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The Cardboard Bernini: An Artist Spends 4 Years Building a Giant Cardboard Fountain Inspired by the Baroque Sculptor Bernini, Only to Let It Dissolve in the Rain


From the Tri­ton Foun­tain in the Piaz­za Bar­beri­ni to the Foun­tain of the Four Rivers in Piaz­za Navona, sculp­tor Gian Loren­zo Berni­ni’s glo­ri­ous pub­lic foun­tains have impressed vis­i­tors to Rome for cen­turies.

Berni­ni angled for immoral­i­ty when carv­ing his Baroque mas­ter­pieces from mar­ble.

Image by Trdinfl, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Eter­ni­ty occu­pied artist James Grashow’s mind, too, through­out four years of toil on his Cor­ru­gat­ed Foun­tain, a mas­ter­piece of planned obso­les­cence.

“All artists talk about process”, he rumi­nates in an out­take from Olympia Stone’s doc­u­men­tary, The Card­board Berni­ni, “but the process that they talk about is always from begin­ning to fin­ish:

Nobody real­ly talks about full term process to the end, to the destruc­tion, to the dis­so­lu­tion of a piece. Every­thing dis­solves in an eter­ni­ty. I’d like to speak to that.

He picked the right medi­um for such a med­i­ta­tion — cor­ru­gat­ed card­board, sourced from the Dan­bury Square Box Com­pa­ny. (The founders chose its name in 1906 to alert the local hat­ting indus­try that they did not traf­fic in round hat box­es.)

Grashow chal­lenged him­self to make some­thing with card­board and hot glue that would “out­shine” Berni­ni before it was sac­ri­ficed to the ele­ments:

Water and card­board can­not exist togeth­er.  The idea of a paper foun­tain is impos­si­ble, an oxy­moron that speaks to the human dilem­ma. I want­ed to make some­thing hero­ic in its con­cept and exe­cu­tion with full aware­ness of its poet­ic absur­di­ty. I want­ed to try to make some­thing eter­nal out of card­board… the Foun­tain was an irre­sistible project for me.

The doc­u­men­tary catch­es a mix of emo­tions as his metic­u­lous­ly con­struct­ed Baroque fig­ures — nymphs, hors­es, dol­phins, Posei­don — are posi­tioned for destruc­tion on the grounds of the Aldrich Con­tem­po­rary Art Muse­um.

A young boy at the exhibition’s open­ing is untrou­bled by the sculpture’s impend­ing fate:

I think it’s cool, coz it’s made out of trees and it’s return­ing to mush…or what­ev­er you want to call it.

His bud­dy finds it hard to share his enthu­si­asm, ges­tur­ing help­less­ly toward the mon­u­men­tal work, his voice trail­ing off as he remarks, “I don’t see why you would want that to…”

An adult vis­i­tor unashamed­ly reveals that she had been active­ly root­ing for rain.

When a storm does reduce the sculp­ture to an Ozy­man­di­an tableau a short while lat­er, Grashow sus­pects the project was ulti­mate­ly a self por­trait, “full of blus­ter and brava­do, hol­low and melan­choly at its core, doomed from the start, and search­ing for beau­ty in all of the sad­ness.”

Then he and a helper cart what’s left off to a wait­ing dump­ster.

His daugh­ter, Rab­bi Zoë Klein, likens the Cor­ru­gat­ed Fountain’s imper­ma­nence to the sand man­dalas Tibetan monks spend months cre­at­ing, then sweep away with lit­tle fan­fare:

…the art is about just the gift of cre­ation, that we have this abil­i­ty to cre­ate, that we cel­e­brate that, not that we can con­quer time, but rather we can make the most of the time we have by mak­ing it beau­ti­ful and mean­ing­ful, liv­ing up to our poten­tial..

Grashow speaks ten­der­ly of the ephemer­al mate­r­i­al he uses fre­quent­ly in his work:

It’s so grate­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to become some­thing, because it knows it’s going to be trash.

Watch The Card­board Berni­ni here.

See more of James Grashow’s card­board works here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Design­er Cre­ates Origa­mi Card­board Tents to Shel­ter the Home­less from the Win­ter Cold

Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” Per­formed by Ger­man 1st Graders in Cute Card­board Robot Cos­tumes

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.



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