Sculpture on Main Street: Lady Liberty’s gown? Don’t ask, it’s art

A statement about immigrants stands proudly on Main Street.

The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art has set out alongside Ridgefield’s beloved principal thoroughfare “We the People (detail)” by Dahn Vo, a Vietnamese-born sculptor. It’s part of the museum’s Main Street Sculpture Project, dating back to 2004.

What the artist Vo has done is create a replica of the Statue of Liberty, but in pieces rather than as a whole, and displayed those pieces all over. One of them is now in front of the Aldrich.

Publicizing the sculpture’s Main Street landing, Emily Devoe of the Aldrich wrote:

We the People (detail) is one of 250 individual parts of the artist’s 1:1 replica of the Statue of Liberty. Vo’s segmented version was never intended to be assembled, but rather to allow the viewer to experience the world-famous icon on a human scale and to reflect the idea of liberty from multiple perspectives.”

Hmmmm. Including, presumably, the perspective of befuddled passersby.

The Main Street Sculpture series has a long and memorable history, some of it highlighting the multiple perspectives to be found on many, if not all, aspects of reality — and art.

There’s the perspective of thoughtful and educated insiders conversant in the implied meanings that live half-hidden in works of contemporary art. These initiates include artists, critics, collectors — presumably including Eric Diefenbach and James Keith Brown, who loaned the work to the Aldrich. And, to be fair, that perspective may also be shared many folks who just happened to like modern art — and put a bit of time into looking at it, thinking about it.

But there’s also the perspective of the rest of humanity.

This, often enough, might be summed up as: “Say what?”

Goddess, rats, hutch

Locals who have wandered down Main Street now and then over the years may recall a few of the Main Street Sculpture project’s highlights — some but not all of which appear to draw on the “let’s tweak the Philistines’ noses” ethic that has brought joyous giggles to a portion of modern art world at least since an inspired Dadaist thought to move a urinal from the men’s room to the gallery space wall. (Living in the age of Google, it doesn’t take long to learn that inspired Dadaist was Marcel Duchamp, and he did his ‘urinal as art’ thing back in 1917.)

The Aldrich’s Main Street Sculpture series has over the years included memorable works that a grumpy Philistine might describe as: The Greek Goddess with Watermelon; The Rats in the Trees; The Signs to Nowhere; and, farther back, The Thing That Looks Like A Hutch; the Big Baby; and, of course, enormous and much-beloved, The Thumb.

There were, no doubt, others. But these were memorable. They made an impression. And some inspired — as any contemporary artist worthy of the title would doubtless love — a bit of controversy here in our aggressively quaint suburb.

Memory suggests that the The Thumb, the Big Baby (looking a little too jolly in his diapers) and, of course, the more recent Rats in the Trees inspired some expressions of dismay and opposition from locals who felt this sort of art might be profound or provocative or whatever, but it wasn’t appropriate — at least not for being put right out there on Ridgefield’s beloved faux-colonial Main Street.

In contrast, The Thing That Looks Like A Hutch, in its time, inspired little or no indignation — presumably because people felt it might be mistaken for a piece of furniture inadvertently left behind by the movers.

The museum appears to take the placing of strange things on Main Street quite seriously.

“From its inception in 1964, the Aldrich has consistently exhibited sculpture on its front lawn adjacent to Main Street…,” Devoe wrote.

“In 2004, following the construction of its new building the museum formally inaugurated the Main Street Sculpture Project, an ongoing exhibition of outdoor works sited in this most visible of locations on the Aldrich’s campus.

“Over the course of the past 14 years 19 works have been installed in the Main Street location, with 10 of them specially commissioned by the museum. The range of artists span from the well-known (Julian Opie and Tony Matelli, Roy McMakin, Allison Smith) to the emerging (Ester Partegàs, Frank Poor, Peter Liversidge) and have explored a range of approaches and materials including inflatable works, illuminated signs, cast concrete, digital LED animation, and fabricated aluminum.

“The commissioning of new outdoor works for the project is an important part of the museum’s mission of providing opportunities for artists that are above and beyond their normal resources. The museum funds either all or part of fabrication costs on commissioned works, and covers all aspects of transport and installation for all sculpture chosen for the project.

“It can be argued that the Main Street Sculpture Project is the most important of all of the Aldrich’s initiatives in that it broadcasts in very public way the nature of the institution, as well as acting as a bridge between the community and the museum…”

People walking down Main Street, she noted, will stop to look at and take pictures of the sculpture — often ‘selfies’ or shots with friends and family beside the artworks.

“Beginning in 2019, the museum wishes to reinvigorate its entire campus with outdoor sculpture,” Devoe wrote, “and the Main Street location with be the focal point of this effort.”

Lady Liberty

It would be difficult to argue that sculptor Dahn Vo’s pieces of the Statue of Liberty do not constitute a serious statement — and a lot of work.

The Aldrich’s Devoe wrote: “Made using repoussé (hammered metal), the same technique employed by the French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi to create the original statue in 1876, the individual parts of Vo’s segmented version have been dispersed around the world and have to date been exhibited in more than 15 countries.”

And this is, after all, the Statue of Liberty — Lady Liberty, the cherished symbol that has stood in New York Harbor for 132 years now, welcoming refugees and immigrants. “Give me your tired, your poor, your sons of rich developers yearning to be...” Oh, God help us. And apologies to Emma Lazarus.

It also seems a safe bet to say the sculpture is a statement on refugees since Vo, who now works out of both Germany and Mexico, was once a refugee himself.

“In 1979, when Vo was four years old, his family fled Vietnam in a homemade boat and were rescued at sea by a Danish freighter; they eventually settled in Denmark, where he grew up,” Devoe wrote. “His early life as a refugee and his assimilation into European culture are reflected in Vo’s art, while his reimagining of the Statue of Liberty takes on increased urgency in our current moment in time, where immigration and refugee crises have become issues of both national and worldwide debate.”

Increased urgency — no argument there.

So, stroll down Main Street and check out the former refugee’s take on Lady Liberty — and take a selfie with a carefully recreated section of the folds of her gown.

And what’s next for Main Street?

The minds races, overloads, and comes to smoking halt on the image of the “Duck a l’Orange” —a multimedia project that involves local decoy artist Kevin Kerrigan creating an enormous wooden mallard, to be topped for pseudo-Daddist giggles by a wig-maker’s facsimile of the presidential comb-over.