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DeCordova Curator Gets His Own 'Otter'

Nick Capasso stands next to Otter, a sculpture by artist Rona Pondick, in the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln. (Courtesy of DeCordova Museum)
Nick Capasso stands next to Otter, a sculpture by artist Rona Pondick, in the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln. (Courtesy of DeCordova Museum)

When Nick Capasso first laid eyes on the sleek, stainless steel sculpture, he was stunned — and momentarily speechless.

“I’ve taken to calling it ‘My Otter,’ Capasso said, “which sounds rather silly but is an indication of my affection for the work, the artist and all the folks who made the acquisition possible.”

The piece, by artist Rona Pondick, was purchased by the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln to honor Capasso’s 20th anniversary in the curatorial department.

Capasso was hired in 1990 as the assistant curator. Twenty years later he is the deputy director of curatorial affairs.

“At first I thought that I would be here for a few years, and then move on and up,” Capasso said. “These jobs are revolving doors!”

But he said three things have kept him working at the same museum in Lincoln for over two decades:

“DeCordova has continually become a better and better institution over that time,” he said. "I and my fellow curators have been given a great deal of intellectual and artistic freedom unimaginable in larger museums, and DeCordova is one of a few places where a curator can work consistently with outdoor sculpture — in a truly gorgeous setting.”

When Capasso first came aboard back in ‘90 he said there were 20 sculptures on campus. These days the DeCordova displays between 65 to 75 pieces each year. Now Capasso has a sweetly odd one to call his own. It sits — or rather stands — outside the DeCordova's entrance.

Museum Director Dennis Kois said Capasso deserves it.

“Nick has been working in the trenches for 20 years,” Kois explained in an e-mail, “committing nearly his entire career thus far to making the park a wonderful place to explore sculpture.”

Kois came on as the museum’s director nearly two years ago, and has shifted a lot of energy and attention to its outdoor sculpture park. He knew Capasso had an affection for "Otter," which was included in an exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum.

“It seemed only fitting to bring in a wonderful piece of art — one I knew he was enthusiastic about and had been lobbying eloquently for, but one which we weren’t going to otherwise pursue acquiring — to honor his two decades of dedication," Kois said. "I think it reflects both our aspirations for the park and our sculpture collection, as well as Nick’s history here. Not many sculptures could have done both.”

Capasso first brought artist Pondick to the DeCordova in 2002.

“This was my first outdoor sculpture exhibition, and it opened the door for me to see my work in a new setting, which really excited me," she said. "Since this exhibition my work has been included in numerous exhibitions and has been permanently installed outdoors at many museums internationally.”

Pondick is honored the Otter is Capasso’s 20th anniversary present. “I know we will all see 20 more years of great curating from Nick Capasso,” she said.

Capasso has long supported the work of young, emerging artists like Pondick, according to DeCordova Trustee Mary Koch.

“He curated Rona's first outdoor show and since then this New England trained artist's career has taken off,” Koch said.

Speaking about "Otter" specifically, Koch said, “the sculpture captures a concept that has interested Nick for some time: the ambiguity found in nature between human and animal, male and female; the idea that art can be both fanciful and humorous and a bit unnerving at the same time, but beautifully crafted as well."

The sculpture appeals to Capasso's “tendency towards the bizarre,” he said. The shiny "Otter" isn’t on its back in a tell-tale "Otter" repose, as you might expect. Instead this stainless steel hybrid creature is upright — and it has a human face — the artist’s, actually.

Otter and Capasso appear to be a good match.

“It validates my taste and faith in a type of contemporary sculpture that many find difficult or off-putting, and underscores my active participation in moving this place forward," Capasso said. "It feels great!”

Related:

This program aired on December 6, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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