The internet website of the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, proclaims that its “curatorial focus… is to present the work of both established and emerging sculptors,” which is to say, both well-known sculptures of Seward Johnson and works of his that most people have not heard about. From the large sign affixed to the side of the Seward Johnson Visitor Center to the scores of life-size bronze figures strewn about the Grounds, the man’s presence is ubiquitous and unavoidable. Though the artist apparently has “no formal training besides a series of classes in Cambridge, MA,” his strikingly (and somewhat terrifyingly) lifelike humanoid fabrications sent a chill down my inhuman spine. Msr. Johnson is the grandson of the famous Robert Wood Johnson (whose name is affixed to a few other well-known edifices readers are sure to recognize… My, those Johnsons are exceedingly fond of stamping their names on buildings. But who would oppose them, with a name as striking as Johnson?) and one of the heirs to the very sizable fortune invested in the Johnson & Johnson corporation.
Behold this man here. The man on the bench. He appears to doze, does he not? Ah, but in fact, he cannot, because he is made of bronze! Fooled you, says Seward Johnson! Got you again, silly people! See how the fake man uses his loafers as a pillow? Good one, Seward!
Then there is the massive bronze replica of Abraham Lincoln, standing beside a statue of a somewhat befuddled-looking fellow in corduroys. One assumes the confused one is the sculptor himself. Look up, Lincoln seems to urge him, at the metaphorical clouds and gaze into the future I bequeathed to this great nation, this prosperous country which will produce and nurture such singular icons as Seward Johnson, Band-Aid magnate and artiste extraordinaire.
After an exhaustive tour of the Grounds – a perambulation punctuated by moments of sheer terror, as, for example, the hellish, bronze visage of a laughing woman in a Victorian-era sunhat appeared among the bushes like an apparition – the true value of the artwork finally seeped into my four-inch-thick skull. It was all a sign. Yes, the #artist and I experienced a silent moment of communion. Perhaps it happened as I crouched by a stream bed, frozen in contemplation, while a family of towheaded Scandinavians stopped to take my photograph. Unwittingly, I had imitated the master’s master theme. And so, haha, dear reader, life imitates art. Or, rather, #art. I will not take this lesson for granted.
Mental note – apply for mime permit from the City of New York and stand on 43rd and 7th Ave for as long as possible. Sign photographs. Fame ensues. Bring copies of memoir. Voila. This is what publishers call “building a platform.”
My thanks, Msr. Johnson! You have inspired yet another generation of budding artists. In the end, that is all that matters. A job well done, sir.