Can we truly extend the life of an artist-built environment? In the absence of their creators, how do we responsibly care for and maintain these environments? Don’t our established processes and tools for doing so—inventory and documentation, conservation and preservation, evocation and curation—disrupt the “delicate ecology” of these dynamic, private worlds?
From the untimely death of Bernard Langlais in 1977 to the inauguration of the Langlais Sculpture Preserve in 2017, his lively art environment—an eight-acre “farm” in Cushing, Maine, comprising more than one hundred monumental wood sculptures, a spirited cadre of real livestock, an orchard, ponds, barns, and a small farmhouse—evolved dramatically. The harsh climate of the coastal locale affected much of this change, ravaging the artworks and often bringing the artist’s own interest in weather as a tool to its full conclusion. Naturally, the interests, resources, and practical realities of those who became responsible for the site have also played a significant role in its transformation. The most notable of these stewards is the artist’s widow, Helen Friend Langlais, who worked tirelessly for more than three decades to preserve Langlais’s art and legacy before her own passing in 2010.
Presenting artworks, artistic remnants, audio-visual documentation, and first-person accounts, Bernard Langlais: Live and Let Live On explores the recent history of Langlais’s farm, and the acts and activities of stewardship that have shaped the site. Newly commissioned film footage of the Langlais Preserve by Melanie Essex, an artist and Cushing resident who spent time at the farm as a child during Langlais’s lifetime, provides a personal view of the site as it stands today.
The exhibition is a companion to the first posthumous survey exhibition of Bernard Langlais’s art outside of Maine, which is on view at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center from April 4 through October 3, 2021.
Image: Bernard Langlais in Cushing, Maine, 1976. Photo David Hiser.