Words by: Adrian Higgins, The Washington Post
Even if it were not alive, the sculpture known as "Split-Rocker" would be a mind-blowing thing. At 37 feet high and set atop a domed hill, it is surely the most playful if not wondrous piece of artwork at Glenstone, the world-class private art museum on 200 acres in Potomac, Md. And yes, "Split-Rocker" is alive. From mid-spring to mid-autumn 24,000 annuals produce maybe a million blossoms to turn the sculpture into a tapestry of nature's modulated hues.
"Split-Rocker" is the creation of Jeff Koons, perhaps America's most famous contemporary artist and one of its most polarizing. To some, he is a genius who elevates the banal into work powerful enough to alter our imagination and to rekindle childhood wonderment. Others see him as an artist who skillfully caters to an art market where the hyper-rich go to have fun while investing their money.
Koons is best known for his "Balloon Dog," fashioned from highly polished and coloured stainless steel. Its orange version, one of five, sold for $58.4 million in 2013, making it the most expensive sculpture by a living artist. At 10 feet high, "Balloon Dog" is big but not monumental. Its mirror-like curves provide sharp, discernible surfaces. By contrast, "Split-Rocker" reads like a gigantic fuzzy green folly on the landscape.
As you approach "Split-Rocker" up a curving path, you see that it represents the heads of two child's rockers, sliced nose to nape and stuck together. One is of a toy pony, the other a dinosaur. The two sides don't quite align; the eye of the dino points forward, the eye of the pony looking out. They each have an identical yellow handle.
Art scholars see something of cubism in its fragmentation, but without the angst. Its playfulness is undeniable, and while it forces the viewer to think about the shallowness of our consumer society, it does so without apparent irony or subversiveness. As the critic Peter Schjeldahl has written: "It takes real effort not to enjoy the charm" of "Split-Rocker" and its predecessor, "Puppy." For Emily Rales, the museum's director, "Split-Rocker" also brings together the three essential worlds of Glenstone: art, architecture,and garden.
She calmly pondered "Split-Rocker" on a warm, breezy morning last May: "We always knew this would be a site for a major piece of sculpture because it was at an elevation above everything else. We looked for a long time for a showcase sculpture like this and eliminated a lot of things, and this finally came to us for sale. It was in the possession of a French collector, and we knew immediately when we saw pictures of it that it would be perfect for here, its scale and the way it combines horticulture with art. It brings everything together in a beautiful way."
Images: Jennifer Heffner