134 Jay St.
Katonah, NY 10536
Description: Bright swaths of vibrant colors transform the Katonah Museum of Art's exterior in its newest outdoor exhibition, "Six Ladders," by artist Andrea Lilienthal. Lilienthal created a series of giant bamboo ladders for the Museum's stately Sculpture Garden that are whimsical and enigmatic; their brilliant colors electrify the natural surroundings. Five ladders, with their cheerful colors and playful patterns, lean against the Museum's enormous spruce trees in various positions and at different angles. On the building's facade, a sixth, 30-foot ladder extends just short of the roofline - its form and ribbons of color energizing the wall and lending sculptural dimension to the flat expanse. Each of the ladders are hand-constructed from sturdy commercial bamboo, harvested in China, and painted with high-gloss outdoor enamel paint from Holland. Their surfaces are smooth and reflective, in contrast to the course-textured tree bark. According to Katonah Museum of Art Curator Ellen Keiter, "These are not functional structures - their bottom rungs are too high to mount and the ladders fail to reach the top of their intended destinations. These are instead beautiful works of art; Andrea Lilienthal responds to the inherent geometry of ladders and the repetitive rhythm of their rungs. She finds beauty in their simple, minimalist construction." "Lilienthal's ladders instill a sense of wonder and suggest that seemingly unreachable goals can be attained," she says. Keiter explains that bamboo is a hollow-stemmed, woody plant that "bows, sways, and splits, so slight imperfections, even substantial cracks, add distinctive character to each ladder. No two ladders are painted the same, yet their similarly saturated hues coalesce into a lively visual harmony." She adds, "The bands of luscious color wrap around the bamboo like candy confections, and bright confetti patterns alternate with stark black-and-white designs. A causal link exists between the artificial colors and the natural bamboo. On one ladder, Lilienthal painted white rings around the growth nodes of the bamboo; on another, the nodes demarcate the lengths of painted blue and orange sections." Says Lilienthal: "These magnificent and mysterious trees [at the Katonah Museum of Art], whose tops are not even visible, dwarf the people and furniture below. In response to their super scale, I chose the ladder, a form with human scale and multiple readings: utilitarian ancient, mythic, and universal. The severe and stately trees support the bamboo ladders in an implied partnership; rooted and stable, the trees assist the ladders in their attempt to ascend. But ultimately, how do you mount an 80-foot Norwegian spruce tree? My answer was to climb it with imagination, affirming our connection to the natural world." Lilienthal has used bamboo in her artistic practice for several years. In earlier installations, she aligned multiple painted, wrapped, or taped bamboo poles along a wall - works awash in color, but still relatable in size. However, her current exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art is in keeping with the majesty, diameter, and spacing of the giant spruce trees. Adding to the intrigue of this exhibition are enlarged photographs of the Garden's spruce trees displayed in the Museum's two west windows adjacent to the lone 30-foot ladder. On first impression, the images appear as reflections. In this way, Lilienthal reinforces the relationship between the ladders and the trees while further playing with the viewers' perceptions and expectations. Historically, ladders carry rich and universal associations. In many faiths and fables, ladders are a symbol of ascent, of travel, of reaching upward. In modern times, they represent progress and growth, allowing us to reach higher than we would otherwise be able to go. Ladders symbolize elevation: from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, and from the material to the spiritual. They are featured in art from prehistoric cave paintings to contemporary times. Jacob's Ladder, the metaphysical passage between heaven and earth, is mentioned in the first book of the Bible, and is represented in such disparate media as Renaissance paintings and popular video games. There is a popular African-American spiritual, "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder," Eric Carl's beloved children's picture book, "Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me," and innumerable colloquialisms regarding "the ladder of success."
On view through April 21, 2014 during Museum hours: Sundays: 12-5pm; Tuesdays through Saturdays: 10am-5pm. Closed Mondays.
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