Small Sculpture in Texas  

The Dot Which Makes
the Dragon Fly

Former stonecutter Brad Goldberg's massive three-dimensional works combine the interactive ingredients of sculpture, architecture and landscape. This multiform approach provides each of his works with a uniquely fitting self environment.

"My real interest," he says, "is that sculpture is unique to a particular space. It matters whether it was meant for that place. Most sculptors couldn't care less. But the ultimate placement is more important to me than the sculpture. Because that's what lives."

The current vogue for sculpture both inspires and flusters the 27-year old sculpture and landscape architecture graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. "Everybody wants one," he says. "We're at a real dangerous point. It's great for artists. But for the environment it is dangerous."

"Artists like to make things, but we need more thought behind them, why and how it relates. There's just so much possibility beyond taking an object and putting it in front of a building."
He cited the William Corvello edition in front of the Registry, a far north Dallas hotel. He called it "a New York copy-it has nothing to do with its environment. In New York it's a pivotal point. You see it, and you know where you are. Here it's sculptural pollution."

Brad's most recent work, also "out there in plastic land" is his first-ever titled piece, GA RYU TEN SEY. This massive white totemic Texas granite piece creates the space that gateways into the entrance of The Regency II, a new office building near Montfort at LBJ freeway in North Dallas.

Translated from the Japanese, the title means "The Dot which makes the Dragon Fly." In Japanese folk are the dragon is a very strong force. "When a master painter does a painting, the last thing he paints are the two pupils of the dragon's eyes. Until then the painting is not finished. The final dot makes it finished, makes it fly. Until then it's a static thing." Brad learned the word from a Japanese friend who used it as slang, saying "That's got a fine quality to it; it's got an element of Garyutensey to it"-the one detail that makes it all worthwhile."

At Regency II, "the building is the dragon. The sculpture is the last detail that ties the entrance together as a gateway." Brad especially likes the "subtle special feeling" engendered by the long, low bench-like wall which extends outward from the central opening, paralleling the front of the building. "I designed that thing especially for this sculpture. In fact," he says, "I think it's more important than the sculpture. It ties the sculpture to its site."

According to Goldberg, "the wall is bench is sculpture." And because this totality was designed for this specific place, the walls create the space-the landscape has a functional relationship with the art." He is fascinated by wall, he says. And "this one is very important. It is a very symbolic thing, giving a heightened sense of entry, a feeling like you're really passing through to something."

It may be difficult to get all these nuances from ground level, especially amid the clutter of other buildings around the site. But to Brad what really matters is "how it looks from above," because it is that vantage point for which the piece was created. "And the only people who know that are in the building."

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Brad said that the most common trend right now is for some architect to design a space, "then find or commission a sculpture to fit it. Historically," he explained, "sculptors were more involved in the process."

Garyutensey, along with a proposed interior water features planned for the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin and a projected piece for the Warrington Condominium on Dallas' swank Turtle Creek, are all projects for Brad's employer, Myrick Newman Dahlberg, Inc. (MND) landscape architects and planners. He describes his position there as "their sculptor in residence, a specialty designer who tries to give a certain kind of flair to different projects, a uniqueness, and where possible, some sculptural identity."

"It is a slow process. I and we (the company) are really interested in developing notions about sculpture that haven't been done yet." Together, MND and Goldberg are working on "an integration of sculpture and architecture."

"We're trying to get a sculptor's kind of thinking into the design stage rather than after. Once budgets are set, it's too late to find a sculptor who's really integrated. My sculpture is not applicable to every site-not physically or economically suitable. Ones that are appropriate make it all that much better. I find myself being a sculptural consultant, creating a liaison between architects and other sculptors working with the reality of getting it built."

Brad is an old hand at collaborative projects and has worked on them in countries all over the world, including Austria, France, Japan and Yugoslavia, as well as the US. Working together with other sculptors is, he said, "very frustrating-a lot of egos getting smashed."

But, at the same time, "It's so fantastic-you learn so much."

Selected as only the second-ever American sculptor invited to the Symposium Lindabiunn park, an hour outside Vienna, Austria, Brad said, "The idea of sculpture in a natural atmosphere is good, but now the park is so famous, people go there expecting to see pieces. They don't see sculpture; they walk up to a piece and read the plaque," then they go on to the next piece "in a landscape dotted with plunk-downs."

Earthworks were not a new idea then, but they hadn't been tried at the park. Together with some Japanese sculptors, "We decided to turn them around." The cross-cultural team decided "there's so much sculpture here, let's show them something different."

