Arts & Entertainment and Travel & Tourism

Sculpture will highlight FMG celebration

Work by Chinese artist and lecture are part of attraction’s 20th anniversary.

February 20, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Ai Weiwei iron tree
Ai Weiwei’s sculpture, “Iron Tree,” features 99 iron pieces cast from individual tree parts. Courtesy Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

As Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park nears its official 20th anniversary, more of the year’s celebrations are coming to light.

A major sculpture acquisition will be dedicated on the official anniversary April 20. “Iron Tree” is by Ai Weiwei, a renowned Chinese artist who is under house arrest and limited to travel in China because of his opinions on free speech and human rights.

The tree is made from 99 iron pieces cast from individual tree parts from southern China and held together with oversized stainless-steel bolts. The sculpture started out as a steely gray, but exposed to weather has turned to a rusty orange and will darken for several years.

“The opportunity to acquire such a profoundly important work by one of the most significant artists of our time is a truly momentous occasion,” said Joseph Becherer, Meijer Gardens vice president and chief curator. “Although the artist is unable to travel, we have worked very closely with him to place the work and develop the site.”

Meijer Gardens has worked with Weiwei’s Beijing studio and foundry and a London gallery to bring the piece to Grand Rapids, with a formal dedication planned for 6:30 p.m. April 20. A lecture by Becherer about the artist will follow the ceremony.

Weiwei’s work ranges from single objects to large installations and collaborations such as the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics. His work has been hosted in solo exhibits in Berlin, London, Miami, Brooklyn and San Francisco, and he was named the most powerful artist in ArtReview’s 2011 annual Power 100 list. He also was one of four runners-up for Time’s Person of the Year in 2011.

A plaza will surround the tree once spring melts the snow. A gift from Fred and Lena Meijer allowed for the acquisition of the more than 22-by-22-foot tree.

As “Iron Tree” nears its dedication ceremony, the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden also is making major progress. The eight-acre project saw major landscape work completed in December’s mild winter weather, Meijer Gardens President and CEO David Hooker said.

Structural construction was mostly wrapped up by fall, including authentic Japanese structures and a functioning teahouse.

The $22 million project was one of Fred Meijer’s last requests for the park.

“This project really took its first major steps when Fred Meijer proposed the idea to me,” Hooker said. “Thanks to Fred and Lena’s generosity, along with Richard and Helen DeVos and over 200 community members, our $22 million goal was met to build and sustain this Japanese Garden for years to come.”

Hoichi Kurisu, a designer renowned for his use of space, designed the garden. The Japanese Garden uses still and rushing water, intimate and open spaces, and landscaping that offers visitors tranquility and beauty.

“We’ve worked with (Kurisu) to create a familiar and calming space, but one that will change with the season as it matures,” said Steve LaWarre, director of horticulture. “While our Japanese Garden will be ready to open in June, gardens are never really finished — it’s a living thing that will continue to take shape.”

Kurisu said the Japanese Garden will be at its peak in several decades, but the sights and sounds — from rushing waterfalls to textured boulders and formed trees — will engage visitors now.

“It has been a great honor for me to work on this very special project for Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park,” Kurisu said. “Fred Meijer’s dream for such a garden for his wife, Lena, and of Richard and Helen DeVos, has become my dream, too. My wish is that the beauty and tranquility of this space will touch visitors very deeply for many generations to come.”

Seven contemporary sculptures from international artists will be displayed in the Japanese Garden. Works from Anish Kapoor, Zhang Huan, David Nash, Masayuki Koorida, George Rickey, Jenny Holtzer and Giuseppe Penone will be placed throughout the eight acres.

“Although in many ways this is a very traditional Japanese garden and reflects centuries of tradition, it also is uniquely forward thinking through the inclusion of contemporary sculpture,” Becherer said. “Reflecting the very mission of Meijer Gardens at large, and the commitment to horticulture and sculpture, the careful selection of these seven works makes a significant contribution to the collection and to the larger notion of collecting within the history of art.”

To celebrate the opening of the Japanese Gardens, throughout the year Meijer Gardens is hosting “Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan,” a three-part exhibit bringing pottery, scrolls, kimonos, and paper and wood artwork from Shiga, Michigan’s sister state in Japan. For many of the pieces in the exhibit, it is the first time being shown outside of Shiga.

By the time the Japanese Gardens opens in June, the Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts at Meijer Gardens will be underway. The series brings famous musical acts to Grand Rapids every year, and while the complete lineup will be announced in April, Meijer Gardens announced three of the concerts this month.

On June 21, Trombone Shorty from New Orleans will play the amphitheater. Shorty began playing at the age of 12 before touring worldwide with Lenny Kravitz. He released his Grammy-nominated debut album, “Backatown,” in 2010 and followed it up in 2011 with the Contemporary Jazz Chart-topping album “For True.” In 2013, he released “Say That to This,” which features funk and jazz elements. He played at the White House in 2012 with B.B. King, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck and Booker T. Jones.

A month later, on July 31, The Beach Boys and The Temptations will co-headline a show at the amphitheater. The Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and were honored with the 2001 Grammy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. The Temptations have played sold-out performances across the globe since their career began in Detroit in the early 1960s.

A few days after The Beach Boys and The Temptations leave the stage, five-time Grammy-winning jazz pianist Diana Krall will perform. Krall has sold more jazz albums than any other female jazz artist of the last 30 years and has produced for Barbara Streisand, arranged for Paul McCartney and toured with Neil Young. She’s released 12 studio albums, including “Wallflower” on Feb. 3.

Tickets to the concerts will be released April 25 for members of Meijer Gardens. Remaining tickets will be released to the general public May 9.

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