Sculpture: Don Gummer’s big rock in North Adams, Mass.

The rock in the air

Last week when I was walking toward a crosswalk in North Adams, Massachusetts, on my way to work for the day, I thought of my friend Richard Cabe.1 Richard does nifty things with very large rocks. Exactly eight days earlier, he'd given me a tour of his workshop, in an old industrial building in Salida, Colorado.

Richard is very fond of granite. He loves rocks and likes to change our views and experiences of them.

Now here in an old mill town in Massachusetts, about two thousand miles east, a massive granite boulder was suspended from cables.


I could even see sky through the rock.


Many of Richard's rocks interact with water. Washing up at one of the sinks he has installed in the home he shares with writer Susan Tweit is like dipping water out of a clear-running stream. One of the neatest things about the basins Richard shapes is the surprisingly familiar but initially out-of-place smell of the rock when it gets wet. Another is the contrast between the rough and polished surfaces.

There's a similar element of surprise in the rock in North Adams. It interacts with air. It's actually not immediately evident that you can see the sky through it, because you have to be at the right angle to discover that aspect of the installation.

It's a little easier to discover the correlation between this piece and what's across the street:


More big suspended things.

The story

I learned later that the sculpture in North Adams is by Don Gummer. Called "Primary Separation," it has been installed at Mass MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art).

A press release from the Marlborough Gallery in New York has this to say about the piece:

"Gummer's most recent large project, Primary Separation, was installed
at MASS MoCA in 2005. Based on a model developed by the artist in 1969,
the sculpture consists of a 24-ton granite boulder, sliced in half and
suspended ten feet above the ground by steel cables and columns over a
verdant rectangle. As remarked in a recent profile in Art in America
(January 2005), this sculpture 'anticipated Gummer's recurring concern
with the integration of the manmade and the natural, the geometric and
the organic—and more generally, the fusion of opposites, most notably
in his constructions of the last two decades.' "

Indiana Parley, a blog listed as "a place for public policy, politics, the history, and the future of Indiana," posted a notice about an exhibition of Gummer's work at MASS MoCA in 2007 (he was born in Indiana) and noted, "Mr. Gummer's wife is also someone of some note in the performing arts. He is married to Meryl Streep."

During the two days that I walked along the street by the sculpture while going about my business, an abandoned credit-union building nearby was being razed to make room for an associated park, apparently part of the long-term vision for the area. I didn't see the building, but was told what it had been. On the first day, the space it had occupied contained a pile of rubble and a hole. When I walked by on the second day, there was cleared dirt and unobstructed sightlines.

Another curious note

MASS MoCA is located in a 19th-century factory building formerly occupied by the Sprague Electric Works, and also formerly a superfund clean-up site.

Richard and Susan live on an industrial site that they have reclaimed (and turned back into a garden-plus-park) in Salida.

So many nice correlations.

Such wonderful visions for rocks.


1 Richard's web site talks mostly about his functional sculptures; he also does wonderfully expressive work that doesn't have a functional component.


5 thoughts on “Sculpture: Don Gummer’s big rock in North Adams, Mass.”

  1. My first thought was that I wanted to see the saw that sliced through that boulder.

    My second thought was realizing that he probably just cut it whatever way and then polished the middle bits.

    Reality is often rather less dramatic than my imaginings.

  2. Interesting piece. I’ve always been a fan of non-representative sculpture (the Henry Moore stuff at the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of my favourites when I’m there) but we have precious little of it on public display here in Calgary (two works in separate locations by Katie Ohe and a corner with some Sorel Etrog spring to mind, but after that, I draw a blank).

    And it’s something that I’m starting to look at exploring with fibre: so far, my 3D work has been small, but I may have the opportunity to do a large performative knitting installation in January — this piece has given me some additional ideas. 🙂

  3. I love art that appeals to multiple senses. So, the smell of water on rock–I get that. It is a rich scent and just right for a piece of functional art. I also think there’s something really poignant about mounting stone in the New England air. It shows the might of the industrial age and its interaction with nature. (all those textile mills needed the water…) Thanks for showing us this art…almost as good as being there!

  4. Thanks for this fascinating look at Gummer’s work and the lovely shout-out for Richard. He’s my favorite sculptor, of course, but then twenty-five years of love may have prejudiced my view! I hope the trip was fruitful and that you enjoyed being pampered at the inn where you stayed. ;~)

  5. I ***LOVE*** MassMOCA. I was there not long after they opened, when the upside-down trees looked really happy that way.

    I was also there three days after the flag-knitting done by construction-equipment cranes. Super cool.

    That place has the most spectacular installations of changing-as-you-watch-it art I’ve ever seen. They have room to do amazing things, just amazing.

    Even better than the Art Gallery of Ontario, probably in part because of the vast size of the site.

    Any place that strongly features art by people who are still alive, rocks. Hirshorn(sp) in DC, Detroit Institute of Arts, Toledo, all of those have art by those still around to chat about it. All places I revere. (I seem to remember something wonderful in Buffalo, NY, also.)

    The rock is wonderful, I don’t remember seeing it last I was there. It’s a reeeeally long drive, I don’t usually try to get there in only one day of driving. Must plan ahead!

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