Meg Webster’s practice as a sculptor has long been guided by an environmentalist imperative to celebrate and take account of the natural world. Often working with natural materials, both organic and inorganic, Webster creates simple geometric forms on a human scale, as well as larger installations that engage the surrounding ecosystem and the local community. In style, Webster’s work bridges the conceptual vision of Land Art and the formal vocabulary of Minimalism, with a nod to the utopian ideals of early garden design and urban landscaping. With ecological degradation and devastation as their background and context, the works propose discrete sensory encounters with water, earth, minerals and plant life in abstracted form, creating spaces of stillness and belonging.
Webster’s first sculptures date to the late 1970s and were made of sand, piled and compressed into organic and geometric shapes, and arranged on the floor. In her first one-person exhibition at Leavenworth Street, San Francisco (1980), Webster grouped small mounds of earth, cones of salt, and angular shapes of sand on the gallery floor, creating an environment that evoked both a familiar Minimalist Gestalt and an otherworldly landscape. By 1980 Webster had articulated the forms and materials that would continue to populate her work in years to come with remarkable clarity. Cones, mounds, and spheres would be joined by spirals, pyramids, prisms and walls in later years, using materials such as earth, sand, salt, flour, moss, and wax. These shapes would alternately sink under ground level or rise to slightly above human height, playing with preconceptions of volume and mass.
Sand Bed is one of a number of elemental sculptures made for indoors that propose bringing natural materials into close contact with the viewer’s body. The mass of sand conforms to the shape and size of a standard mattress, but the invitation to lay down is contradicted by the impending destruction of the perfect form. Sand Bed was followed by a series of Moss Beds and the more recent Volume for Lying Flat, a rectangular volume of compacted soil topped with lush green moss. Combining associations of geological time (moss is believed to have started spreading on land 470 million years ago) with the slowness implied in the invitation to “lie flat”, the work reflects on the earth’s fragility and resilience, placing the viewer within layered temporal dimensions through the simultaneous presentation of surface and depth.
Like Volume for Lying Flat, Webster’s large-scale installations require tending by caretakers. They are places for contemplation and renewal, allowing visitors to commune with nature while the work instigates a dialogue with the surrounding ecosystem. Hollow installed on the grounds of the Nassau County Museum of Art in 1985, was the first of many outdoor rooms. An inclined trench lead through a narrow opening into a steep pit densely planted with a variety of vegetation flowering in stark contrast to the plain, forceful, exterior walls of packed earth. Throughout the following years, Webster designed and installed gardens and living, moving, outdoor installations for many institutions.
Water is an important material in Webster’s work, and containers built to hold bodies of water were some of her earliest permanent structures. Hearkening to the non-sites of earth artists like Robert Smithson, Webster frequently brings water from specific sources, such as the nearest pond, river, or glacier, into the gallery. These works welcome the viewer’s consideration of water as a finite resource and the kinds of infrastructure required to allow the movement of it in vast quantities. Webster’s bodies of water, such as the astonishing Cone of Water held miraculously in an inverted conical steel container resting on its point, are scaled to be relatable while gesturing to the larger system of which they are part.
More recently, Webster has combined her enduring interest in oppositional shapes and volumes with her environmental impulse for community-based projects in Concave Room for Bees, a large, circular garden entered through a single channel that slopes gently to a central meeting point. A variety of flowering plants create a welcome environment for bees and humans alike. The work was installed at the Socrates Sculpture Park in 2016 and in Aarhus, Denmark, as part of the AROS Triennial in 2017.
An infrequent and especially intimate part of Webster’s practice is the design of small-scale sculptures conceived as containers, or meditations on favored shapes and forms. The Copper Disk Sometimes Warmed by the Sun is a receptacle for light, and like a plant, it requires nourishment to be activated. Each work brings attention to its place in a system, and the perfect balance needed for harmony to be maintained.
Born in San Francisco in 1944, Meg Webster received an MFA from Yale University in 1983, and her first one-person exhibition was held at Donald Judd’s exhibition space on Spring Street in New York the same year. Subsequent one-person exhibitions have been held at The Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA (1984); the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA (1991); The Brooklyn Museum, New York (1992); P.S. 1 Contemporary Arts Center, New York (1998) and MoMA P.S. 1 (2013). Webster’s work has been included in group exhibitions at the Milwaukee Museum of Art, The Walker Art Center, The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Guggenheim Museum, among others. In 2017 Webster participated in the two-person exhibition, Natura Naturans at Villa Panza in Varese, Italy. She also presented her large-scale earthwork, Concave Room for Bees, at Socrates Sculpture Park, commissioned for their 2016 exhibition, “LANDMARK,” and again in 2017 during the ARoS Triennial in Aarhus, Denmark. Institutions with works by Meg Webster in their permanent collections include the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dia Art Foundation, the Guggenheim Museum, the Walker Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Webster currently has a site-specific installation, Wave, comprised of both new and existing work from across her career, at LMCC's Arts Center at Governors Island, New York (through October 31, 2021).
For her full biography, click HERE.