The Cow as Critic: Art and Animals on Saunders Farm | Visual Art | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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The Cow as Critic: Art and Animals on Saunders Farm 

Normally in our society, cows and art are kept discreetly separate. But during September and October at the Saunders Farm in Garrison, the two worlds intersect, as Collaborative Concepts hosts its 14th annual sculpture exhibit. A herd of about 30 Black Angus cattle graze amid the art installations during "Sculpture on the Farm," which debuted on August 31 and continues through October 27.

Apparently, this is the only combination sculpture park-cattle farm in the Northeast. (Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, where 10 Cadillacs are buried nose-first in the ground, also inhabits a pasture.) What type of art do cows prefer? They enjoy fabric and are attracted to the color red (though scientists claim their species is colorblind). The Saunders' livestock have been known to nibble red sculptures. "We say that the cows are our severest critics," explains Collaborative Concepts president Jo-Ann Brody. A few years ago, the artist Grace Knowlton created large mobile spheres that the cows enjoyed pushing through the fields. Over time, more and more of the artists have installed works in trees, where cows can't deconstruct them.

click to enlarge Collaborative Concepts, an outdoor sculpture exhibit, returns to the cow pastures of Saunders Farm for the 14th year.
  • Collaborative Concepts, an outdoor sculpture exhibit, returns to the cow pastures of Saunders Farm for the 14th year.

"Our very first year, we were worried about damaging the cows: no sharp things, no cables, no holes," Brody recalls. Gradually, they realized that the cows could take care of themselves. In fact, the artwork was more in danger than they were.

Besides the bovines, sculptures must withstand wind and rain, which dictates the art materials: cement, steel, ceramics, vinyl. Powder coating is often used on the metals to produce vibrant weather-resistant colors. All the art is for sale.

Forty-eight artists contributed work to the 2019 show. Lara Saget and Jerry J. Adams collaborated on a memorial for trees on the farm that have passed away; the "gravesites" are guarded by a synthetic buckthorn tree. Octogenarian artist Christina Biaggi erected a mandala-like series of 14 canvases suspended between two trees. Kayla Gibbons cast a section of Albany Post Road—on which the Saunders Farm is located—in cement, and embedded it in a hill. Brody herself supplied Seated Figure, an armless woman on a swing, also in cement, for the current show. A strong wind will set the sculpture in motion.

One sculpture, Caliburn by Marc Bernier, is intended as a collaboration with the cattle. Named after a private contractor that builds internment camps for refugees under the Trump administration, the piece consists of 12 abstracted huts composed of salt. Since cows love to lick salt, they will modify the sculpture during its two-month residency. "I like the fact that time will erase these pieces and, by analogy, hopefully those camps will eventually disappear," Bernier comments.

At the mid-run reception on September 22, a flute-and-harp duo will perform as well as a jazz combo. "Little Fish" by Susan Buroker and Friends is a puppet pageant on the subject of nitrogen pollution. Events at the farm are free.

You may bring pets, as long as they remain on a leash. While walking through the pastures, keep an eye out for cow patties—minimalist works of art that the livestock produce, yet never sign.

"Sculpture on the Farm" will continue until October 27 at the Saunders Farm in Garrison.

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