Oliver Ranch

I’ve been invited to visit Oliver Ranch a couple of times over the years; it is always a different experience, and yet the same sculptures, the same Northern California rolling hills, the same native oaks, never changing, there for centuries. But then on a long walk through the land you forget the sameness; suddenly, you find yourself in front of these sculptures that seem unseen, that always offer a fresh revelation.  And like the oaks and the hills they make you feel they have been there for centuries, not a mere 20 years.

The artists who come here, on a creative retreat as it were, must live on the ranch, experience the land and the result is born there on the spot. And it stays there, never to be moved, never to be sold. I deeply admire Steve and Nancy Oliver for that, for their vision and commitment to art and for sharing their collection with others.

All 18 installations on the land are poetic. They each tell a story, against the rhythm of the trees and hills around them. From a footprint in Miroslaw Balka’s childhood home in Poland, to Bruce Newman’s staircase sculpture….

And there is Ann Hamilton‘s Tower, where commissioned dance, poetry, theatre, and music performances take place. The Tower goes almost as far into the earth as it does into the air, with concrete piers driven deep into the ground and a large, thick concrete pad for the tower to rest upon. It’s open to the sky at the top, with a water cistern at the base.

I especially love Roger Barry’s steel bridge. On the summer and winter solstices, the shadow cast on the ground is only from its respective arch. On the spring and autumnal equinoxes, the shadow cast is exactly split by a strip of light that comes down through the center of the arch. The accuracy of this shadow split by the light is within one millimeter.

On the hike thru the hills you see other impressive sculptures by famous artists like Martin Puryear, Richard Serra, Terry Allen, Ellen Driscoll, Bill Fontana, Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, Andy Goldsworthy, Dennis Leon, Jim Melchert, Fred Sandback, Judith Shea, Robert Stackhouse and Ursula Von Rydingsvard.

Artists invited to the ranch live in a studio designed by Jim Jennings. The studio is actually a pair of residential units framed by two concrete walls that provide an elongated surface on which David  Rabinowitch has carved an intricate design — in dialogue with Jennings’s architecture The two seemingly parallel poured-in-place concrete walls cut through the hill.  Whenever I am there I think how this would make such a perfect refuge.

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