The model of artist Roxy Paine's metal tree sculpture "Ferment" sat on a table as the 56-foot-tall sculpture was installed in the Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Earlier this month, a gleaming, 56 foot tall stainless steel tree created by New York artist Roxy Paine was planted in the Kansas City Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
The process took the better part of a week.
Standing on elevated platforms, the artist and his crew performed in-air welding of the tree's multiple parts, as cranes and lifts beeped and hummed, and hard-hatted workers in neon orange and green vests carefully mounted branches on the load hook and watched them rise into the sky.
It all made quite a spectacle for an audience of couples sunning on towels and assorted passers-by. For a closer look at the action, some climbed the mound where Ursula von Rydingsvard's sculpture "Three Bowls" sits.
Motorists glimpsing the tree in the southeast sector of the park were probably struck by the resemblance between Paine's "Ferment" and the gnarly, storm-tested sycamores a few blocks away in Gillham Park.
"Ferment" acknowledges the relentless cycle of growth and decay and the uneasy relationship between nature and technology.
"It's about the active and dynamic process of transformation, of one thing becoming another," says Jan Schall, the Nelson's curator of modern and contemporary art. "It introduces most strongly the natural process of growth and dissolution."
As befits its title, "Ferment" exerts a roiling, anxious presence in the landscape. The contorted trunk resembles truncated human limbs, the branches twist and tangle, and the artist has done nothing to disguise the welded joins of the work's industrial manufacture.
Picturesque it's not, which is not surprising, considering Paine's history of works based on mold, fungi and weeds.
"If the romantic is in the work, I want to collide it with its opposite," Paine told Bomb magazine in a 2009 interview.
"Ferment" is the 25th tree Paine has created over the past 12 years, beginning with the 27-foot-tall "Imposter" he made for a sculpture park in southern Sweden. Since 1999, he has installed his "Dendroids" at museums, art fairs, sculpture parks and private collections around the world.
The Nelson commission came about when the Hall Family Foundation invited its long-time adviser, Martin Friedman, to choose a work for the park as his retirement gift.
Friedman recently said he had been watching Paine's career and the evolution of the "Dendroids" for about 15 years.
"The point is that they evolve," he said. "He's not doing the same thing over and over. He finds infinite possibilities in these branching forms."
Paine's trees include an inverted version, shown in Europe in 2008 and recently installed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. He displayed a horizontal tree, "Maelstrom," on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for six months in 2009. For the National Gallery of Canada he created "One Hundred Foot Line," a tree with no branches at all, and he exhibited a double-tree piece, called "Conjoined," in Madison Square Park in New York in 2007.
Friedman thinks "Ferment" is "one of the best things (Paine) has ever done."
"It draws energy from the earth and projects it," he said. "It crackles and animates the space around it. It's so energized, it gives off this agitation."
Friedman sees references to human anatomy, hands and fingers in "Ferment." The branching forms also relate to human neuro-systems and blood circulation, he said.
"It will be, metaphorically speaking, an energy core," he added. "The way it looks under changing light conditions, the reflections, the clouds passing overhead - it adds another dimension to the park."
Friedman will come to town for the public dedication of "Ferment" on Friday, when he will discuss the piece with the museum director/CEO Julian Zugazagoitia as part of a "Ferment Event" in Atkins Auditorium.
The dedication will coincide with the opening of an exhibit in the Bloch Building lobby of Paine's "Scumaks and Dendroids." The exhibit, organized by Schall, features a sculpture-making machine or Scumak and models of "Ferment" and four other "Dendroid" sculptures.
The Scumak, which harks to Paine's 2001 exhibit of a painting machine at Grand Arts contemporary art space here, is the fun part. During the four-month run of the exhibit, it will produce 42 maroon-colored blob forms, created from polyethylene beads and dye poured into a funnel at the top of the machine, heated to the melting point and then extruded.
A computer determines the size and direction of the opening that releases the molten plastic, as well as how long - from 8 to 20 hours - the pour will last. Viewers can watch the Scumak at work, in a manner that resembles a frozen-custard machine
The finished sculptures will be displayed on pedestals, and at the end of the show, the Nelson will keep three of them, Schall said.
The exhibit's "Dendroid" models, scaled to a ratio of 1 inch equals 1 foot of the tow- ering sculptures, demonstrate the vastly differing personalities of Paine's tree works.
They include models for "Ferment," "Conjoined" and the sinuous, tapering "One Hundred Foot Line."
There is also a model for "Façade/Billboard," featuring a black silhouette of a tree framed by a steel armature. It is the second Paine tree acquired by the Wanas Foundation in Knislinge, Sweden, where Paine installed his first "Dendroid." The fifth model, titled "Distillation," is from Paine's recent show at James Cohan Gallery in New York.
Light levels required that Paine's drawing for "Ferment" be displayed separately from the lobby exhibition. It will hang just outside Atkins Auditorium in the transitional space between the Nelson-Atkins building and the Bloch Building.
On May 11, the museum will open an interactive component of the exhibit, titled "Creative Café," where visitors can build their own dendroids on computers installed in the Bloch Building café. Users will be able to print their images and post them to the Internet and the museum's website, Schall said. The program also includes a choice of park backdrops.
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Outdoor crews set up for installation of "Ferment," Roxy Paine metal tree sculpture, in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Sculpture Park.
A model of Roxy Paine's stainless steel sculpture "Ferment" sat behind the artist as he helped direct installation of the piece.
The main trunk of artist Roxy Paine's (left) metal tree sculpture "Ferment" was installed on Sunday, April 10, 2011, in the Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
The main trunk of artist Roxy Paine's metal tree sculpture "Ferment" was installed on Sunday, April 10, 2011.
Branches were scattered about as the main trunk of artist Roxy Paine's metal tree sculpture "Ferment" was installed on Sunday, April 10, 2011.
Visitors watched as the main trunk of artist Roxy Paine's metal tree sculpture "Ferment" was installed on Sunday, April 10, 2011.
Visitors watched the main trunk of artist Roxy Paine's metal tree sculpture "Ferment" being installed in the Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Artist Roxy Paine (left) checked a joint as his metal tree sculpture "Ferment" took shape.
Artist Roxy Paine (left) adjusted a limb joint to his metal tree sculpture "Ferment" in the Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Workers attached a limb to install Roxy Paine's metal tree sculpture "Ferment."
Workers helped guide a limb into place
Workers helped guide a limb into place as work to install the metal tree sculpture "Ferment."
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art director Julian Zugazagoitia talked about the addition of Roxy Paine's metal tree sculpture "Ferment" in the museum's Sculpture Park
Workers, including artist Roxy Paine (second from left) attached limbs to Paine's metal tree sculpture "Ferment."
Martin Friedman (left) talked with artist Roxy Paine in the Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Artist Roxy Paine (left) talked with Martin Friedman during Friedman's first visit to see Paine's stainless steel tree sculpture "Ferment" in the Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Artist Roxy Paine (left) walked with Martin Friedman in the Sculpture Park at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Friedman, longtime art adviser to the Hall Family Foundation, selected the sculpture.