Montclair’s first sculpture park will welcome visitors with an opening Friday night from 6 pm to 9 pm, featuring eight works by four north Jersey artists. The park is at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Orange Road in Montclair, across from Hillside School.
The Hillside Sculpture Park is the vision of Montclair artist and blacksmith Charlie Spademan, whose elaborate metalwork festooning the front door of Bangz hair salon caught the eye of developer Bob Silver around 12 years ago. Since then Silver, whose firm Bravitas specializes in adaptive reuse, and whose properties include Brassworks, Hillside Square and Academy Square in Montclair, become a collector of Spademan’s sculptures and often employs Spademan in his building restorations.
When Spademan suggested the sculpture park to Silver this past spring, “I was thrilled,” Silver said. “Charlie is the most amazing artist and I love everything that he does.”
The shade-dappled 75’ x 126’ empty lot that will host the park’s eight sculptures was part of the purchase when Bravitas bought the property that is now Hillside Square from the First Church of Christ Science.
Two painted aluminum sculptures by Clifton artist Wendy Letven (with a major assist from her husband, sculptor Gary Frederiksen) will flank the northeast side of the park closest to Church Street. Both pieces, “There Are Holes In My Perception Of The Forest” and “Four Currents,” were part of a major sculpture exhibition in Riverside Park this summer. The large metal sculptures grew out of Wendy’s work in cut-paper assemblage.
Morristown artist Peter Allen will display a large cast brass piece “Man in a Wave,” completed in 1987 and “Two Figures on the Mountain,” a newer piece that combines bronze, stainless steel, rock, copper and wood, and which also combines elements from two periods in his art career. The horizontal piece began as an abstract; Allen began adding figures to his abstract pieces during the pandemic. “Man in a Wave” started as a self-portrait. Its name is tied to the tragedy that occured while he was flying to Mexico to have the piece cast. During the flight and unbeknownst to Allen, his father died of a massive heart attack in San Miguel de Allende, turning Allen’s world “topsy-turvy.”
The park will also feature two bronze-and-wood works of the late Jerry Gant of Newark, who was well-known as a graffiti artist and spoken-word artist as well as being a sculptor. (Watch his self-guided tour of his sculptures in Newark’s Nat Turner Park here.) Gant was widely mourned as a Newark native son and cultural fixture in the city after his early death of liver cancer in 2018.
“It was important to me that his work be shown here,” said Spademan.
Spademan’s pointy carbon and stainless-steel sculpture of a tree, “Symmetry 3-27” will tower up from the center of the park but, between installing the pieces by Gant and working out a myriad of structural details overall, he was still racing toward its completion in his Belleville studio at 6 am on Thursday. Another Spademan sculpture, “Conflagration,” is at 13 feet the tallest piece. He also built a Tudor-styled bench, which sits under a black walnut tree.
This will be the first public art opening in Montclair hosted by Bravitas since the pandemic began. Before that hit, Bravitas was doing about 24 art openings a year throughout its various buildings. Hillary Reimnitz, the wife of one of Silver’s business partners, John Reimnitz, first came up with the idea of creating galleries in Bravitas buildings and the first show was in 2016. The arrangement is now part of Bravitas’ business plan. The developer gets free art to display in its buildings, but artists can sell their work with no commission and enjoy public openings. All of the pieces at the sculpture park will be available for purchase.
Local caterer Joni Bronander will supply goodies for the Friday opening.
Hillside Sculpture Park’s opening is Friday Oct. 1 from 6 pm to 9 pm at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Orange Road in Montclair. The public is welcome.