The Nature of Horses

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Review

of an Exhibit

by Jodie Gorochow

Published on May 31, 2015

  • Museum: Denver Botanic Gardens

  • Visit Date: May, 2015

  • Description:

    One day at the Denver Art Museum three of artist Debra Butterfield’s horse sculptures, Willy, Argus and Lucky, were lifted out of the campus with a crane and put on a truck to be delivered down the road to the Denver Botanic Gardens. As they were leaving I became sadden by the fact that these personable horse in which I have come to know were leaving their long and trusted home. This drove me to visit the newly opened exhibition titled, “The Nature of Horses” at the Denver Botanic Gardens in which sixteen of Butterfield’s horses were displayed throughout the terrain of the garden including the three from the Denver Art Museum.

    When I first entered the gardens I was hit with two horse sculptures that were facing each other. It was as if I was walking up to a moment frozen in time of these horses interacting. The label for these pieces introduces the mobile app where they offered an audio tour from the artist. As I started to search for an introduction to the exhibition, I noticed this information featured in the map and guide. The information gave me little insight into the pieces in the exhibition and the overall message of the exhibition. Throughout the exhibition most of the interpretation had to be sought after by the visitor, either through exploring the map and guide, listening to the audio tour or finding the about the artist video in a pavilion.

    As I began to wander through the garden, since there was no set path for the exhibition, I realized the power of these sculptures in nature. It was if I was happening upon these horses in their natural environment. The personalities came to life as I came by a horse bending down to eat grass, or relaxing by the water catching some shade. Each label only features the horses’ names, epitomizing the liveliness of each sculpture.

    I continued exploring the gardens and found new horses on the way I started to see tree branches that could of looked like the legs or body of Butterfield’s horse sculptures, but weren’t, they were just trees. This highlighted the trick to the eye Butterfield plays on the visitor with her bronze casted from wood horse sculptures. The sculptures look so much like real branches, they blend in to the environment and it is hard to tell the difference. By exhibiting these sculptures outside, I started looking even closely at the horses and amazed by the artistic process of Butterfield.

    The simplicity of the exhibition let me bring in my imagination as I started to dream up what their next move might be as I caught them frozen in time. By exhibiting these objects within the depths of the garden it transforms the object form a work of art to a lively friend that you so desperately want to pet.

    I started to listen to the tour given by Butterfield and began to understand the intentionally of the placement of each horse. She explained why each horse was placed in certain gardens as it spoke to the materials she used to create that specific horse. This information highlighted for the visitor the surrounding garden and made me look closer at both the horse and the unique environment created with different floral and fauna. This placement honored the different types of wood Butterfield cast in bronze to create the horses.

    Throughout this exhibition I was longing for more information that was featured on the audio guide in front of the piece so that I did not have to pull my phone out every time I crossed paths with a horse. However, the limited information at first sight helped me solely look and imagine. Overall, this exhibition was unique and thoughtful in its design. The artist and exhibit designers took into consideration the personality, the positioning, and the materials of each horse to decide its placement with in the gardens. This intentionality in design choices helped illuminate Butterfield process both to bring these sculptures to life and highlight the illusions she plays with the visitors’ eyes. Is it a pile of sticks? Is it a horse? Is it wood? This exhibition left room for every visitor to come up with their own answers at each point they happen upon a horse.

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