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Let It Snow: Andy Goldsworthy At The DeCordova

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Snow. After this brutal, white winter, that word might give a fair number of us the chills. But not Nick Capasso, deputy director of curatorial affairs at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln. In fact, these days the idea of fresh-fallen snow makes him downright giddy.

That’s because the deCordova is preparing to play host to a winter-inspired project by popular British artist Andy Goldsworthy.

“He’s probably the best known — and arguably the best loved — contemporary artist in the world,” Capasso gushed in the museum gallery that holds the new exhibition, “Andy Goldsworthy: Snow.” It opens Sunday and it’s something of a tease or preview of things to come.

The new Goldsworthy commission is called “Snow House” — and yes, it will require a good amount of the white stuff. It’s still in the planning stages, though, and might not be completed until winter 2013. For now, you can see the artist’s proposal sketches on the gallery walls.

Visitors will have the chance to check [the artwork] out for only about five days; that’s how long it should take for it to melt.

But what is exactly is the "Snow House?"

“Andy’s going to create in our sculpture park — sort of dug into the hillside — a granite-lined chamber, big enough to walk into,” Capasso described, “and every winter when it snows our staff and various community groups will create a nine-foot diameter snowball inside this piece of architecture.”

But that’s just the beginning. Next, Capasso said they will close a giant, oak door “and lock the door, and leave the door closed until mid-summer’s day.” At that point the deCordova staff will open the chamber and — at least in theory — that big snowball will still be in there. But not for long. Visitors will have the chance to check it out for only about five days; that’s how long it should take for it to melt.

“And we’re going to do this every year in perpetuity,” Capasso said with a smile.

The project has all the hallmarks of a Goldsworthy sculpture. He’s famous for making intricate, ephemeral nature sculptures using twigs, leaves, branches, dirt, rocks, water and/or ice. Some of his pieces last only a few seconds — others devolve more slowly, washed away by another artist — Mother Nature — in the form of rain, wind or waves.

The 2001 documentary, “Rivers and Tides,” beautifully captures Goldsworthy’s patient, magical way of working. To see it is to believe it.

But the "Snow House" is actually a departure for Goldsworthy because it combines nature-made materials with man-made architecture. The artist often works with ancient structures, including stone walls, but, Capasso said, “This is the first time that he’s combined the ephemeral and the permanent in such a direct relationship. The snowball will come and go, the architecture will stay.”

In an interview with the museum, Goldsworthy said, "I really wanted to come up with something for the deCordova that was substantial and a really important project, personally."

Artist Andy Goldsworthy, in the snow (Courtesy)
Artist Andy Goldsworthy, in the snow (Courtesy)

Goldsworthy was clearly inspired by the New England winter. He first visited the sculpture park in January 2010. A few weeks later the artist’s gallery contacted Capasso to say Goldsworthy had an idea. That’s how the "Snow House" began.

“He’s made sculpture at the North Pole, so traipsing around deCordova is no big deal,” Capasso said.

The new exhibition illustrates the various ways Goldsworthy has worked with snow over his career.

One of his more amusing projects was something of a practical joke on the people of London. In 2000, the artist and a crew surreptitiously placed more than a dozen six-foot snowballs in a bunch of locations throughout the city between midnight and 6 a.m.

“So London woke up to giant snow balls all over town,” Capasso recalled.

Photographs of that prank are included in the show.

“People were astonished, amazed, amused, irritated,” Capasso said with a laugh. “It was a great project.”

And while this new exhibition surely illuminates Goldsworthy’s creative process — as well as the origin of the deCordova’s new commission — it’s also an attempt to drum up support for the "Snow House." Meaning financial support. Capasso said it’s the sculpture park and museum’s most ambitious acquisition to date.

“It’s going to be expensive,” he admitted, “and it’s also ambitious for us because he’s such an important artist and it’s important for us to have him in our collection. It will be the only publicly accessible outdoor piece by Andy in New England.”

But the "Snow House" is not a done deal. The deCordova still needs to raise a significant amount of money to cover the cost of the project — they wouldn’t tell me how much. In fact, Capasso and Goldsworthy will not be able to break ground until they know for sure they have enough money.

“We’re busy doing that and we’re well on our way, but we haven’t hit that point yet. As soon as we do we will get on the phone with Andy, get on his busy schedule, and we get this built as soon as possible,” Capasso said.

Sounds kind of risky. To that, Capasso replied: “Hey it’s a contemporary art museum — if we don’t take risks then what are we doing?”

In other words: let it snow!

This program aired on May 29, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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

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