"We tried to make something which was intrinsic with he environment," something people walking the grounds "had to experience-we didn't give them a choice."

Brad spoke no Japanese, and the two Japanese sculptors spoke no English. But citing "the odd, clashing dichotomy" of meshing the opposing art traditions of America's "man over nature" and Japan's "nature over man" approaches, Brad said "It was a team effort."

"It's very unusual for sculptors to collaborate," he said. "But sculptors around the world are finding out about the enormous rewards in collaborating with other sculptors. It's not necessary, or even good," he said, "for artists to remain isolated people who work alone in studios." For larger scope, he explained, "you need more bodies and heads." There are "great rewards for cultural extension."

The team selected a pathway already used by local farmers, for whom the work was primarily intended "because they're the ones who have to live with this stuff" and used native stone since "they know it's hard work to turn it into stuff." Once it is, though, "They are skeptical-you can't eat it."

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Working together, they pulled the grass out of a hilly area around the path, then replaced the area with odd-sized stones. "The land form," Brad said, "was rolling; the mass itself is square" (but only when seen from directly above).

When it was first completed, the pathed square was pretty obvious. Since then, however, the grass has grown back though the fitted rocks, giving it the look of an ancient ruin, which Brad very much liked. Says Goldberg, "We can only make so much, but there's a point where nature takes over."

Later, an upper portion of the path through the park was disrupted by someone else's failed sculpture project. So Brad and some more collaborators opened it up by reforming the land itself. Realizing that "sculptural elements can be used as visual and psychological magnet to induce movement through a space," they created a 150-foot long wall set into the grassy rise. This subtly massive sculptured landscape created "the image of bridging the gap"-with artists one side and the local farmers on the other--"with no pretense of filling in the spaces in between or using a facade. This is a true wall," he said, and it possessed "the true nature of a wall."

Although he realizes "It's not for everybody," Brad likes "the idea of using indigenous materials-it's nice to use something people think of as 'just a rock,' but I can turn it into something beautiful." He also enjoys showing the process of his art. "That's why I like working on sites. So people can see it's not a prop that comes out of a factory." He enjoys getting people involved in the process- "At the Regency II, the people saw it being made; they will never forget the experience."

In Yugoslavia, where he was invited to execute a winning design-but "I threw it away the first day" so he could do something to "blend into the environment and simultaneously "say something about time as an American"-he used selectively thinned lumber from the sponsoring area's own forests. "I carved the wood green, right into the forest."

You don't have to go to representational sculpture to say something of the history of real American sculpture," which has included "a lot of incredible people" including the Aztecs, Mayans and the American Indians," he said.

A month later, on his first visit to this state, he created another totem for a sculpture symposium in Liberty Hill by stacking "three pieces of Texas granite from the fine stone quarries around Marble Falls," where he later worked as a stone cutter in order to better understand the material and the techniques necessary to work with it.

"A lot of people go to museums and openings to derive reference material," he said. "I'd rather find it out there."

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"I want nothing to do with any art gallery," he declared, calling them bourgeois. "There you're only dealing with a few people who can afford to go in and buy it. I'd rather deal with everyone. I'd rather work through architects. Your work has much more place in society. I am concerned with the quality of the environment and the little ways we can improve it."

"If you can put one little tiny thing into an environment, it'll help" he said. "If it helps that place, it's successful. Artists work in small ways to help build spiritual consciousness in some way."

"Sculpture," he says, "is a point in space which acts as an organizing force to change the atmosphere." Brad articulates three basic frames of reference for his work and that of others: 1) Sculpture as Architecture (like the Stature of Liberty) 2) Architecture as Sculpture (the Chrysler Building or Penzoil Place in Houston) and 3) Landscape as Sculpture (Fort Worth's Heritage Park, which he recommended, or their water gardens, which he didn't.

Citing the "chance to create environments that are sculptures," he said that "when landscape is sculpture, a 'piece' of sculpture couldn't survive."

To the question, "Is it art or architecture or landscape?" Brad answers simply, "It doesn't matter If it does something very functional in the landscape, gets people moving."

He is very much interested in challenging people. "Whether they understand it is not important. There are a lot of people out there who sleep through their lives. For a split second I can challenge them."

At the Regency II and other projects "I do a lot with texture, so people waling by know it was done by hand." He wants to be sure they know that "some crazy made this thing," he says.

"People in urban environments have pretty much fallen asleep. Usually, all they know is that a sculpture just arrives. But that piece will be successful if the people who walk through think there are people who still do things made by hand."

Texas Arts Revue #6
May 1981

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