Curating Sculptures Outdoors: Report of the Online Club with SMACH. and ARTZUID

Nature is a dynamic setting for displaying art. Outdoor exhibitions offer unparalleled possibilities but at the same time bring on a range of challenges. During Online Club in January, Cintha van Heeswijck from ARTZUID (NL) and Michael Moling with Katy Moling from SMACH. (IT), presented their large-scale curatorial projects and shared fascinating insights into the realities of displaying sculptures in urban and natural environments.

Sjoerd Buisman 'Untitled (Sphere)', Photo JWKaldenbach, Courtesy ARTZUID 2017.png
Sjoerd Buisman 'Untitled (Sphere)', Photo JWKaldenbach, Courtesy ARTZUID 2017

Art in the Majestic Wilderness

SMACH. is an exceptional land-art project initiated by Michael Moling and Iaco Rigo in 2012. It brings together an open-air biennial in the South Tyrolean Dolomites and Val dl’Ert (Art Valley), a permanent sculpture park located in San Martino in Badia. In 2018, the non-profit association SMACH. was founded to warrant the project’s goals: the art competition, the art valley, and collateral events. SMACH. team focuses on combing art with nature and securing the harmonious coexistence of the two elements while introducing monumental sculptures to the majestic alpine landscape.

Blending Sculpture with Nature

Conor McNally 'Ciasa' Bray Ireland Location Pra de Pütia, Antermëia (2019), Photo Courtesy SMACH.
Conor McNally 'Ciasa' Bray Ireland
Location Pra de Pütia, Antermëia (2019),
Photo Courtesy SMACH.

Artists from all around the world are invited to apply to the Biennale’s open call. A jury of prominent artists and curators chooses 10 creators, who then move to the art valley for a few weeks-long residency. When selecting the proposals, the jury focuses on how sculptures promote deep and continuous awareness of historical, cultural, and traditional aspects of the area. Artists are requested to employ natural, local materials and consider sculptures’ durability and resilience to harsh and often extreme weather conditions of the Dolomites.

The forces of nature are indeed not to be underestimated. Many artworks got destroyed by strong winds or heavy snow. In 2019, the team of SMACH. volunteers had to repair ’Ciasa’ — Conor McNally’s simplified house structure with a bench in the middle provoking reflections on the idea of security and fragility — whose steel construction got smashed by the gusts of alpine wind. While some ungrateful visitors also tend to devastate artworks, positive public interventions are not uncommon. In 2017, ‘Space Days’ — a wooden sculpture of an astronaut by Italian artist Fabiano De Martin Topranin — was enhanced by a local minorities’ flag that some hikers placed next to the artwork. SMACH. cares for making artworks accessible too. In 2013, Patricija Gilyte, a Germany-based Lithuanian artist, created ‘Braille Panorama’ — a remarkable relief of the Sass de Pütia mountain encoded in Braille.

Fabiano De Martin Topranin 'Space Days' (2017), Photo Courtesy SMACH..jpeg
Fabiano De Martin Topranin 'Space Days' (2017), Photo Courtesy SMACH.

The Art Valley

Importantly, SMACH. treats natural locations with the utmost respect to preserve the delicate biological, environmental and agricultural balance. At the same time, the organisation wants to redefine the idea of space and challenge the belief of the indisputable domination of nature. The exhibition showcases works that engage with natural environment to create a new, transformative language.

One of the artworks from each Biennale, along with other sculptures either bought or donated, joins Val dl’Ert, a park that currently has 24 sculptures on display. While art is only one of the pillars of the concept, education (school visits) and collateral events (open-air concerts and screenings) are also an integral part of the art valley.

The application call for the 6th edition of SMACH. opens on 1 December 2022. The approaching biennial sounds exciting, with plans to situate sculptures along a 72 km long trekking path and a major educational programme inviting 120 students to create art with natural materials.

Kei Nakamura 'The reflection of the sky' (2013), Photo Courtesy SMACH..jpeg
Kei Nakamura 'The reflection of the sky' (2013), Photo Courtesy SMACH.

