Crystal Bridges unveils new outdoor installation

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s latest outdoor installation — a chaise lounge made of stainless steel and stones — “isn’t that big, but weighs a lot,” said artist Celeste Roberge of her creation titled Chaise Gabion.

Gabions, from the Italian word gabbione, are cages, cylinders or boxes filled with rocks, concrete or sometimes sand and soil that are used in civil engineering, road building and military applications. Roberge has been working with different kinds of rocks in various shapes since the 1980s.

“I like to use them in unusual ways,” she said.

She developed a prototype for Chaise Gabion for Emory University in Atlanta and has one on display at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine. Crystal Bridges acquired the fourth of several she’s fabricated.

The steel framework was developed digitally using software that is used by architects and engineers for computer-aided design and drafting. The types of stones or rocks used to fill the sculpture vary from piece to piece.

“It just depends on what’s available,” she said.

Crystal Bridges’ lead preparator, Chuck Flook, said Roberge’s piece, which is about the size of an actual lounge chair, weighs about 1,300 pounds and includes 17 75-pound bags of Mexican beach pebbles. It took two days to sort the rocks by size and then another three days to arrange them and place then by hand into Roberge’s sculpture. It took a team of four preparatorsto complete the piece on site, with Claire Pongonis doing most of the work, Flook said.

“(Roberge) gave us very specific instructions about how she wanted the stones placed and the sequence- to provide the overall end result and look,” he said.

Visitors are welcome to sit and lounge on Roberge’s work and take in the view from the museum’s East Terrace.

Though the chair may not look comfortable, Roberge said it is.

She’s also known for incorporating furniture into stonework, such as stacking chaise lounges and other pieces in walls of stone.

“It’s like the furniture is a fossil within the stone wall,” Roberge said.

There are currently 14 works placed along the Crystal Bridges trails and a few more will follow early next year, said Diane Carroll, media relations manager for the museum.

“This sculpture was acquired before the museum’s opening, and we’re now in the final stages of placing all of the outdoor sculptures in our collection along the trails,” she said. “As spring comes, be looking for some colorful additions to our sculpture trails.”

Roberge is expected to visit Crystal Bridges in April while participating in one of the Artosphere programs at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. She’ll be a guest speaker during a lecture titled “Artists Collaborating with Nature.”