The Art of Reflection

Had I seen this image with no explanation and no more context than its leafy background, I suspect I might have found identification difficult, even though I’ve encountered the object in the past under quite different conditions.

But seen from a longer perspective, with its shadow reflected on its well-buffed surface, it would have been unmistakable. Once you’ve seen the trunk of this magnificent tree, you don’t forget it. 

The shadow cast across the lawn near the entrance to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was produced by this Roxy Paine sculpture titled Yield. I saw it first in autumn: shadowless, stark against a gray sky, and surrounded by nearly leafless trees.

During my recent visit, it seemed warmer, and more welcoming. The greening grass reflected in its highly polished surface made it seem as though Paine’s tree had itself taken root, and soon would leaf out.

It won’t, of course, but that hardly matters. Shimmering in the early summer sunlight, it stands as a reminder that second, third, or even tenth looks at any piece of art can be as rewarding — and as surprising — as the first.


Comments always are welcome.


49 thoughts on “The Art of Reflection

    1. I assumed for some time that Roxy was a “she.” Then one day I realized I’d most often seen the name spelled “Roxie.” When it crossed my mind that Roxie might be feminine and Roxy masculine, I did some checking, and that’s when I discovered that the sculptor is male.

      While I was reading about him, I found this interesting interview that you might enjoy.

      1. In that interview Roxy Paine says: “The north-east has always felt too covered over with vegetation.” Our three weeks in that region certainly reminded us of all the green, which we didn’t dislike at all.

        As for the name Roxy, I just found out that the famous Roxy Theater in New York was named after Samuel L. Rothafel (i.e. Redapple), whose nickname was Roxy.

        1. And I just found out that Paine comes by his opinions about northeastern vegetation honestly. He was born and raised in New York, and now divides his time between Brooklyn and his studio in Treadwell, NY, just south of Cooperstown.

          I found another tidbit you might enjoy. In 2013, he received The Asher B. Durand award for artistic accomplishment, given by the Brooklyn Museum. In a bit of a coincidence, Crystal Bridges snagged Durand’s Kindred Spirits for their collection. I think I remember that was one of your father’s favorites.

          1. You have an excellent memory: that was indeed a favorite of my father. As a result, I’m one of the few people who’ve seen the painting in the New York Public Library and at Crystal Bridges.

            When I looked up Roxy Paine I learned about his New York Connection. And here’s a tidbit for you: not until 1899 did the five boroughs of New York unite to form the current New York City. Until then, Brooklyn was a separate city.

            1. That surprised me. I didn’t know when the boroughs were joined, but if asked, I would have chosen a far earlier date. And somehow I missed knowing that Staten Island’s one of the boroughs, even though I’ve been there. Now I know them all.

    1. Given your interest in trees, it doesn’t surprise me that you’d give this one a second glance. I could have missed the phenomenon, but we arrived early at the museum to spend some time on the grounds before the doors opened, and the shadow stretching across the lawn caught my eye.

      1. I really enjoyed ‘admiring’ the images when at home; I looked at those stark branches against the sky and recalled a friend’s comment from long ago. she stated, ‘lisa, you and your dead trees!’ I’ve always appreciated their beauty in the winter; we even have trees that go through dormant periods; they drop their leaves to endure the very-long dry season. They’re acting strange right now, however; it’s the end of the rainy season, and many act as if they’re stressed… perhaps it’s pesticide for broadleaves in the pastures….

        1. I remember that comment about you and your dead trees. It made me laugh then, and it made me laugh again now. I was toying with the thought of re-visiting Yield in the winter, thinking that it might be possible to get a photo of the moon tangled in its branches. Several things would have to happen to make that work — from bettering my photography skills to betting on the weather — but it still might be fun.

    1. It is. He’s done several pieces over the years that I very much like, including one installed at the Nelson-Atkins museum in Kansas City. I’d considered trying to see in on my recent trip, but other things took precedence.

  1. I feel the same way – you can find a lot of interesting things by rethinking and looking at things from a different angle. An awful lot of things seem to change when you revisit them, even when there hasn’t been a change of season, or different lighting, etc.. On any given day, without a lot of conscious analysis, you may see something different in a work of art, and appreciate it in different ways, on different levels. A portrait that you’ve seen ten times before, suddenly decides to tell you something new about the subject’s personality. A piece of music that struck you as ponderous and unexciting, becomes rich and satisfying when you slow down and listen to it more closely.

