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Lauren Fensterstock brings the outside in

Black gardens
By ANNIE LARMON  |  May 18, 2011

‘INCIDENTS OF GARDEN DISPLACEMENT’ Paper, Plexiglas, charcoal, by Lauren Fensterstock, 2011.

A saturated plot of Lauren Fensterstock's obsidian growth is planted in the Sculpture Gallery of the Ogunquit Museum of Art, an uncharacteristically heavy installation in the otherwise light space. A decadent accumulation of meticulously crafted black paper succulents, delphiniums, tendrils, and vines swell from their allotment on the terra cotta floor of the museum. Grounded in ashen charcoal, the decorative floral meanderings, some representational and some figurative, seem to thrive in a barren and dead topography. While suggesting destruction, the forms flourish, a sort of post-apocalyptic lushness that manages to read as simultaneously precious and bleak.

The sculpture is rife with crawling textures, but is shrouded in a monochromatic ebony that immediately brings to mind the matte assemblages of Louise Nevelson. Backdropped by a window overlooking carefully manicured gardens that creep down to a rocky shoreline behind the museum, Fensterstock's "Incidents of Garden Displacement" reflects and repels the picturesque scenery that unfurls before it, engaging in an art-historical dialogue with the landscape.

Twelve black square Plexiglas panels are placed at various angles among the flora facing the window, capturing reflections that both place the viewer into the composition of vegetation and pull elements of the outdoors into the gallery. The gloss and rigidity of the forms coupled with the illusion created by their refraction formally connect the mirrors in a fragmented, otherworldly visual space, and introduce a series of conceptual elements. Fensterstock's mirrors explicitly reference minimalist earthworks artist Robert Smithson's 1969 "Incidents of Mirror Travel in the Yucatan," in which the artist documents a series of nine temporary mirror displacement sculptures he integrated into various locations around the Yucatan Peninsula. Fensterstock similarly uses the reflective surface as a metaphor here; her placement of mirrors dematerialize and abstract the landscape, contradicting the tedious creation of her sculptural flowers. Reflections planting the viewer into the constructed landscape connect to a human sense of ownership over our environs. The fragility of her materials and ephemeral nature of capturing a static image in a series of mirrors highlight the temporality of the human experience with and perception of the landscape, at odds with the more enduring impact we have on it.

The sable tint of the reflective panels help them to formally recede and emerge from the rest of the installation, but conceptually further connects to the Claude glass, a mirror with a tinted dark surface named for the 17th-century landscape painter Claude Lorrain. The subtly convex glass was used to aid artists in rendering the abstract and ineffable qualities of landscapes. Fensterstock, in choosing the garden bed format for her displaced fertile composition, links the desire to capture the beauty of a landscape in a painting and bring it into the home, a luxury aided by the Claude glass, to topiary, designed gardens, and trimmed lawns that attempt to harness the romantic qualities of nature in a digestible, domesticated plot. By engaging with the practices of Smithson, a pioneer of conceptual art manifesting in the landscape, and Lorrain, whose methodology was instrumental to framing and shifting artistic representation of the natural world, Fensterstock places herself in the art-history continuum, interjecting a position that acknowledges both the articulated care and devastating results of human intervention with the natural world, as well as our complicated and fragmented sense of belonging within it.

Annie Larmon can be reached at

"LAUREN FENSTERSTOCK: INCIDENTS OF GARDEN DISPLACEMENT" | through June 26 | at Ogunquit Museum of Art, 543 Shore Rd, Ogunquit | 207.646.4909

  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Museums, Louise Nevelson, Lauren Fensterstock,  More more >
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