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Another Prodigy from Ardsley, New York Hits the Big Time: Malcolm MacDougall III and his Microscopic Landscape in Union Square Triangle Park, New York City

From Beth Gersh-Nesic


Move over Mark Zuckerberg, another Ardsley Public School wunderkind, has stepped onto the world stage: Malcolm MacDougall III, now 22, was a child-prodigy in art in Concord Road Elementary School while Zuckerberg mastered BASIC as an Ardsley Middle School student. Zuckerberg went on to Phillips Exeter Academy in high school. Malcolm, six years younger, stayed in the public school system but started taking college courses during his senior year. He completed his BFA at the prestigious Purchase College Art and Design Conservatory, declining offers from RISD and Pratt to continue working with Professors Philip Listengart and Eric Wildrick. He completed his course work in three years.

Now one year out of college, he is sculpting his way to the top of his profession. On June 19th he cut a yellow ribbon in Union Square, one of the major parks in New York City, to celebrate the placement of his work Microscopic Landscape (2010) on the Triangle (opposite Citibank and Whole Foods). It is a prime location, not far from the many subway entrances that suck in and disgorge thousands of strap-hangers per day. The audience for this piece might easily surpass the Cloud City exhibition atop the Metropolitan Museum's roof, within the same period of time. And the Union Square exhibition is free.

At a not-so-microscopic 24 feet long and 7500 pounds, MacDougall's homage to organic structures seems surprisingly at home within its steel and concrete surroundings. I knew Microscopic Landscape when it was just a pup, lounging on a grassy knoll off of the main driveway on Purchase College campus. It's a tribute to MacDougall's talent and sensibilities that his work fits so naturally in an open green space and its new, confined urban setting.

MacDougall explains on his website:
The work stems from a fascination with the natural sciences; in particular microscopy, which is the field of using microscopes to view objects that cannot be seen by the unaided eye. The snapshots of bacteria and cellular platelets retrieved by this method are a metaphor for my sculptures in that, although stagnate, in reality they are imbued with the sense that the forms and surfaces will continue to undulate and recalibrate as time passes.


MacDougall feels that this work offers a dialogue with the energy of NYC, particularly in this spot, where so many cars and people converge constantly and the implicit movement in the piece. Union Square has become a popular hub for social activity: outdoor markets, cafés, parades, demonstrations, and just hanging out in the sun. Microscopic Landscape seems to capture the incessant rhythm and flow of the crowd as it seems to march in place on its pedestal.

MacDougall works in a 5,000 square foot abandoned airplane hangar on the banks of the Hudson River in Dobbs Ferry. The hangar dates to World War II and was originally located in Pearl Harbor. Then it was brought to Manhattan and finally set up in Dobbs Ferry during the Cold War for national security. Completely rehabilitated from a derelict mess, this project alone testifies to MacDougall’s unstoppable ambition. First he outfitted the necessary environment for making sculpture on a grand scale and then he got to work.

His current project emulates African termite mounds, executed in steel plates that the artist welds into tectonic hills that will be deployed over a vast, open terrain. This installation requires more space than the hangar accommodates; therefore we can see it only as parts –- not yet as a total vision.

Where can we place MacDougall among today's contemporary trends? MacDougall brings back a feeling for early modernist sculpture, characterized best in sculptures by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Jacques Lipchitz (who worked in Hastings-on-Hudson, another "Rivertown" south of Dobbs Ferry and west of Ardsley). Therefore, his work should be called NeoModernism – a return to the modernist tradition that invents new forms rather than appropriates nameable forms in culture and nature (such as Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes) or recycled materials (as in Shinique Smith's sculptures made of clothes).

MacDougall's work surprises the mind with new visual expressions, much like today's contemporary industrial design, which has been much more exciting and playful than art over these last few years. Translating nameable nature into abstract expression returns to the fundamentals of the modernist project.

MacDougall's more recent work features such titles as Rhizomes, 2011 –- a combination of chunky blocks assembled in clusters deployed along an narrow amorphous mass supported by a clutter of tensile sticks that lift the denser components. The overall appearance seems contradictory –- at odds with our expectations: fragile carries the heavier load. (Perhaps, a commentary on life's experiences as well as on physical possibilities.)

Judging from Malcolm MacDougall III's official debut in the most important art city on the planet, we can expect that his star will continue to rise and the price of his "stock" will as well. From my perspective, I would bet on this wunderkind's future.

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Miscroscopic Landscape, 2010. An Art in the Park exhibition sponsored by Union Square Partnership and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

Location: Union Square Triangle at Broadway, between 14th Street and 15th Street
Exhibition installation: June 18, 2012 through January 2013

In addition to Microscopic Landscape in Union Square, MacDougall's work is also on view in Hastings-on-Hudson in an exhibition entitled Two Sculptors on Hudson / Emerging Forms. Curated by Jim Bergesen, these installations along the river's banks will stay on view through Summer 2012. Friend and fellow Purchase classmate, Craig Usher, is the other sculptor.


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