CONCORD — “Walden: Window & Mirror,” at Concord Center for the Visual Arts, considers the ways humans love, plunder, and grapple with the wild.
The show, which marks the bicentennial of Henry David Thoreau’s birth, deftly subverts any top-heavy conceptualism by approaching nature first through touch: gnarled shrubs, cool mist hanging over water, the mussed glory of paint smears. This unfettered delight in texture and tactility brings us right into our bodies, senses awakened.
The artists use materiality as a springboard for other sly or weighty notions. In his video “Hedge crawl, dawn, frost, cold hands, Sinderby, England,” Andy Goldsworthy claws his way through the branches of naked shrubs as morning breaks — a ridiculously charming Sisyphean challenge. Sharing Goldsworthy’s liminal, early morning setting, S.B. Walker’s black-and-white photograph “Plastic Bag (Target Corp.)” hangs nearby: Fog enfolds Walden Pond in mystery, as trash floats, assertive and incongruous, in the foreground.
Alex MacLean’s aerial photographs of mining and farming might be abstract paintings, with shimmering, coppery passages (in “Cross-Tilling, Monon, IN”) and craggy swipes of blue and black (in “Channeling Waste, Hibbing, MN”). Their forms and textures strike a harmony with Markus Haala’s rust-covered sculpture “Halde,” a Richard Serra-style behemoth of steel plates propped against one another, which references mining operations near the artist’s childhood home in Germany. Together, they reflect on humanity’s habit of wrenching what it needs from the earth.
We’ve gotten a long way from a simple kettle pond in Concord, now, but more intimate works bring us back: Tory Fair’s rubber logs embedded with cast keepsakes and throwaways in “Campfire Heap,” Walker’s eloquent photos of Walden and the people who stop there.
“Walden: Window & Mirror” is no serene landscape exhibition. Humans bring clutter and struggle wherever we go. But we also bring insight, joy, and nuanced ways to frame things — as this show does.
WALDEN: Window & Mirror
At Concord Center for the Visual Arts, 37 Lexington Road, Concord, through May 14. 978-369-2578, www.concordart.orgCate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.