Naysayers, drop your bullhorns. There will be no 26-foot-tall sailors, no 15-foot molars and no assemblage of junkyard cars on the Sarasota bayfront this year. Brenda Terris, executive director of Sarasota Season of Sculpture, is poised to helm a smaller less-cheeky exhibit this fall.
“Not to take away from what we did in the past,” Terris says. “It’s just that this year’s artists have a different kind of … how do I put it?”
She pauses to find the right word, then settles on “esteem.”
Terris is seated in her above-garage studio off Alta Vista Street, a roomy attic-turned-office with mint green walls, a flat-screen TV and an abundance of natural light.
She’s sorting through paperwork and preparing for a presentation on Season of Sculpture’s fifth exhibit, “Organic Lyricism,” a cohesive collection of mostly abstract, bronze sculptures, a quiet departure from last year’s headline-making show.
Handpicked by Paula Stoeke, director and curator for The Sculpture Foundation, which owns and runs Grounds for Sculpture, a 35-acre Hamilton, N.J., sculpture park founded by “Unconditional Surrender” artist J. Seward Johnson, “Organic Lyricism” is smaller than the organization’s previous exhibits.
With only 13 pieces in the show, Terris says more attention can be paid to site landscaping. Pointing to Robert Ressler’s 10-foot long-necked vessel form, she asks, “Can’t you just envision bamboo shooting up behind it?”
Rather than just plopping sculptures in grassy openings along the bayfront, Terris says she wants to give each piece an environmental context.
“We’re presenting the art in a much finer way,” Terris says. “We’re taking it up a notch.”
Although Johnson, who opened the park in 1992, is famous for commercial art with drive-by appeal, the pieces he’s collected over the years are neither commercial nor irreverent, instead communicate spirituality and introspection.
Stoeke’s picks for the bayfront include works by abstract expressionist Peter Voulkos, romantic Austrian artist Alexander Rutsch and influential Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz, regarded for her use of textiles in sculpture. The new sculptures will go up in November.
Composed, candid, but careful not to disavow previous shows, Terris began this season by mending fences with Sarasota artists and patrons, who in the past have balked at Season of Sculpture’s propensity for shock-factor art.
“I’ve learned from them and they’ve learned from me,” Terris says.
In fact, her plan to collaborate with The Sculpture Foundation originated on a trip she took with one of her most vocal critics — artist Virginia Hoffman. The two women traveled to New Jersey together on Terris’ birthday to watch, oddly enough, Johnson’s infamous sailor get a new paint job.
“Brenda and I have become friends,” Hoffman says. “She has a positive attitude and inclusive approach to things. We’ve been having lot conversations about taking a more aesthetic approach to Season of Sculpture, and nothing of that has anything to do with Seward Johnson or ‘Unconditional Surrender.’”
Hoffman says this year’s show has “an actual theme with a curator’s touch and a welcomed absence of whimsy.”
According to Terris, this is the first time the board of directors has nailed down an entire exhibit so far in advance, a factor she says helped strengthen her fundraising abilities during the interlude period.
She credits her marketing and communications background with helping smooth things over. A Sarasota resident since 1998, she worked in senior marketing positions for PriceWaterhouseCoopers and The Wall Street Journal, in addition to publishing her own travel magazine, before assuming her role with the non-profit arts organization in 2007.
“When Virginia and I were up in New Jersey it was like, ‘why not collaborate with an organization that’s figured it out already?’” Terris says. “There were a number of ways to approach this season, and this seemed like the best way to do it. We’re proud of this exhibition. I like to think we can play nice in the sandbox.”