Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 8/30/16
HAMILTON – Grounds for Sculpture, an outdoor contemporary art gallery that is home to more than 250 sculptures on 42 acres, doesn’t have much in common with a typical art gallery.
No one will tell you not to run.
No one will tell you not to speak.
No one will tell you not to touch.
And, perhaps most importantly, you won’t feel like you need a degree in art history to understand what you’re looking at.
That’s because the gallery, which was opened in 1992 by J. Seward Johnson, a sculptor and philanthropist, aims to make contemporary art approachable for the average person.
“Art is something that should be accessible to everyone, not just to an elite group,” said Gary Schneider, executive director. “When you go to a museum, you feel like there’s some sort of message you should walk away (with), but here, there is none.”
Instead, the message that visitors walk away with is simply derived from whatever they choose to walk toward.
“It’s like a choose-your-own adventure. If you see a 20-foot sculpture or a beautiful floral arrangement that piques your interest, you have the freedom to follow it,” Schneider said.
The sculptures, set among gardens, trees, bodies of water and floral arrangements throughout the former grounds of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds, are no accident. Instead, Schneider said that the landscapes cater to the sculptures to create “rooms” for them to shine.
And, unlike in a gallery, there is no defined path. There are quite a few sculptures that visitors may stumble upon accidentally or find simply because they chose to “take the road less traveled.”
“The paths kind of draw you through and create a sense of discovery and surprise,” Schneider said. “That’s something you couldn’t do inside a building.”
Plus, because the sculptures are set within nature, the ambiance of Grounds for Sculpture lacks the stuffiness that many art galleries have — making it an ideal place for dates, a spot to bring your mother or grandmother, a family day trip or even a business meeting.
“One of the first things people say after they visit is, ‘Who am I going to bring back?’” Schneider said.
You can experience this yourself with The Friends of the Metuchen Library, which is planning a trip to Grounds for Sculpture on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The $50 trip cost covers the entrance fee, private bus and driver gratuity. Participants will meet at the Metuchen Library at 9:30 a.m. for a 9:45 departure and return to the library at 5 p.m. Those who are interested can sign up at the Metuchen Library.
Word-of-mouth is part of the reason for Grounds for Sculpture’s exponential growth. Over the last seven years, admission has doubled, making for 230,000 visitors in 2015.
With this, Grounds for Sculpture has been able to acquire even more contemporary art. They currently present the works of over 150 artists, ranging from abstract work to figurative work so lifelike that Carolynn McCormack, marketing coordinator, said that on her lunch breaks sitting among the grounds, she has had visitors come up and touch her, testing if she’s real.
Plus, the works are from artists who live locally, nationally or even internationally. Schneider said this is very important to Grounds for Sculpture because we live in a global world and New Jersey is one of the most diverse states.
“We even see this diversity in our visitors — I can hear five different languages as I walk through the park,” he said.
Currently on display are works by Paul Henry Ramirez, from the Southwest U.S., who plays architecture and bursts of color with one another in the entire West Gallery as a sculptural environment, Japanese-American Ayami Aoyama, of New Jersey, who creates stone carvings, and Israeli-born Boaz Vaadia, who creates distinctive artworks composed of wood, bone, hair and other mixed mediums.
Grounds for Sculpture, which has grown from two indoor galleries to six and seven acres to 42 in recent history, is currently working to evolve their reputation as a solely outdoor experience by providing the indoor galleries, outdoor films, art workshops, speakers and programming year-round to provide more opportunities for people to come back when the weather isn’t cooperating.
However, Schneider also urges people to visit the outdoor sculptures year-round, rather than just during the warmer months.
“See how the snow rests on the sculptures, how the leaves change colors in the fall or how the lotus flowers bloom in the springtime,” he said.
No matter when people choose to visit, the foundation for Grounds for Sculpture remains the same — accessibility.
“You don’t need to have a love of art to enjoy this experience. It’s not just for the art enthusiasts,” said Schneider. “Whether or not you are knowledgeable about who the sculptor is, the scale of the work and being out in nature puts you in a more relaxed setting.”
Ground for Sculpture
Where: 80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton
Cost: $18 adults in-person, $16 adults online, $10 children in-person and online
Contact: 609-586-0616, groundsforsculpture.org