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The following article is from the Boston Globe, Date: July 31, 1996 Section: Living, page E1›

" Sculpture Terrace Gets Off To A Teetering Start"
By› Christine Temin, Globe Staff

Some of John Van Alstine's sculptures look as though they should, by rights, topple over. Their shapes lurch and crane their way into space, but are tethered to the ground with hefty hunks of stone: The sense of opposing forces gives them visceral power.› Van Alstine is the first artist to exhibit on the 4,000-square-foot sculpture terrace at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln. The terrace, and the small adjacent indoor gallery where Van Alstine's smaller pieces and works on paper are on display, are part of the DeCordova's recent ambitious renovation. They add to the museum's already considerable strength in three-dimensional work. The DeCordova boasts New England's only sculpture park of its kind -- public, open year-round, with periodically changing works. It features more than 50 sculptures, generally one per artist. The new terrace, by contrast, will display a selection of pieces by a single sculptor, giving a better idea of the scope of that artist's style. Those pieces will remain on view for an entire year, to allow the public the chance to see them surrounded by snow or competing with fall foliage -- a very good thing, given that changing weather and seasons can affect our perceptions of outdoor sculpture profoundly.› An artist from Wells, N.Y., Van Alstine has an international reputation. He is a safe rather than scintillating choice to inaugurate the terrace. He's not as well known hereabouts as the next artist whose works will grace the DeCordova's new space, Boston sculptor Carlos Dorrien. Nor is his work particularly radical or challenging. He's a classic modernist, sometimes compared with David Smith and Mark di Suvero. He's stronger on shape than on surfaces or materials. The materials he favors -- metal, stone, found objects -- place him squarely in the mainstream of 20th-century modernism. So does his emphasis on form. The works aren't completely abstract, though. There are identifiable objects within them, and even suggestions of narrative.

One of the more satisfying aspects of Van Alstine's work is its occasional flourishes of wit. In his "Atlas (High Roller)," an orb sprouting a goofy stem shape looks like a variation on Claes Oldenburg's giant cherry sculpture -- or a bomb with a fuse: There's considerable ambiguity here. In his 1994 granite and bronze "Diagonal Tendencies II," an angular stone struggling upward is capped by a cast of part of an airplane propeller, which also looks like Mickey Mouse ears. This particular piece features several Van Alstine signatures. One is the series of ridges carved into the granite. Scarification that is evidence of a human hand on the rock, the ridges also suggest steps, toeholds or even a spine -- all images of ascent. Another signature is the sense of lightness Van Alstine achieves despite the weight of his materials. In "Diagonal Tendencies II," as in other works, he lifts part of the stone off the ground, in this case propping it up on a bronze cone.

In "Tether (Boys Toys)," Van Alstine casts himself as snake charmer, coaxing a thick steel chain up toward the sky, where it culminates in a battered airplane fuel tank that looks like a missile and is also indisputably phallic. In a strong wind, the tank/ missile rocks slightly, as if in a futile effort to fly. It is preposterous, but also poignant.

The largest and most dramatic piece in the show is the 1996 "Charon's Steel Styx Passage," based on the character who in Greek mythology ferries the souls of the dead over the river Styx. At the bottom of the piece is a huge buoy whose shape suggests a planet and whose mottled surface hints at continents and islands. But the buoy also retains handlelike appendages that hint at its prior use, which Van Alstine makes no attempt to camouflage. The long beam that angles its way past the orb ends in a little boat aimed at the heavens, a metal ribbon fluttering from it like a lifeline, an oar sticking up as if rowing the air. The placement of "Charon's Steel Styx Passage" against the backdrop of the large pond below the museum is felicitous, since a journey over water is one of the work's themes.› Inside the little gallery that acts as anteroom to the terrace are a couple of Van Alstine's smaller sculptures and a selection of his works on paper. The smallest three-dimensional work, "Charting the Course II," is to the larger works what bonsai is to a full-size pine. A drafting compass swings out from a rock, one arm holding a vertical shape resembling a raft or shell. Here is a miniature version of Van Alstine's formula of stone anchoring a metal form that soars. As for his drawings, they're explosive, energetic and confident, and they demonstrate something the sculptures can't -- the artist's fine sense of color.› "John Van Alstine: Vessels and Voyages" was organized by DeCordova associate curator Nick Capasso, who also wrote the useful brochure for this show, which runs through May 11, 1997.›

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