At Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York, on the banks of the East River, a new outdoor sculpture is unfolding in tandem with the flowers and plants blooming along the riverfront. An earthen mound, arranged in a circular enclosure and planted with a variety of pollinating plants, the piece by longtime sculptor and artist Meg Webster, Concave Room for Bees, offers a colorful display of nature.
A concentrated dose of organic beauty best experienced at the apex, the 300 cubic yards of soil form a 70-foot-wide lens of land art, a mixture of scents, humming bees and vibrant colors. The latest in a long series of impressive earthworks and installations that comment on organic elements and the natural world, Webster's new project still has her feeling like she hasn’t done enough.
"I have a great concern for the ecosystem," she says. "Maybe the problem is that I don’t know how to make the work do enough for what I care about. I’m not sure I’m touching the complexity of a culture that’s mowing and cutting down everything."
As the new piece fills in the summer and the flowers begin to bloom, it offers another example of Webster trying to give ecology a voice in the modern world. A beautiful statement on propagation, it’s the latest work by an artist who’s spent her career creating simple, visceral pieces communicating her passion for the planet.
Webster is the first to call her work simple, even obvious, but that doesn’t diminish the power of unadorned natural beauty.
"How do you get people to care about the birds and the bees and the insects?" she says."It’s hard, when in order to live in this society, you often need to drive and keep an orderly lawn and landscape. I find myself asking, ‘Where’s Thoreau, where’s Walden?’ Nature is out there, but it’s not going to be out there for long, unless we control our carbon."
Webster has been making sculptures for decades, working out of a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan’s East Village she moved into in 1979. A San Francisco-born artist who started as a painter, she shifted to sculpture in graduate school while pursuing a degree at Yale in the early ‘80s. During that period, she met many of the big names in Land Art, including a stint working with Michael Heizer. Webster never took her work out to the desert, so to speak, but drew influence from the geometric forms of those artists, as well as minimalists such as Donald Judd, to create a series of installations and earthworks.
Webster looks at her career, which focuses on artfully arranged natural materials, such as a bed of moss, as being informed by "a driving need to make a garden." A recent show at Paula Cooper Gallery, with whom she’s worked for years, demonstrated how an evolving array of materials and methods—such as the wall of beeswax she installed in an LA gallery in 1990, or the koi pond she built inside MoMA’s PS1 Gallery—offer straightforward, striking statements.
Webster says she makes simple moves with her work, but perhaps that’s the entire point. Environmental awareness is always right in front of us, and the themes she refines and reintroduces are always of contemporary concern.
"All I know is that I need to keep doing something," she says.