Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This Is Not A Tree

Last fall I saw Roxy Paine's new sculpture, Graft, in the National Gallery Sculpture Park on the Mall in Washington, DC and I have been debating the work in my head ever since. 
stainless steel
Roxy Paine
I know that it is both technically and visually a great piece but I don't like it -- in fact I hate it (looking at it actually makes me feel a little queasy and ill). But I haven't posted anything earlier because I've been questioning myself, wondering if I'm just being unreasonably uptight or reading more into it than I should, or if I'm the only one that sees something unintentionally sinister in it.
 Graft (closeup)
The problem is that, to me, it looks like a cyborg tree and makes me think of a world (today? in the future?) in which people think they can replace trees with technology, that somehow we can get along independent of the natural world. It is a sculpture of a tree but I don't think it glorifies trees, I think it is saying, "We can do better, what is around you -- the things you see every day -- really aren't good enough, we can make them modern and shiny and better." 
Graft (closeup of closeup)
So I've also debated whether it is great art because it evokes a strong emotion in me, and I've finally concluded that it isn't because in watching the reaction of people to the work I felt that they only saw the shine, not the implications (which I see) of a world in which trees are replaced with machines and we all have to breath manufactured oxygen. For me, to be a great work, it would have to make people think, and I don't believe that it does. But then, like I said, maybe I'm just being uptight. It would be great to hear other opinions on the subject.


  1. Rob,

    I love it. I think it's brilliant. It takes something that is assumed (trees are wood) and redefines that assumption.

    Thank you for sharing.


  2. Rob,

    Since I read this post yesterday I've been thinking about this sculpture and I feel that it would worry me more if it were a 'lifelike' or cast of a tree in metal. If it were then coloured to look like a tree rather than shiny.....

    Even more worrisome would be if it were a wooden tree, I think that would affect me more than the shiny tree.

    I can see what you're saying though, if we lose our real trees then the world really will be in trouble.

    Thanks for sharing it with us.


  3. Thanks Chris, glad you like it even if I don't. And thanks for your thoughts Jutta. Your comments reminded me of the work of an artist I saw in Chelsea last year who was casting trees. I forget his name or the gallery because I really didn't like the work but I did enough background research on him to learn that he was famous in the NY art circles having been with Mary Boone, among others. I should try to dig up his name again (let me know if you know who I'm talking about). I have more respect for Roxy's work in design, execution, and even concept because I thought the concept of this other artist was pretty weak.

  4. Rob,
    The fact that you are having such a strong reaction speaks to the magnificence of this sculpture.

    Why are you altering you perception of this piece based on others reaction to it.

    You allow this work to speak to you and some folks just like shiny things.

    I would not hazard a guess as to Roxy's intent beyond the desire or drive to create.

    My personal opinion is that this is a great work not only in the technical aspect but truly shows the dichotomy of our existence.
    I see the reflection of life in the lifeless..literally as well as figuratively.

    It does give me pause to ask the same questions as you however without the need for answers form the artist or critics.

    The name itself has a multitude of meanings and implications especially when considering the location.

    Thanks for asking my opinion,


  5. Thanks for your thoughts Dan. It reminds me about the reaction someone had to my "Dog Walker" sculpture, she went on an on about how she was a therapist and how the piece touched her because it was about how parents can neglect their children or something to that affect and I really had no idea where her perception came from because there were neither any adults nor children in the piece, just a robot and a couple of dogs. But she had her interpretation and that was great, I'm glad she liked it and she found a way for it to relate to her. I guess my reaction to "Graft" is different in that I'm having a completely negative reaction that probably has nothing to do with the artists intent but then, I think the artists intent is irrelevant to my experience. Maybe the reactions of other people to it are also irrelevant as to whether it is a great piece or not. Perhaps we can only measure that for ourselves as well. By the way, I like how you caught the (possibly unintended?) double entendre of the title, I hadn't noticed.