Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Copying Canova

Two great videos of an old-school American sculptor copying a Canova marble. The videos are part of a National Gallery of Art exhibition of Canova’s clay sketch models. Seems like a fantastic exhibition. Canova’s marbles are so highly finished, it’s great to see his expressive little sketch models. I like Canova, a little bit to my surprise; I’m not especially interested in figurative sculpture or neo-classicism, but I’ve seen a lot of sculpture as I tour around Europe and if I find myself thinking, ‘Hey that sculpture’s really good’, there’s a good chance it will turn out to be by Canova. I especially love the Canova sculpture that Scarpa sited at Castelvecchio, and Scarpa’s room at the Canova museum in Possagno is one of the best sculpture spaces in Europe, but I’ve seen a few others here and there and they have something about them that makes them better than all the other stiff European marbles. The sketch models look great too, and the exhibition seems worth a visit for anyone remotely close to the national gallery.

The exhibition page is here. There’s a great interview with the curator on Modern Art Notes Podcast.

Restore Hetch Hetchy

Finding Hetch Hetchy: The Hidden Yosemite from Restore Hetch Hetchy on Vimeo.

Citania de Briteiros

The other Celtic hill-fort I checked out was Citania de Briteiros in Portugal near Guimaraes. Different stone than Castro de Coaña, a dry-laid granite with a gritty gtexture. Rectangular structures follow the contours of the hillside and in the more level areas the structures are circular. It’s a little more interesting as a site than Castro de Coaña; the topography is more complex, there are some beautiful oaks mixed in with the ruins, and some of the oaks have been harvested for their cork, a detail which never stopped fascinating me during my time in Portugal.


Castro de Coaña

In Spain and Portugal I visited a couple of pre-Roman hill-fort ruins. This one is Castro de Coaña in Asturias near the coast. I think it’s considered Celtic, though I’m not sure every archeologist or historian uses that term. In any case, really nice site. I liked the stonework and the way the circular structures make an integrated whole. I don’t really have a lot to say about the stonework; classic double-skinned walls, a slatey stone held together with some kind of lime.

I’m fascinated by the way the circular forms fit together; it’s sort of the opposite of what landscape architecture training encourages these days. Danish landscape architect Carl Theodor Sorenson did this with his oval gardens in Copenhagen in the late 1940’s but I don’t know of anything more recent.

I’ve read that this is the best of the castros in Asturias, which might be true, I don’t know. It’s definitely worth a visit and I’ll check out more of them if I ever go back to Asturias. I visited one in Portugal, Citania de Briteiros, that I’ll post next. They’re both pretty great.

The Ruta de Cares

This one isn’t sculpture or land art, but it has some of the same effects. It’s the Ruta de Cares in Picos de Europa National Park, a fantastic trail in the mountains just a little inland from the north coast of Spain. It’s an exceptionally flat trail through an exceptionally un-flat landscape, which might not sound amazing but just look at the photos and imagine yourself there. It’s spectacular.

I was a little slow to figure it out while I was hiking, but the trail was built to serve as the access trail for maintaining an aqueduct. It follows along beside the aqueduct, and because the aqueduct is at such a shallow grade, the trail is also flat, like a desert trail except it runs through a limestone gorge. And then, because it goes through the mountains (sometimes literally), a ton of effort went into making it flat, into matching the shallow grade of the aqueduct, much more work than anyone would ever use on a recreation trail. It has tunnels blasted through the rock, bridges, rock walls, arches, I’ve never seen so much effort put into a trail.

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Richard Long

In Spain I also rode my bike through the Isla de Esculturas, a little island with a sculpture collection that includes a Richard Long stone line. That’s of course not me in the drone video above, I found this video on the internet after my trip, but I did that exact thing, riding my bike past the line, and I’m a little obsessed with this video; it captures my memory of that day and even something of the feeling of riding a bike through Europe. Long says his work is about walking, but I’ve mostly seen it as 2D images, shapes he’s created in the landscape or in a museum. This was the first time I really experienced his work as movement. I took photos of the line, and I like them, I like how his line resembles the remains of an old stone wall you might see alongside a road or path, but there is a subtle but distinctly experiential effect of the line when you see it in person and I think you can see it in the video too. And also I love when the dog appears in the video.

Richard Long has been hit or miss for me, but over time I’ve realized that I’ve liked everything that he sited and built himself, while every time I’ve seen one of his works that was sited and built by other people — I’ve seen a couple of his stone circles that had been installed by teams of volunteers — I’ve thought it was lame. I kind of respect that after he’s finished a piece, he’s fine with a crew packing it up and shipping it somewhere else and then a bunch of strangers putting it back together in its new home, but I think that shows how much his work really is site specific and how it’s tied to his participation in a specific experience and place. Like the bad cover songs that make you realize how good the original is.

I thought the rest of the sculpture collection was pretty weak, but the island’s a nice spot, with several nice bridges and a swimming beach across the river. I ate peaches and watched ducks and enjoyed the sunshine, before continuing on my way.