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story.lead_photo.caption A crew installs the sculpture Monochrome II by Nancy Rubins on June 7 on the North Forest Trail at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. The sculpture is fabricated from aluminum canoes and jon boats. - Photo by Ben Goff

BENTONVILLE -- Wild Bill's got an urgent call for old aluminum canoes.

Artist Nancy Rubins needed five more to finish Monochrome II, her sculpture on the grounds of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It's a gravity-defying conglomeration of about 70 aluminum boats.

"They called me Sunday kind of in a panic," said Bill Scruggs, who has run Wild Bill's Outfitter on the Buffalo River near Yellville for 27 years. "I said, 'Yeah, I've got five more canoes.' They had a truck on the road early Monday morning to get them."

Scruggs said he sold Crystal Bridges 10 canoes for the sculpture a couple of months ago. The other five brought the total to 15.

The cost? About $250 each, Scruggs said.

"I let them have them for a deal," he said. "Every year, we buy new plastic canoes and weed out the aluminums. We're down to where we don't hardly have any aluminum canoes that we put on the river anymore."

Rubins spent three weeks in Bentonville working on Monochrome II.

Besides canoes, the sculpture includes aluminum rowboats, jon boats and Instaboats, which are portable folding boats. Dents, scrapes and holes just give the boats more texture and character.

"They're used," Rubins said. "I'm getting them right before they're going to be melted down again, basically."

On Crystal Bridges' North Forest Trail, Monochrome II is 15 boats larger than when it was on display at the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles in 2010 and Chicago's Navy Pier in 2012.

It's not possible to duplicate the appearance exactly, and it's not necessary, Rubins said.

"I keep thinking that it could keep going down the road and over the trees," she said of the sculpture's cantilever-like projection.

"It looked like a massive wreck of canoes on the river, if you put it down on its side," said Scruggs, basing his assessment on a photo of the work in progress.

"When Gov. [Mike] Huckabee was in office, I served on the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission," Scruggs said. "Now I'm contributing to a pile of what looks like junk. That's kind of ironic."

But, of course, he hasn't seen the finished product.

Rubins finished the sculpture Thursday with the help of her crew and a rented crane.

Rubins said the sculpture isn't Arkansas-specific. Canoes fit everywhere, even in the desert, she said.

"We all have some history with boats, whether our grandparents came over that way or whether we used them as kids," Rubins said.

"The canoe, for example, is such a simple form, an ancient form. And it's 100 percent figurative, designed around the human figure."

Monochrome II is the largest sculpture on the museum's trail.

Crystal Bridges bought Monochrome II, so it's part of the museum's permanent collection, along with other artwork being installed along the museum's North Forest Trail.

They replace 10 large-scale glass and neon outdoor sculptures by Dale Chihuly that adorned the trail from June 3, 2017, to Nov. 13.

The trails help increase accessibility to the museum's natural landscape and new art experiences, according to a news release from Crystal Bridges.

The trails are currently available for visitors to enjoy, at no cost, from sunrise to sunset or during regular museum hours.

"For the sculptures in the forest now, we treat those like all of our permanent collection, meaning there is no set time they will come down, but rather we leave it open to be a dynamic outdoor gallery space with the possibility of adding new works and moving things around as opportunities arise," said Beth Bobbitt, a spokesman for Crystal Bridges.

According to the Gagosian Gallery, which facilitated the sale of Monochrome II to Crystal Bridges, "Rubins takes used or discarded industrial materials and objects and transforms them into monumental sculptures whose scale and forceful presence have an overwhelming physical impact. Rubins acts as an intermediary between the past and future states of her chosen materials, crafting them into sculptures while maintaining the discrete identities of their constituents."

Rubins said the boats of Monochrome II weigh 75 to 100 pounds each. She had holes drilled in the boats -- the boats that didn't already have holes, that is -- so they'll drain water after it rains.

"Water is heavy," she said.

Rubins said people can touch the sculpture.

"But they shouldn't climb on it," she said. "They could get hurt."

The boats are held together with stainless steel wire, strands of which are twisted together and tied off in what Rubins calls a burrito knot. The wire is also attached to a stainless steel armature, forming a web-like structure of compression and tension.

"I'm really happy with it," she said Tuesday when there were only four more boats to install.

