed, exhibited, accepted, and remembered. It is the “process” of making an art object that is fundamentally rewarding and that fulfills an artistic objective. It is in the “making” of buildings and automobiles, bakery and drink, clothing and carpets, movies and song, that humans express, create, and accomplish life’s works.
Perhaps we are all hopeful that “our work” will be known forever. Nevertheless, if one considers it, even human life can be considered a Pop Up. We humans seek meaning in our brief lives. We should recognize that even the ephemeral can provide meaning and value to our journeys.
Gary John Gresl
- Gary John Gresl: The Body Farm at Lynden
- For Families: Shadow Drawing & Compost Sculpture, two Art Drop-In activities inspired by Gary John Gresl’s work at Lynden