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Review: Nature Unframed/Morton Arboretum

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Carol Hummel, “Lichen it”


As its name suggests, the Morton Arboretum is more about science than aesthetics. It’s a better destination to learn about trees than to enjoy magnificent views.  So, it’s an appropriate setting for conceptual art, where the information on the label is at least as important as the artworks.

Whereas the exhibits of trees and eco-systems teach us about the variety of life on our planet, just what can be learned from this collection of art installations interspersed throughout the Arboretum’s grounds? The target audience seems to be eight-year-olds. A stack of logs is wrapped with a giant bow ribbon and the brochure asks us, “What is the best gift trees give us?” A large kaleidoscope is installed facing a shoreline and we are asked, “How do the colors and shapes make you feel?” The artists, of course, have put their ideas into artspeak. Writes Letha Wilson, “My work creates relationships between architecture and nature, and the gallery space and the American wilderness.”  But has that really told us anything more?

Juan Angel Chavez, “Jimshoe”

Ringing the Children’s Garden and Meadow Lake, the entire exhibition can be walked through in about sixty minutes, and it can be an enjoyable quest, since the pieces are so scattered and different. The game is to look for something that doesn’t fit. A fenced-off meadow might be part of the art exhibit—or not. You’ve got to read the label.

These site-specific pieces have been fabricated by professional artists from around the country and the world (Greece, Great Britain, France as well as New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Chicago). Mostly, a troop of scouts at a summer camp could have done just as well. But some scouts are more ingenious than others. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to invite Carol Hummel back every summer to wrap another tree with one of the colorful, giant sweaters that she crocheted over the winter. Or to set Juan Angel Chavez loose with another pile of recycled wood and see what contraptions he will build. It all makes for a fun family outing. (Chris Miller)

Through November 27 at the Morton Arboretum, 4100 Route 53, Lisle.

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