The plastic cups of sprouting Blue Aster and Partridge Pea won’t stay in Meg Webster’s UV-lit world forever, but they are there for now. Some are thriving while others are not, perhaps they will someday soon. The ones that make it will be replanted on Governors Island, where these types of flowers are native. This is also where “Wave," —an exhibition of Webster's work that blends new commissions with revivals of her past projects—is on view at The Arts Center on the island. The initiative is part of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s summer art programming.
The installation in question, Growing Piece, represents a version of Webster we’ve seen before: namely, in the midst of constructing working nurseries the cold of the white cube. This iteration of her signature garden installation sits like a runner on the floor. Mirrored panels form a pedestal on top of which the seedlings sit; the metal wings are bent so as to reflect back any light spill from overhead lamps, which drown the whole scene in a disturbing purple. It’s a crime scene of abstract maneuvers that can hit the same demonic chord as an action painting if you can get into the idea that plants are just as capable of surprise and gesture as Jackson Pollock ever was. I can when I squint.
This feeling carries over to another idiosyncratic moment in the show—Moss Mound (2021), which rises up like a belly from the wood floor. The seams of its making are more evident up close, but they also become an abstraction—a living collage that comes into focus as you zoom into the different colonies of life. As these sculptures play on the masculinity, and maybe even the absurdity, of minimalism, it is perhaps no wonder that they seem to get better the longer you spend with them.
The rug deposits us at a series of early blown glass sculptures, which appear scattered on the floor like teeth. Titled Largest Glass Sphere, this 1997 work looks to be a premonition of the "Growing Piece" series. Its hollow vessels, which capture the physical limitation of human breath within the glass-blowing process, are evocative of seeds—albeit markedly less reliant on nature as their co-conspirator. They are comfortable being irrationally compelling forms, generous with a viewer’s projections. It feels good to know Webster affords the observer the same freedoms as she does her vegetal collaborators.
Webster is a groomer of chaotic good. She is able to neatly wrap our interspecies dependence into something no less neat, as the result speaks volumes to its context: a national park project unfolding only a seven-minute ferry ride from the thick of Wall Street. —Kat Herriman
Meg Webster, Growing Piece, 2021. Galvanized steel, peat, potting plants, plants, grow lights, 54 x 3 feet. Photos by Ian Douglas, courtesy of Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.