Turn Park transplants 1960s Russian sculpture

A quizzical Albert Einstein sits on a bench beside a brooding Niels Bohr, two early 20th-century physicists soaking in the sun. They are cast in aluminum. Vladimir Lemport, a sculptor active in Russia in the 1960s, made them at a time when their spirit — abstract, intelligent and humorous — stood in protest against the censoring government. And his spirit seems to have stood firm with them.

Now the scientists and old friends have crossed the Atlantic to settle the center of West Stockbridge, as Igor Gomberg and Katya Brezgunova have transformed an old quarry into Turn Park Art Space,16 acres of sculpture, performance spaces and gentle walking trails.

Gomberg is a computer engineer, and Brezgunova is a screenwriter and journalist. Together they have supported artistic projects in Russia and the U.S. — and now, with architects Alexander Konstantinov and Grigori Fateyev, they have imagined a home for their collection of nonconformist Soviet sculptors, broadening into contemporary and international art.

Gomberg and Brezgunova have been working for more than 10 years to make the vision real, Fateyev said. They considered building it in Prague, in the Czech Republic, among several places in Europe, but they wanted a place wholly part of the community around it.

The park opened with outdoor sculpture in stone and metal and an indoor exhibit of works on paper by Nikolai Silis — futuristic Escher-like studies of Don Quixote.

Works in wood contrast the large forms in metal and rock. Ben Butler and Jim Holl have created site-specific sculptures, including one from wood that fell here in recent storms and another from an ash tree on the property.

“It’s malleable, a live form,” Fateyev said. “The material is inherently temporal. It will wither away.”


Gomberg and Brezgunova imagined this place 10 years ago, inspired by artists they have known and collected for many years.

They wanted to show their collection, Fateyev said. They wanted to build a creative place and to hold collaborative events where people of all ages can enjoy the art in a visceral way. And they want to make the work tangible, especially for children, not to keep them at arm’s length.

They have plans in the future for two or three sculptural playgrounds commissioned from artists, said assistant director Sarah Cooke.

This spring, after years of planning, they have realized the first stage of the dream, turning a marble quarry into a sculpture park. The setting seems fitting, Fateyev said, though when the quarry was open, it mainly burned lime to make concrete. It has a lime kiln on the far side and a gravel deposit and wetlands, and as a result of gravel mining it has a pond, a flooded quarry.

At the entrance, a modern gatehouse sits among native grasses and trees, locusts and beech and a pagoda dogwood. It holds an indoor gallery that opened with a solo show of Silis’ pencil drawings and lithographs — because he chiefly inspired Gomberg and Brezgunova to create this place.

Silis drew a series around Don Quixote in melting corkscrew lines and curves of welded metal. The knight of the woeful countenance has turned half-cyborg, riding past a power grid or, a radio tower, or across a Looking-Glass-Land chessboard, like a blend of M.C. Escher and Isaac Asimov.

Beyond him, a glass wall looks out onto a terrace of marble from the quarry. It feels like a European city park, Fateyev said, a piazza, with gravel and benches and young birch trees. And here Lemport ’s Bohr and Einstein sit waiting for people to step outside.

Lemport died 10 years ago, Fateyev said, as Gomberg and Brezgunova were conceiving this place. He and Silis, along with the artist Vadim Sidur, were known as LeSS — an acronym of their names and a play on “les,” the word for forest in Russian. They became known in the 1960s as they rebelled against the artistic styles and ideas, the social realism, enforced by the soviet regime.

Their work drew government notice early on, in a large show in Moscow near the Kremlin, but their independence and fluid abstraction quickly knocked them out of favor and away from the center of power.

They were not persecuted, Fateyev said — they were not taken out and shot — but any work that did not engage in Soviet subject matter was pushed aside. They lost commissions and support for their work. They designed cultural centers in provincial towns far from Moscow, and an embassy in Nigeria, and they worked together. They shared space, inspiring each other.

Lemport and Silis’ studio became well-known as a place where people could talk freely, Fateyev said. Artists, students and scholars gathered there, like Einstein and Bohr sitting close together. Thought and energy moved there.

Lemport and Silis’ studio became well-known as a place where people could talk freely. Artists, students and scholars gathered there, like Einstein and Bohr sitting close together. Thought and energy moved there.

Lemport was known for being quick at sculpting portraits: “He would be carrying clay, and he would sculpt you as he talked with you.”

His physicists hold a note of sardonic humor, a cartoonish irony. But around the corner, along the path through the woods, Silis has carved glacial stone into a more solemn figure, a woman with her knees drawn up.

“He used to find glacial rock in the fields, carve a figure and walk away,” Fateyev said. “This one has a flow of line like his Don quixote drawings.”

Heading into the park, the setting becomes more natural, he said. A walking trail skirts the pond, and an accessible path curves from the flat roof of the building, crossing the wooded hillside to a high meadow, around stone sculpture and metal moving in the wind and heliographing to the sky.

On the grassland, Fateyev stood looking across the town to the far ridge, at the top of an intimate amphitheater designed by Konstantinov with slabs of 19th-century marble, rough stone sourced from local sites and demolished buildings.

Gomberg and Brezgunova have plans for concerts and performances here, Cooke and Fateyev said, and they hope to build Spanish steps down into town inspired by Mia Lin.

In the decade they have worked on this project, Fateyev said, they looked at sites in Europe, but in Prague they would have to build a wall around the park. Here the space can be porous — the park flows into the town, and the town has received them warmly.

‘The inspiration for the park is creating that kind of space, where engineers, writers, musicians can come” and talk together, and children can run around scientists who mapped the shape of atoms.’

West Stockbridge has its own artistic community, among Hotchkiss mobiles and John Stanmeyer’s photography at the Shaker Dam coffee house, artists and play readings at No. 6 Depot, chamber music at the historic town hall, second-hand books at Shaker Mill and homemade vanilla at Charles H. Baldwin & Sons.

Turn Park will bring a new creative center — like Lemport and Silis in their studio on Komsomolsky Prospect, with the drills jumbled on the workbench and wooden reliefs swirled on one wall, arguing over the government’s control of public architecture and dreaming over work they wanted to do.

“The inspiration for the park is creating that kind of space,” he said, “where engineers, writers, musicians can come” and talk together, and children can run around scientists who mapped the shape of atoms.”

I first visited Turn Park for a highlight in the May 2017 issue of Berkshire Magazine. My thanks to Anastasia Stanmeyer.

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