    This tree, with such a vivid blue sky, seems to have a lot of energy, and as you said, might be about to bud out (in leaves, or incandescent lightbulbs?). You could see a lot of things – -it looks a bit like illustrations of dendrites, those branches coming off nerve cells. Under a dark sky, it might look more like the forest in Disney’s “Snow White,” when she flees from the evil Queen, and the branches seems to be grabbing at her. Or those bad-tempered trees in the Wizard of Oz, that throw apples at Dorothy. It’s certainly a pretty cool sight, any way you look at it!

    1. As it happens, Paine calls his tree-like structures “dendroids.” Asked about them by an interviewer, he said:

      “With the Dendroids, I was less interested in trees than in their dendritic structure, a system that’s all around us and inside us. I was looking at how a living entity, a creation of nature, can be seen to translate into an industrial entity, a creation of humans.”

      He’s had quite an interest in fungi as well. There’s a nice overview of some installations here.

      What you say about revisiting and rethinking rings true to me. Re-reading’s much the same. Since I’m not opposed to making notes in my personal books, I’ve had the practice for years of using a differently-colored ink for those notes each time I re-read. Over time, it’s as much fun to read those notes as it is to explore the text again.

      A quotation ascribed to Anaïs Nin (but finally ascribed to “anonymous” by the Quote Investigator) always has been a favorite: “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

      1. I consulted my sister, the science kid, and “dendroids” is a medical and mathematical term, which personally I don’t remember from high school science class. Wow, this artist has interesting stuff!! I could just see the frat boys in college worshiping at the “Drug Ziggurat,” and “Bad Lawn” just makes me laugh. I hope Earth doesn’t end up looking like “Bad Planet.”
        I hadn’t heard of this artist before, and certainly some striking installations. Sometimes what first strikes me in contemporary art museums, is how many current works, like some of these, seem like they’ve come from a compulsive-obsessive workshop. Incredible numbers of hours to arrange tiny fungus, or a football field of toothpicks, and where ever did they find 10,000 used Lea & Perrins Worcestershire bottles to fill with cat hair, etc.
        There’s a # of artists that carve or fold up books. I saw an exhibit of cityscapes, sculpted out of encyclopedias. I guess if the books were going to be discarded, it’s a good use, but with my un-artistic mind, I kept wondering how many X-acto blades he must had gone through, to make such clean cuts, thousands of times. And sometime when I’m more settled, I wouldn’t mind picking up an old Encycl. Britannica, so I hope they don’t all get cut up and glued. Maybe that’s part of what he was going for – – I see reviewers praising artists for making us uncomfortable, like prompting a feeling a sacrilege to see an encyclopedia sliced & diced. All part of that process of approaching things from different angles.

        1. I didn’t know this morning what I know now — that Paine’s studio is in Treadwell, New York, south of Cooperstown. Wouldn’t that make an interesting trip? Maybe you should stop by one day — wear a hard hat and take some cookies, and you might get a tour.

          I learned “dendrite” and “dendritic” when I finally pulled apart “rhododendron” and figured out the etymology. Then, the words seemed to pop up everywhere, from descriptions of nerve endings to maps of river systems to Tesla coils.

          I know what you mean about that obsessive-compulsive workshop. One of the most interesting and weird installations I ever came across was a large square of pollen on a museum floor. The guy who created it collected the pollen himself (I can’t remember now whether it came from one species of flower) and spent hours and hours — days, in fact — covering the floor with it. I presume people were asked to stay some distance away. One sneeze, and it could have all been over.

          I’ve seen some of that book art. It’s fascinating, and yet it does seem as though they could just as easily work with something other than the encyclopediae. Of course, if you’re in favor of rejecting established knowledge, maybe those Britannica volumes are just the ticket.

    1. I suspect it would take about two pecks for them to figure out it isn’t wood — although I seem to remember a woodpecker who was strangely attracted to the metal gutters on my parents’ house.

      On the other hand, there were starlings perching on the top branches of the sculpture. It seemed to suit them perfectly well.

  2. Art needs to be lived with so that it can be interacted with and appreciated during the different seasons and different times of day. This is particularly true of sculpture. Being able to watch the play of light upon a piece of sculpture enhances the work, and brings out different aspects of it.

