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Tom Eccles on New Projects by Richard Long

Richard Long continues to live in Bristol, the city of his birth, and spends the better part of his year out walking in nature. It is on these walks, far from galleries, museums, critics, or curators, that Long makes sculptural forms from the circle or the line. He stops to work in places that he finds particularly beautiful and sculpts with vernacular materials such as stones, ice, branches, or even cacti. Long then chooses the most appropriate vantage point from which to view his work and takes photographs that me may later choose to exhibit. Richard Long views this process as a ritualization of life, and he welcomes parallels between his work and that of so-called primitive cultures. He prefers to work with archetypal forms than any derived from his personal sensibility and seems to enjoy the universal appeal of archetypal forms and natural settings.

A proposal for White Quartz Ellipse by Richard Long for the Public Art Fund, 1999, pencil on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches.

For the months of April and June 2000, the Public Art Fund has commissioned a three-part exhibition of Richard Long’s work which involves two outdoor sculptural projects in midtown Manhattan (at Doris C. Freedman Plaza and Seagram Plaza) and a series of text works for New York subway cars. The sculpture consists of a circle and an ellipse made from brownstone and quartz taken from local quarries that once furnished material for the Brooklyn Bridge and Grand Central Station. The text piece involves one mud drawing that was realized from Avon river mud in Long’s native city. The sculpture makes poignant reference to the island of New York in a state of nature and become a mandala-like locus for reflection in the chaos of midtown.

DKR – How did this collaboration between Richard Long and the Public Art Fund come into being?

TE – We approached Richard to first look at Doris C. Freedman Plaza where we have an ongoing program. He was in town, we met, and decided to propose something to Seagram Plaza as well where we had already shown work by Tony Smith and Keith Haring. We also decided to broaden the project to include text works on the subway.

DKR – Given long’s penchant for remote places, midtown Manhattan seems an odd choice for two large-scale sculptural projects. Are you concerned that these works might lose some of their meaning and strength in such a chaotic setting?

TE – Nature is the most chaotic place. I think the contrast between his other work and the project in New York City will be strong and interesting. His work has a vital force and clarity about it and I think it will be quite striking in this urban context. Doris C. Freedman Plaza has the bucolic backdrop of Central Park while Seagram Plaza is a more gritty, urban environment.

Richard Long, White Quartz Ellipse for the Public Art Fund, 2000, photo credit: Dennis Cowley and Jerry Sohn.

DKR – On subway cars, Long will exhibit a mud painting, executed with mud from the Avon river in Bristol. How do you perceive the artist’s intent in exhibiting it here?

TE – I think his text works take us to another place and another time. They take us to metaphorical places, and are not site
specific to the place we live. They function as the Poetry in Motion program functions at its best.

DKR: What was the nature of your collaboration with Sperone Westwater and James Cohan Gallery? How do you feel their
Richard Long exhibitions compliment your project?

TE – Simply that they’re organized in a simultaneous moment. I think its a good opportunity to see a broad range of the artist’s work. We naturally want people who see our exhibitions to see others in museums and galleries. We see gallery exhibitions as an extension of our work and one compliments the other.

Richard Long and Tom Eccles at the opening of Brownstone Circle, 2000, photo credit: Dennis Cowley and Jerry Sohn.

DKR – Are the New York sculpture Richard Long’s first public works?

TE – Our invitation to him didn’t come from knowledge of other public projects. I think he did one in Japan and another on the waterfront in London though I haven’t seen them. I think one of the most interesting things about this project is the Public Art Fund’s trying to usurp the public’s expectations of what public sculpture should be or what public sculpture is. Richard’s is very unexpected as a public project, and we’ve had comments that people won’t understand it, but in a sense part of our mission is to put forward works that involve subtlety and quietude rather than grandiose statements.

DKR – What was the most interesting part of your collaboration with Richard Long?

TE – The most interesting thing for me was going to the quarries where I observed the ease and confidence with which he makes a work. They are not toiled over or overly considered. Neither does he view the work in metaphysical terms, he is a man of the earth. For me all this was very important because my school used to be opposite the Museum of Modern Art in Edinburgh, which has a Cornish slate piece by Richard Long. It was intriguing on a conceptual level and for me it served as an introduction to contemporary art. I would go each day and move one of the stones and, over time, I felt that I had participated in the work though I saw that it hadn’t changed.

© Daniel Rothbart, 2000.

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