Sunday, July 16, 2006

Robert Berks: Linnaeus

What a fun discovery ! There, at the end of our day at the Chicago Botanical Garden, we stumbled upon a genuine grotesque emerging from the trees and shrubs.

This thing is huge -- rough -- and monstrous -- just like those terrible giants that lurk in grottos in Italy -- fitting in scale and texture for its natural surroundings.

And quite appropriate, I think , for its subject, Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who established a method of naming all the plants that ever have, and ever will, be found by botanists just like this one -- who wander through the wild muck to find something that no one has ever found before.

I'd seen photos of this sculptor's (Robert Berks) work before -- specifically his equally monstrous Albert Einstein, and was appalled more than impressed.

But in person -- in this setting -- this piece captured and rewarded my attention.

And look at this face -- it's sensitive and intelligent -- just what I would want to see on a creature that size stumbling out of the woods.

From some back views -- this piece just seems to be a jumble of big rotten logs

But that's alright -- that's what you expect to find in the woods -- rotten old logs -- or moss encrusted rocks.

It feels like junk - but junk that grew, not junk that was left behind.

It's very different from the kind of sculpture that I usually like -- there's no way that Robert Berks is ever going to model a beautiful young nude -- and I'm also not sure that his work belongs within the rectangular, refined spaces of an interior.

But out in the sun -- among the things that grow and scurry -- yes, this is where it belongs (and I guess I also like the idea of great scientists as monsters )

Subsequent to posting the above, the noble Sir Gawain has shown me two more statues of Linneaus -- the first from his home town, Lund, and the second by the American sculptor, Rosalind Cook

Not having seen either one -- I think I'll withold judgement -- except to note that I wouldn't incude either one of these photos on my sculpture website.


Blogger A Conductor said...

I love this piece!

I'm so glad to have discovered you through Gawain - both my wife and daughter have a natural aptitude towards sculpture-making, and this has been a delightful place for me to better appreciate what they're up to.

My own tastes in sculpture turns towards the abstract, so all the figures on your site have been a pleasing eye opener for me.

July 18, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

I appreciate your response -- it's always interesting to know which people like which things -- as a way to get to know each of them a little better.

July 18, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

Hi Chris

I am not too thrilled by this Linnaeus: you already know that I like things which have a nicely polished finish (like your sower in the next post). :)

But perhaps also because I am not too big on SIZE.

The Linnaeus statue I really like stands in the botanical garden in Lund (his native city) where a diminutive Linnaeus (he is perhaps only 3 feet tall) looks at a flower he is holding in his right hand -- with a vague smile of pleasure playing about his lips. He is calm, content, cheerful. He may be on a leisurely morning walk through a meadow.

It made a huge impression on me because it was the first statue I saw outside of (soc-realistist) Eastern Europe and I was floored to realize that public statuary could be less than monumental; that great heroes need not be guys with upraised swords and grimly ground jaws; and and that in fact the quiet labor of love of an unassuming, polite scholar from a small provinvial town in the suburbs of Europe may not only be worth celebrating, but may best be celebrated in something small and lyrical, like that tiny statue.

I have tried to look for its photo online, but so far -- no luck. Perhaps it is too small. Or too -- unheroic? :)

July 23, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

I'd love to see the Linnaeus in Lund!
(even if it's only 3 feet tall) -- and maybe taxonomy does deserve a monument of less monstrous proportions.

July 23, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

Ill see if i can get a Lund friend to photograph it for us. its really -- cute.

this linnaeus is too heroic by half - and what is he doing with his left hand -- is that a baseball bat? is he about to bash the plant? :) (the sculpture makes on me the impression that flower collecting is an extreme sport, which, surely, it is not).

July 23, 2006  
Blogger A Conductor said...

Perhaps it's my long-lost love of comics that drives my enjoyment of this statue.

He seems to be sloughing off trees bark, and we catch him in mid transformation - perhaps shape shifting was the secret to his botanical success!

July 26, 2006  

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