At one point, Rubins had the crew remove a canoe and insert a smaller boat in that space instead. The canoe was just too big for the spot, she said.

When asked if there would be interpretive sign, Rubins said, "I think the interpretation is in the mind of the viewer."

Rubins will discuss her work, but she said she understands artists who don't.

"You make the statement," she said. "It's visual. You hear it with your eyes. I can talk around it, but I can't talk about it."

Rubins said her installation crew had been breaking early in the late afternoon because of the heat and humidity. Some of the crew members stand in boats that are already installed in the sculpture as they put other boats in place.

"It's 20 degrees hotter in the boat," Rubins said. "We would have roasted people."

Rubins said she worked with scrap airplane parts for years.

"I saw a canoe that my husband had," she said. "It was a Grumman canoe. And I said, 'This looks like my airplane parts.' And he said, 'Sweetie, it's a Grumman.'"

Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp. made military airplanes. As World War II was winding down, the company began making canoes. It merged with Northrop Corp. in 1994 to form Northrop Grumman.

So, inspired by her husband's canoe, Rubins began making sculptures out of aluminum boats.

"I used a lot of everything, but when I saw these boats, I thought of them in terms of what I wanted from these airplanes," she said. "Aluminum is a marvelous material. It's lightweight and it's strong. And it looks great."

Rubins' Monochrome I sculpture, which is similar to Monochrome II, is currently on view at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y.

Rubins was born in Naples, Texas, and raised in Tullahoma, Tenn. When she was young, the family would drive through Arkansas to visit her grandmother in Oklahoma City. They also drove to New York City to visit her other grandmother.

"You know what's great about this space?" she said of Crystal Bridges. "You don't have to drive to New York City."

Some of Rubins' other sculptures include aluminum playground animals.

After World War II, airplane aluminum was melted down to make playground animals, Rubins said. She would buy the animals from playgrounds before they were melted down again.

"They were being ripped out of playgrounds and were right at the cusp of being made into whatever, a soda can, who knows what," she said. "So, that really fascinated me."

Those sculptures are part of her "Diversifolia" series.

"I am interested in the balance, the engineering and tenuousness of the objects, as well as the dynamic tension and energy," Rubins said. "A continuum starts happening with one piece attached to another ... the way that crystals or cells grow. I'm interested in the bigger picture."

Rubins said she'll spend four days at home in Topanga Canyon, Calif., before heading to London to install a "Diversifolia" exhibit there.

Other sculptures that have recently been installed along the North Forest Trail at Crystal Bridges include Tony Tasset's 12-foot-tall Deer (2015), George Rickey's One Fixed Four Jointed Lines Biased (1988), Carol Bove's Horse Lover (2016), Fletcher Benton's Steel Watercolor No. 162 (1993) and Yayoi Kusama's Flowers that Bloom Now (2017).

The North Forest Trail debuted as an outdoor gallery with the Chihuly exhibit in 2017. Besides that trail, artwork is exhibited elsewhere on the museum grounds, including the north lawn, front entrance, courtyard and Art Trail.

Photo by Ben Goff
The sculpture Monochrome II by Nancy Rubins is shown on June 7 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The sculpture includes various aluminum canoes, rowboats, jon boats and Instaboats, which are portable folding boats.
Photo by Ben Goff
A crew installs the sculpture Monochrome II by Nancy Rubins June 7 on the North Forest Trail at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The sculpture is fabricated from aluminum canoes and johnboats.
Photo by Ben Goff
Bill Shambaugh from Portland, Ore. fastens aluminum canoes together June 7 as a crew assembles the sculpture Monochrome II by Nancy Rubins on the North Forest Trail at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
Photo by Ben Goff
Nancy Rubins guides workers as they install her sculpture Monochrome II June 7 on the North Forest Trail at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

A Section on 06/18/2018

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  • LR1955
    June 18, 2018 at 10:57 a.m.

    "I think the interpretation is in the mind of the viewer." says the artist.

    I think whether it’s art or not is the opinion of the viewer too

    June 18, 2018 at 11:15 a.m.

    You can see typical Art such as this at your Local Scrap Iron Dealer in Most any Fair Sized Town,

  • MaxCady
    June 18, 2018 at 5:29 p.m.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.