    1. True enough. One of the difficulties of admiring a piece of sculpture that’s six hundred miles away is the inability to engage with it in the way you describe. I was glad that I made this trip in spring for just that reason. Everything from the play of light on Paine’s sculpture to the landscape itself was so different from what I’ve seen in autumn. It seems I was a little late for spring’s flowery fields, but I was right on time for a different view of Yield.

  3. From the first image I thought it is a hanging leaf of Victoria dracena plant! Brilliant sculpture, photos and post, Linda. Wish you posted the photos clicked in Autumn as well!

    1. I thought briefly about including an autumn photo as well, but decided against it. There are many photos online, like this one, which show that different setting and, consequently, a different “feel.”

      I’d not thought about the resemblance to a dracena, but now that you mention it, I certainly can see it. Isn’t it fun to see the relationships between nature and art?

    1. The photos and videos of the process of installation are interesting, too. There’s a series of photos here. I tried to find information about the number of welds in a piece like Yield, but couldn’t. Whether there are more than in a WWII airplane remains an open question.

  4. A beautiful piece. I love its reflections of surrounding nature. Several years ago (2011?) a local Austin artist (I think she was local) created a drought tree. There were those who didn’t like it, but I thought it was grand.

    1. It would have been 2011, I’m sure. That was the year of the terrible drought, the Bastrop fire, and the sight of planes pulling water out of Lake Travis to help fight it. I think this must be the drought tree. I’m glad you mentioned it; I’ve never seen it or heard of it.

      Now that I’ve seen Yield in spring and fall, I’m thinking that very late fall or very early spring would be nice, too. I’d love to see the moon tangled in its branches, but a lot of factors would have to come together for that to happen. It’s worth putting on the “to be thought about” list.

    1. At least one bird has perched there, Debbie. While I was visiting, a lone starling stopped by for a rest. I took its photo, but it was at the very top and really too far away for the photo to be very striking. I found an image of another single bird in one of his sculptures, and a small flock in another, but that was it. The absence of bird-in-tree photos makes me wonder whether the birds don’t like the sculptures, or whether people simply haven’t taken and posted such images.

      On another topic entirely: have you read about Kilauea spewing out green gemstones — olivine? You can read about it here. I didn’t realize that olivine is the basis for peridot.

      1. I’d heard of Olivine, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen one — how pretty! Isn’t it grand that Kilauea is sharing its treasures this way?!!

    1. Personally, I’d like to see Peanut up there. She’s large enough that she could make quite a statement in those branches — even if she kept the noise down!

      I hadn’t really explored all of his other Dendroids, but I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t appeal in some way. The process of construction’s as fascinating as the final result.

  5. Now this is a sculpture after my own heart. Very unusual in its form and beauty. Since it is a replica of a tree I find it extremely pleasing to the eye. This was a great find for you to photograph.

    1. Sometimes, having to just hang around (as we had to while we waited for the museum to open) yields some good results. It already had been a good morning, as we found the parking spot nearest the museum entrance unaccountably empty and waiting for us. Finding the tree/shadow/reflection combination only added to the pleasure.

  6. What an extraordinary piece of art – almost lifelike in shape and with the green on the trunk, visually most unusual.
    What a wonderful find :)

    1. It was quite a surprise, Vicki. I’d seen the sculpture before, but I wasn’t prepared for such a delightful change in its appearance. It was a good reminder that even the most presumably unchanging object can change radically, depending on its context.

  7. I think you did really well in going from the abstract to the more realistic aspect of his sculpture! At first, I didn’t know it was the the tree.

    1. Initially, I thought of only showing the abstract view, but decided that it was far more interesting to also show how it had been formed. Shadows fascinate me generally, but this one was special.

  8. Great angles! I like the progression from “What?” to “Oh, I get it!” Even a solid sculpture never looks the same, especially if it’s outdoors. Seattle has one of Paine’s sculptures too, very similar, and I haven’t seen it in ages. I wonder what it looks like at sunset, or in the rain…

    1. I didn’t realize until quite recently how many Paine sculptures are scattered around the country. The one I wish I could have seen is Maelstrom, which was atop the Met in 2009. I was entranced by this video of its installation.

      I found one photo of Yield by moonlight. I’d love to see that.

    1. Thanks, Jeanie. I had no idea there are so many of his sculptures scattered around the county. There’s one in Kansas City, one at the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln, and one in Fort Worth. All of those cities are within striking distance. Maybe a Paine Pilgrimage is in order.

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