Stepping Out

Art that defines gravity

Seeing Old Westbury Gardens in a new way

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When visitors come to Old Westbury Gardens they expect to observe a spectacular landscape bursting with natural beauty. What you don’t expect to see is an acrobat tottering precariously overhead on a tight rope, Charlie Chaplin climbing a ladder to nowhere or a man rowing a longboat in midair.

That sense of surprise is on view in a sculpture exhibition by Polish artist Jerzy Jotka Kedziora, now installed at Old Westbury Gardens through Oct. 13.

The exhibit, “Balance in Nature,” features 33 of Kedziora’s gravity-defying sculptures scattered throughout the grounds, many of them suspended overhead by wires in between the trees or over the pond.

“Usually sculptures are static,” says Old Westbury Gardens President and CEO Nancy Costopulos. “But these are in motion and move with the wind. Energy is really key to his work. It’s definitely unique.”

Vsitors are greeted by the first sculpture upon arrival, which is from the artist’s gymnast or athletic series.

“To create this cycle I was inspired by my granddaughter training in this sports discipline with a group of girls,” says Kedziora. “The charm of youth, beauty and the incredibility of movement as well as the masterful use of ‘tools’ like ribbons, clubs and jumping ropes was inspiring.”

The statue, located high above the entrance, is framed by the towering trees along the path and is easy to miss unless you make a point of looking up.

That’s part of the beauty of Kedziora’s work, according to Costopulos. “We’re always on the lookout for something unique that can fit in with the historic beauty of the gardens. These pieces get you to look up at the trees and see the garden from a different perspective. It’s elegant, interesting and terrific.”

Other works in the athletic series include an acrobat on a tight rope trying to balance a chair, a man rowing in a boat over the pond and Deep Plunge, which shows the elongated body of a diver.

“Personally I just find the gymnast series quite amazing,” says Paul Hunchak, Director of Programs and Exhibitions. “Deep Plunge is larger than life. Even though it’s sort of static because it’s in the ground, the piece suggests motion and movement through the stretching of the body.”

Visitors have been intrigued by the sculptures in a way that delights Hunchak.

“This past Sunday, I saw a family looking at the Deep Plunge sculpture and all the family members were trying to do headstands and cartwheels. The mother, the kids, they are doing exactly what the artist wants you to do. People are getting it.”

That playfulness is the type of response that Kedziora aims to achieve. “I want visitors to have fun communing with the sculptures. It can show that modern art can be interesting and non-stupid, maybe even intriguing.”

Which brings us to Charlie Chaplin, who inspires the same admiration the artist has for athletes and gymnasts. “I admire Charlie Chaplin’s creative achievements. He is a hero of culture,” says Kedziora.

The statue on display shows Charlie Chaplin trying to climb a ladder to nowhere. Kedziora said he wanted to include the piece as a homage to the estate’s ongoing roof restoration.

“He told us Charlie Chaplin is specifically for you because he will help restore the roof,” says Costopulos with a laugh.

This year marks the Old Westbury Gardens 60th anniversary. Throughout that time, this is only the second sculpture exhibit on view here. Costopulos indicates she plans toinclude more exhibits in the future.

“We’re very selective of what we show at the gardens, it has to be right for us,” says Costopulos. “This exhibit gives people who’ve already seen the garden a way to explore it again anew. We hope people come out, walk around and enjoy themselves. ”

Kedziora’s sculptures keep their balance and defy gravity while being attached in only one or two places. Perched high above the ground between trees, these whimsical figures conceal the serious origin of the art form. 

“The purpose is to get people to see art in a different way and to see the gardens in a different way,” says Hunchak.

“I try to present my sculptures in different environments and spaces,” explains Kedziora. “The context of the circumstance is very important to me, and I am particularly sensitive to the culture and nature surrounding the sculptures. Old Westbury Gardens — with its rich and diverse landscapes, natural paths and impressive allées of trees, woodlands and gardens — is particularly conducive to such an approach to these issues. The history of this place enriches the message of contemporary sculptures.”

Balance in Nature

When: Now through Sept. 15. $12, $7 children 7-17.

Where: Old Westbury Gardens, 71 Old Westbury Rd., Old Westbury. (516) 333-0048 or www.oldwestburygardens.org.