ARTZUID — Art For All

ARTZUID is the brainchild of Cintha van Heeswijck (NL), who had worked as a lawyer until she decided to quit her job and engage with her life-long passion: art. After noticing how impersonal people’s relationships had become, with so many activities oriented towards staying indoors and watching TV, Cynthia went on a quest to liven up local communities. She initiated a project that not only introduces residents to contemporary art and makes it more accessible, but also turns a local neighbourhood into an inclusive space that encourages social interactions and stimulating conversations. In 2008, ARTZUID came into being—a Sculpture Biennale that transforms the Art-Deco Plan-Zuid urban area in Amsterdam South into an art destination, attracting 375,000 visitors annually.

John Chamberlain 'Mermaidsmisschief' (2009), Photo JWKaldenbach, Courtesy ARTZUID 2015.jpeg
John Chamberlain 'Mermaidsmisschief' (2009), Photo JWKaldenbach, Courtesy ARTZUID 2015
Barry Flanagan 'Large Nijinski on Anvil Point' (2001), Photo JWKaldenbach, Courtesy ARTZUID 2019
Barry Flanagan 'Large Nijinski on Anvil Point' (2001),
Photo JWKaldenbach, Courtesy ARTZUID 2019

Every odd year, the exhibition opens in May and stays on until September. The Biennale presents 70 exceptional sculptures, with 10 of them being commissioned specifically for the event. While ARTZUID shows artworks by many renowned international artists, such as Marina Abramović, Jan Fabre, Antony Gormley, Allan Kaprow, Yayoi Kusama, Joan Miró, Sarah Lucas, Jean Tinguely, or Erwin Wurm, the organisation always introduces emerging Dutch talents.

Behind-the-scenes: Struggels & Awards

Cintha offered a unique insight into the backstage of establishing and managing an event of such a calibre. A mesmerising exposition that the public encounters is preceded by a year of fundraising, eight months of managing logistics, and three intense weeks of physically putting the show together. Despite limited funds for promoting the event, ARTZUID attracts considerable media attention and prominent public figures and celebrities come to the exhibition’s opening: in 2015, ARTZUID was personally opened by HRH Princess Beatrix.

Frank Stella 'Inflated Star and Wooden Star' (2014), Photo JWKaldenbach, Courtesy ARTZUID 2015.jpeg
Frank Stella 'Inflated Star and Wooden Star' (2014), Photo JWKaldenbach, Courtesy ARTZUID 2015

ARTZUID is an impressive undertaking that has presented a total of 350 artworks by 250 artists since 2009. 45,000 schoolchildren have participated in the ARTZUID educational programme, which constitutes an integral part of the Biennale with numerous guided tours and art camps. In recognition of tremendous organisational effort and positive impact, the Biennale was named the ‘best neighbourhood initiative’ by Amsterdam residents, receiving the Oranje Fonds Kroonappels award in 2013.

Erwin Wurm 'Big Pumpkin', Photo JWKaldenbach, Courtesy ARTZUID 2013
Erwin Wurm 'Big Pumpkin', Photo JWKaldenbach,
Courtesy ARTZUID 2013

Nature has long been an inspiration for artists. Organisers of ARTZUID and SMACH. pay special attention to devote adequate time to each artist and ensure that sculptures enter into compelling dialogues with the surroundings. The intriguing juxtapositions between artworks and the natural environment transform outdoor spaces into unique galleries that share awe-inspiring sculptures with the public, creating respect and admiration for art.


Marek Wolynski 2021 - sculpture network.jpg

Author: Marek Wolynski
Marek Wolynski is a London-based curator, creative producer, and art writer passionate about supporting innovative projects and nurturing collaborative partnerships. His practice has been increasingly focused on facilitating inspiring, multi-sensory experiences and engagement strategies. Marek is particularly interested in the interplay between art, nature, and technology.

February 2022

Cover picture: Patricija Gilyte 'Braille Panorama' (2013), Photo Courtesy SMACH.






Scroll to top of the page