Maiden Voyage: Chapter 2, Grounds for Sculpture

from the Artsology series The Arts Adventurer

After finding my way from Route 1 (see last post) to the entrance of the Grounds for Sculpture, as soon as I had paid my entry fee, I was stopped on the road by crossing peacocks (as seen below). They wander throughout the 42 acre public sculpture park, and are not shy at all when it comes to approaching people looking to take a photograph such as myself.


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peacocks walking the grounds at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ

To give a little more background on the sculpture park, it was conceived by the philanthropist and sculptor J. Seward Johnson, whose own sculptures are interspersed throughout the park. The site opened in 1992 and is located on the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds in Hamilton. They have several buildings which house exhibitions, and then there’s numerous paths that wind through the park, allowing one to walk in between and around the various sculptures. What made this especially interesting is that it seems like there’s numerous surprises, where one may see a gap in between two hedges, and if one slips through the gap, suddenly finds a hidden sculpture.

The collection of nearly 300 sculptures includes notable sculptors such as Red Grooms (seen below left), Marisol, Tom Otterness, George Segal, Kiki Smith, and Anthony Caro, among others, but it’s J. Seward Johnson’s own sculptures that often make the biggest visual splash, in large part because of his unique (and somewhat kitschy) interpretations of famous art historical paintings. Here's one example, below right, where Johnson has made his own 3-D interpretation of Edouard Manet's 1863 masterpiece "Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe" (The Picnic). Not only has he spatially arranged the trio in the foreground to match the painting, but he’s even included the 4th figure, the bather in the pond, approximately ten feet behind the trio, just as the painting depicts.

large scale sculpture by Red Grooms at the Grounds for Sculpture

Edouard Manet Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe reimagined as sculpture by J. Seward Johnson

Other painting masterpieces interpreted as sculpture by J. Seward Johnson include Pierre Auguste Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party," from 1880-81 (see our feature on it here), and Henri Rousseau's "The Dream," from 1910 (below left).

But one of the funniest interpretations of a classic painting belongs to Johnson's version of Henri Matisse's "Dance" (video below right). What makes it so funny? He’s got a happy-go-lucky guy laying on the ground, smiling up at the naked women dancing around him in a circle. It's pretty funny, pretty over the top, and something that one has to take in from 360 degrees in order to believe the whole thing (click on the video to get a walk-around view).

large scale sculpture by J. Seward Johnson based on Henri Rousseau's painting The Dream

Johnson's version of this Matisse masterpiece is titled "The Daydream," which clearly reflects the man on the ground in the middle, below left. Here's another look at it below right.

Henri Matisse Dance painting reimagined as sculpture by J. Seward Johnson with a guy in the middle of the circle

Ready to move on? Advance to Chapter 3 here.