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A Sculpture Farm in the Country

Charles Hillinger's America

November 05, 1989|CHARLES HILLINGER

TOP GALLANT FARM, N.Y. — In the early-morning mist, Manhattan gallery owner Andre Emmerich drove his Jeep Cherokee over the rolling hills of his 140-acre retreat in Upstate New York.

Suddenly out of the gray clouds loomed an imposing sight--four giant needles of steel that make up Beverly Pepper's four 27-foot-high statues, titled "Central Park Plaza." The 65-year-old Emmerich has collected about 120 bronze, steel and stone sculptures and has strategically placed them on his country estate that once was a Quaker farm.

For five years, Emmerich has hauled tons of monumentally scaled contemporary sculptures by 30 artists, some internationally acclaimed, others relatively unknown, to Top Gallant, his private sculpture park.

His friends call him a modern-day Tiberius, likening him to the Roman emperor famous for a spectacular sculpture garden at his villa on the isle of Capri.

Emmerich drove on through the woods emblazoned in a breathtaking easel of fall rainbow colors. Thousands of crimson, wine, red, orange, yellow, rust and gold leaves wafted dizzily from maples, ash, spruce, pine, larch, hemlock and willows.

In a high meadow overlooking a long valley, Emmerich and his three guests encountered the largest sculpture on his farm--Anthony Caro's "After Olympia." The 77 feet of twisted, rounded, oval and oblong shapes resembled a freight train.

As Emmerich explained, Anthony Caro's inspiration for 'After Olympia' came during a visit to Mt. Olympus in Greece. The huge piece was exhibited on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum last summer. It was brought here in pieces and reassembled.

Only a few of the Top Gallant abstracts are owned by Emmerich. Most still belong to the sculptors.

"Painters can store their life's work in a small room, but not sculptors," noted Emmerich as he maneuvered his jeep, now in four-wheel drive, through a gully.

"Sculpture is hard to make, hard to store, hard to sell. So the sculptor is forever faced with the problem of where to put the huge pieces."

Emmerich worried about that problem for a long time. So five years ago he bought this old Quaker farm and started moving large art works here. Transport, too, is a major concern. It isn't easy to move a piece of art weighing two or three tons.

"I represent sculptors. They don't charge me for keeping their work. I don't charge them for the space. Those clients interested in these large abstracts see photographs in my gallery. If there is a genuine interest in making a purchase, they are invited here to see specific works," said Emmerich.

Sculptures dotting Top Gallant are the world-class quality found in museums and in large lobbies of public or commercial buildings. Half a dozen pieces have left for museums, including the Houston Museum of Fine Art, Storm King Art Center and The Detroit Museum. One is now in a Spanish Embassy.

"But Top Gallant is not a sales room," insisted Emmerich. "It isn't open to the public. I do not broadcast its location. Only my guests come here."

He represents several leading painters, artists such as Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Francis, David Hockney. Sculptors whose works are at Top Gallant come from the Eastern seaboard, California, Texas, Canada, Australia, Italy and London. They include Wayne Amerine, David Annesley, Raffael Benazzi, Fletcher Benton, Williard Boepple, Michael Bolus, Stanley Boxer, Anthony Caro, Mark Di Suvero, Arthur Gibbons, Charles Ginnever, Ken Greenleaf, Peter Hide, Wendy Lehman, Alexander Liberman, Clement Nieadmore.

Also, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Beverly Pepper, Joel Perlman, Naomi Press, Dina Recanati, Tony Rosenthal, Tim Scott, Daniel Sellers, Michael Steiner, James Walsh, Bernar Venet, Isaac Witkin and James Wolfe.

All the pieces, valued from $4,000 to more than $1 million, have distinctive names: Flying Dragon, Double Arcs, Vespers, Conspiracy, Potpourri, Ripcord, Haze, Ascension, Split Pyramid, Mistress of Ax, Of Quadash, Arise, Entwined, Boreal, Avatar, Gray Apron, Mute Metaphor, In the Beginning, Rain Shadow, Zag For . . .

Alexander Liberman's 26-foot-high "Mananaan" is named after a character in James Joyce's Ulysses.

For Emmerich, Top Gallant itself is a work of art. He is constantly planting and transplanting trees to provide better backgrounds to enhance the sculptures. He has a resident manager and two assistants as caretakers. Neighboring farmers mow the meadows and keep the brush down.

"In a gallery you control the light. Here nature is in control. There is morning and afternoon light, summer and winter light, shadows from the trees. Some pieces I have repositioned three or four times in an effort to capture the perfect setting, the proper light. You have to be picky on where you put it. You don't just plunk it down," he explained.

The sculptures are placed on pressure-treated, greenish-yellow wood platforms that, in time, turn an unobtrusive silver-gray from weathering.

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