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Solitary spirit

John Henry's Wandering Spirit packs sufficient emotion and influence to justify a one-piece exhibition.

By BRANDY STARK

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 5, 2001


John Henry's Wandering Spirit packs sufficient emotion and influence to justify a one-piece exhibition.

A monument of intersecting lines and divergent planes stands in the Courtyard Sculpture Garden at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art.

The work is the sole feature of the "John Henry: Wandering Spirit" exhibition. Yet, through its complex system of symmetry, angles, intersecting points and parallel and perpendicular lines, this sculpture contains enough intrigue to make it a worthy show.

John Henry is a world-renowned sculptor. Born in 1943 in Lexington, Ky., Henry became a major figure in the large-scale sculpture movement in the United States. His career spans 30 years of works, many of which are installed in public arenas.

This is the third showing of Wandering Spirit. The piece belongs to a larger project initiated by Henry's creation of a sculpture for a deacquisitioned church in Panicale, Italy. The artist believed the church still was a spiritual space. He created the original construction for Wandering Spirit, installed in September 2000, to fill its 30-by-40-foot dimensions.

The second viewing took place in San Galgano, Italy. Henry was attracted to another former church because of its monumental scale, Gothic arches and masonry columns. The exhibit focused on blending contemporary art and ancient architecture.

After spending the summer at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art, the work will move on to its last destination, the Thomas McCormick Gallery in Chicago. Chicago is the birthplace of Henry's career. For many years, he maintained a studio in Miami.

Each installation of Wandering Spirit is slightly different; for each showing Henry adjusts the sculpture to best suit the allotted areas.

Wandering Spirit is like a drawing in space, lines shooting forth from two central clusters. Based upon its original design, a labyrinth of lines confronts the viewer, converging and departing from one another. The overall effect of the sculpture ultimately denies the literal weight of the material by creating a sensation of lightness and stopped motion.

Constructed of welded aluminum, the piece's finish has been left primarily in its natural state. In Florida's intense sunshine, the lines exude their own supernatural glow, in apparent agreement with the sculpture's spiritual title.

Walk around the solitary work, and the light creates further illusions by playing tricks on the eyes. As reflected sunlight moves with the audience, leaping from plane to plane, lifelike energy blazes forth from the metallic beams. In this, Wandering Spirit achieves the artist's goal by transforming itself from mere metal to embodiment of solid spirit.

PREVIEW

"John Henry: Wandering Spirit" through Aug. 2 at Gulf Coast Museum of Art, 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo. $3 adults; $2 seniors, students with valid ID and children 12 and younger; members free. Free on Thursdays. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays, noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Call (727) 518-6833.

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