Patrick Dougherty and Survival of the Beautiful

Double Take Patrick Dougherty

I’m reading an amazing book that I haven’t finished, but that’s not going to keep me from writing a post about it. It’s simply good to hold back on praise—though before I say more—here’s how I stumbled onto the book, ever so circuitously.

I begin with a sad tale of how I missed my chance to see new work by Patrick Dougherty during my visit to California three weeks ago. He’s created over 200 monumental site-specific installations worldwide on the grounds of major museums, universities and botanical gardens. Land art par excellence!

I had traipsed nearly a mile to the San Jose Mueum of Quilts and Textiles to see Mark Adams’stunning retrospective of quilts, which put me into a swoon. Chatting with a volunteer about the exhibit, she asked if I was an artist.”Yes,” I said.

What’s kind of artist?  “An installation artist.”

That answer is often followed by another question: What’s an installation artist?  But no. Instead she told me about volunteering for an installation artist, who created outdoor sculpture with willow branches and twigs. She couldn’t remember the name.

“Patrick Dougherty, by any chance?” I asked.  Yes, that’s him, she said.

If only … if only I’d asked the volunteer for more details. But too hot, too tired, at that point, I hurried to catch a train back to Palo Alto. So I didn’t know the Dougherty installation she assisted with—Double Take—was on view at the Palo Alto Art Center. Just a few blocks from my hotel. Grrrrrrrrrr … did I ever mess up!

Survival of the Beautiful bookI didn’t discover my missed opportunity until after I returned home from California. My curiosity piqued, I checked Dougherty’s website to see what he’s been up to.  There it was, Double Take, installed a year ago in January 2011, and its still holding steady, continuing to enchant.

My booby prize? It’s a beauty (no pun intended)—the book, Evolution of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution by David Rothenberg. It’s headlined on Dougherty’s website because—you’ll understand why when you read the book—there is an entire chapter devoted to his work. Hint:  Many of the artist’s outdoor installations bear striking resemblance to nest building of the Bower Bird, the courtship behavior of which the author begins his book.

I’ve yammered too long.

Here’s a bit of a teaser to tempt you, a four-minute gem of an interview with Rothenberg, which is worth viewing even if you don’t read the book!


Image Top: Photo credit Stephanie Lee