Concentrations 51: Mark Handforth

For a specific site in the Dallas Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden, Mark Handforth has created an enormous, lively, and surreal sculpture standing over fifteen feet tall. Made by “braiding” or “interlocking” basically three industrial found objects—an I-beam found at a demolition site, a working red-lighted lamppost, and huge anchor chains (each a foot long)—the work is perceived as a giant cobra snake, uncoiling and dancing, its red head reaching above the garden walls. In his proposal to the Museum, the artist stated, “The chain snake is an oversized readymade, an aggrandized piece of folk art—the kind of thing you might put your mailbox on, but of catastrophic proportion.”

Absurd and elegant, figurative and abstract, Handforth’s Dallas Snake animates the space, conversing with and taking on the large “formal” sculptures nearby, such as Tony Smith’s Willy (destroyed in 1962; fabricated in 1978), which is comprised of black geometric forms. Barely containing a pulsating energy, the snake seems to pull itself together, building up the necessary momentum to “climb” over the walls and escape the “prison yard.” Rising above the walls and peaking through the trees, its red-lighted head watches life on the other side of the walls, both night and day—passersby, high-rise buildings, and even its boring cousins, the everyday streetlamps along the sidewalk. The snake is both a voyeur and an assertive playmate, watching and wanting to take on the Museum’s Mark di Suvero (Ave, 1973), made from I-beams, and the masterpieces of modern sculpture in the Nasher Sculpture Center across the street.

Produced for the exhibition Concentrations 51: Mark Handforth at the Dallas Museum of Art March 23–September 24, 2007