The 10th annual edition of Matthew Lennon's outdoor sculpture invitational is the utter inverse of art-show-as-usual, to the immense benefit of all participants. Anonymity prevails over personality, walls give way to horizons, control to contingency. The blurry photocopy you're handed upon driving through the gate by a bemused naval security officer is all but useless as a guide—a faint map of the site with even fainter gray areas that may or may not indicate the location of artworks. But it bears the one essential injunction: "Keep your eyes open." (Oh, if you must, turn the map over for a list of the artists. But you won't find out what they called their pieces or what they had in mind.)
Horsehead Sculpture Project
Sand Point Naval Air Station
7400 Sand Point Wy NE
Mon-Fri 6pm-9pm, Sat-Sun 10-9
ends October 31
Your eyes don't have to strain to meet the first work on show. Tangled in a grove of trees just right of the gate, its limp tail festooned on walls and snaking across the water-parched lawn, is an enormous kite, abandoned to its fate by some behemoth Charlie Brown.
The piece, like Charlie Brown himself, is sad and ridiculous at once, testimony to the ultimate absurdity of aspiration, in art or any other human endeavor. But it also sets up some abiding themes that recur throughout the 25 or so other works on view: how an object's meaning subtly changes with a change in scale; how to see the perceptual shimmer at the boundary between nature and artifice, intention and accident, meaning and being.
The kite also signals that the voyage you're embarking on is going to be fun: an experiential Easter egg hunt, minus the running around and the problem of what to do with all those eggs afterwards. Even little kids can play: Can you spot the artwork? Is that band of plastic tape wrapped round a humming hulk of gray metal a real warning, a witty trope on our credulity, or both? What about those great swaths of blue plastic tarpaulin draped here and there, on the backs of buildings? Is there a lot of remodeling going on in married officers' quarters, or is there aesthetic mischief afoot?
Even if you're not playing for points, your senses quickly grow hyperalert—which is of course the not-at-all ulterior motive behind this installation and all of Lennon's installations. The dusty sky blue of a porta-pot anchors a dusky skyline of mountains and water like a dolmen painstakingly placed by a prehistoric astronomer. A curled feather fallen from a passing seagull defines a center of energy on the dusty grass.
Not all the human constructions on view try for ambiguity, but all, even the most elaborate, seem to hunker down against their surroundings, bringing their background into the foreground. The mighty earthwork thrown up by an anthropoid mole mildly calls your attention to other, more modest efforts nearby contributed by real, card-carrying members of the species Talpida hortulanis. Among the aged evergreens that shade much of the site you find three saplings, ghostly, gone before their time, roots hanging in air but crowns still aspiring to the sky. After encountering them, every humble bush you see strikes your eye like a stop-frame explosion of green flame.
Even these sparse descriptions violate the premise of this exhibition: Surprise and discovery are its very essence. A single visit is unlikely to reveal all its pleasures, which vary in visibility and tone with every change in the light. As the show continues, new elements will be added throughout the sprawling site, adding a kind of geologic time dimension to the show for repeat visitors. And visits should be repeated. You need the exercise, physical and cerebral. And on no account should you cease your ramble until you've seen the phantom balloon that hangs, pearly, just out of reach on the edge of visibility, seemingly embossed into air.