On a hill overlooking a pumpkin patch in Easthampton sits a giant, empty red picture frame. Visitors to Park Hill Orchard clamber up on its platform to have their pictures taken. It’s the starting point for “Art in the Orchard 2021,” Park Hill’s biennial juried exhibition.
Treats abound at Park Hill: Golden Russett and Red Rome apples for picking, cider slushies and cider doughnuts, and 30 sculptures cannily installed among the trees and along the forest’s edge.
Fall is the time for apple picking. There’s also a great crop of outdoor art shows. The weather is temperate and inviting, and outdoor exhibitions are relatively safe and fun for the COVID-19-wary, such as parents of unvaccinated children.
The big red frame makes visitors and the orchard itself into art. It was Park Hill Orchard owner Russell Braen’s idea in the early days of the show, which started in 2011. Jean-Pierre Pasche, an orchard board member, enlisted a friend to build it.
“We never expected it to be so big,” Pasche said. “Even local people saw their own backyard in a totally different way.”
Thoughtfully installed outdoor exhibitions benefit from natural surroundings; the contrast of nature and culture makes each the sweeter. At “Art in the Orchard,” Dave Rothstein’s “Hoo Goes There?” rises out of the landscape like a Dr. Seuss creature. Look closely, and you’ll find an owl family crafted from hay.
Nearby, Daina Shobrys’s “Geranium” turns the humblest of flowers into a voluptuous, giant pink blossom made of nylon flag fabric. It lolls and sways, casting shadows on the grass like any bloom at the garden’s edge. Orchard visitors are welcome to download the Otocast app for an audio tour of the exhibition. “I don’t really think the geranium is the favorite flower of anyone who actually likes flowers,” Shobrys says in her recording.
“Art in the Orchard” offers a range of works, abstract, whimsical, and conceptual. Other shows this fall pinpoint particular mediums or themes, such as fireflies. In “ALight on Mars — A Nocturnal Exhibition” at the Manship Artist Residency + Studios in Gloucester, artists from Boston Sculptors Gallery offer luminous reflections on insects, climate change, and the night sky.
This nighttime show requires reservations. It also calls for caution. The venue — the former home and studio of Art Deco sculptor Paul Manship — sits alongside two quarries. Anyone, child or adult, prone to wandering should be kept in sight.
But it’s hard to think of a more magical theme at a place Manship called Starfield.
“Originally, we thought it had to do with his love of the night sky,” MARS executive director Rebecca Reynolds said of the name. “Then his granddaughter told us that he didn’t mow his lawn until the end of July. He knew if he mowed it any sooner, the fireflies wouldn’t be able to go through their life cycle.”
Leslie Wilcox’s giant fireflies, ‘HIGHLIGHTERS,” emit a blinking mating call. Nancy Selvage’s glowing abstracted pink twist, “Maenad,” echoes a Manship sculpture of the same name. Ellen Schön’s “Gathered Glow,” a series of ceramic lanterns, drift and shine along a tree overlooking the quarry.
There’s an added bonus, unrelated to fireflies: MARS has an augmented reality piece by Will Pappenheimer and choreographer Sarah Slifer Swift, “Starry Interpose.”
Screen-oriented art lovers will also enjoy “Seeing the Invisible” an AR art exhibition by internationally known artists in a dozen botanical gardens around the world this fall, including Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Gardens at Elm Bank in Wellesley.
Fantastical AR can bend space or beckon viewers into places that don’t literally exist — at least not on site.
Chinese art star Ai Weiwei’s “Gilded Cage AR,” a giant, golden birdcage, does exist in real life, at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England. At Elm Bank, its AR version sits in a sheltered area but rises tall, and visitors can use their devices to walk inside. The artist has said the work comments on fences and borders, but a gilded cage is also a metaphor for screen-based reality, and Ai invites us right in.
On a more human scale, Japanese artist Daito Manabe’s “Morphecore Prototype AR” sets a figure dancing in the garden. Every gesture is mapped from a pulse of the artist’s own brainwaves, and the figure contorts in ways no human can. Many of the works at Elm Bank invite interaction: You can photograph your children dancing along Manabe’s performer, or as you get close enough to touch Ori Gersht’s “Forget Me Not,” a serene still life of a bouquet suddenly explodes. If the kids tire of the screen, Weezie’s Garden for Children offers spiral paths and a tower to climb.
The most rigorous outdoor art show, exercise-wise, is Hancock Shaker Village’s “Climbing the Holy Hill,” a moderate-to-strenuous 2.6-mile trek (roundtrip) with sound art, following a trail from the village to Pittsfield State Forest, along a path Shakers took twice yearly for a worship service.
“Three hundred of them would march four abreast, carrying the elderly and the children,” said Jennifer Trainer Thompson, director and CEO of Hancock Shaker Village. “When they reached the top, they’d worship ecstatically all day.”
A drawing by Allison Smith functions as a spiritual, genealogical, and historical map, and the trail offers site-specific sound, which you can listen to on your phone. Our Native Daughters (Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell) sing antislavery songs about resistance and hope. Composer Brad Wells draws on Shaker songs and testimony in a sung-and-spoken piece performed by Roomful of Teeth.
Once hikers have communed with Shakers climbing the Holy Hill, they can continue along the trail, and enjoy nature’s original art installations.
ART IN THE ORCHARD 2021
At Park Hill Orchard, 82 Park Hill Road, Easthampton, through Nov. 28. www.parkhillorchard.com/art
ALIGHT ON MARS — A NOCTURNAL EXHIBITION
At Manship Artists Residency + Studios, 10 Leverett St., Gloucester, open weekends, 6:30-8:30 p.m., through Nov. 7. Advanced tickets required. www.manshipartists.org
SEEING THE INVISIBLE
At The Gardens at Elm Bank, Massachusetts Horticultural Society, 900 Washington St., Wellesley, through Oct. 31, and again next spring, www.masshort.org/seeing-the-invisible
CLIMBING THE HOLY HILL
At Hancock Shaker Village, 1483 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield, through Dec. 1. www.hancockshakervillage.org/exhibitions/climbing-the-holy-hill
Haven’t seen enough? Here are more outdoor art opportunities this fall:
Northern Berkshire Art Outside is a 10-mile, self-guided walking and biking tour along country roads, put together by Mass MoCA, Clark Art Institute, and the Williams College Museum of Art. Start at Mass MoCA, 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams. www.massmoca.org/event/northern-berkshire-art-outside
The deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum has nearly 60 sculptures on display, including works by Andy Goldsworthy, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Jeffrey Gibson. deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, 51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln. www.thetrustees.org/content/decordovasculpturepark
“Follywoods: Awesome Wee Faerie Architecture Along the Artists’ Trail” features fairy-size ornamental dwellings based on 18th- and 19th-century architecture. Through Oct. 31. Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme St., Old Lyme, Conn. www.florencegriswoldmuseum.org/wfv2021
“Ground/work,” Clark Art Institute’s first outdoor art exhibition, includes six site-specific artworks scattered over the museum’s pastoral 140-acre campus, by artists such as Nairy Baghramian and Haegue Yang. Through Oct. 17. Clark Art Institute, 225 South St., Williamstown. www.clarkart.edu/microsites/ground-work/exhibition