In Tightrope Dancer, a 1974 large-scale bronze sculpture, a woman is delicately poised to traverse a tightrope as she holds a parasol. In Symphony of Birds (1962), also a large-scale bronze sculpture, nearly a dozen dove-like fledglings flutter up through a diagonal-shaped column.
These are just a few of the works by American artist Chaim Gross currently on display at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens’ outdoor sculpture garden in Riverside.
“Certainly, we know that most bronze sculptures and many other sculptures are perfectly capable of being outside,” explains Cummer’s chief curator, Holly Keris, of the museum’s relatively new outdoor exhibition space. “But whether or not their owners would choose to lend them to be in an
outside location is a little bit different.”
On display through Oct. 4, All Together: The Sculpture of Chaim Gross is the museum’s second outdoor installation and one that’s been in the works since 2013.
“I was exploring some options of work that could be borrowed and people would be OK with being outside,” says Keris. “Thankfully, I made contact with the [Renee and] Chaim Gross Foundation out of New York and it was super that they were so agreeable to lend us enough works to really populate the entire garden.”
American sculptor Chaim Gross (1904-’91) made a name for himself in the first half of the 20th century for his figurative direct carvings in wood. In the mid-1950s, Gross started making large-scale bronze sculptures — churning out approximately 300 of them through the 1980s.
“The principle works of the last 20 years have been modeled in plaster on armatures for bronze casts,” art scholar Roberta Tarbell once wrote about Gross’ process. “Most sculptors model in clay and have casts made by the lost-wax method. Gross models in plaster, which is difficult because the material dries so quickly, and has bronzes cast in French sand from the original plaster model.”
Gross was also a well-known educator and wrote a book, The Techniques of Wood Sculpture (1957), which became highly influential in the realm of wood sculpture.
“He taught hundreds of sculpture students for over five decades in New York City at the Educational Alliance, the school at the Brooklyn Museum back when they had one, the Art Students League and the New School,” explains Dr. Susan Fisher, executive director of Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation.
Over the past six decades, Gross’ bronze works have gained worldwide notoriety, including the eight currently on display at the Cummer, with seven works exhibited outdoors and one displayed inside the museum.
“Because the sculpture garden is located on our front lawn, the pieces are accessible 24 hours a day,” Keris says. “It’s the kind of space where we see walkers in the morning come through with their dogs and we see joggers in the evening make that part of their route.”
And like any installation of this magnitude, Gross’ exhibition proved to have its own set of obstacles.
“Certainly, transportation is one component of it because they are oversized and they are heavy,” Keris explains of having the sculptures professionally shipped in trucks from New York. “And then the logistics of actually getting them installed here and integrated into the landscape design [was challenging].”
Since All Together: The Sculpture of Chaim Gross has been on display for the better part of the past year, many Riverside residents and visitors have had the chance to view Gross’ works.
“It’s so exciting to see people really interacting with the space in the off hours, in the way we’d hoped they would, when you put something like that on your front lawn,” says Keris. “It’s a great exhibition. We love the pieces and we’ve heard such great feedback from visitors and our members.”