Three Elements

Ronald Bladen, Three Elements, 1965, fabricated 1966–7, painted and burnished aluminum over welded steel structures, Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest) in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Hanes

Throughout my summer internship at the NCMA, I have tried to take every opportunity to poke around the collection and explore the Museum grounds. However, it wasn’t until recently that I noticed the beautiful courtyard behind West Building.

As I stepped into the hot humidity of July, I first took a couple of moments to watch the dragonflies skim around the lily pads and over the water in the long reflecting pool. I then turned to seek the shady respite of the trees and laid eyes on Ronald Bladen’s Three Elements.

The three leaning slabs are rigid and angular—a delightful contrast to the lily pad pool just a few feet away. I walked around the slabs contemplating the juxtaposition of this contemporary work of art and the little courtyard, realizing how perfectly the title caught the feel of the piece. Studying the Three Elements made me reflect on the solidity of metal, the breeze curving around the structures, and the fiery heat of the summer sun. Earth, wind, and fire, if you will.

Pivoting to look once more at the vibrant lily pads and fleeting dragonflies, I thought the title also appealed to the elements evident in the pool: the dark, cool water; the clever wisps of breeze tilting the lilies; and the sunlight playfully winking on the surface of the pool. Three Elements not only contrasts a contemporary, rigid structure with the organic timelessness of the pool, but it also causes one to meditate on the variability of the elements, such as the inescapable heat of an afternoon sun and the twinkling light that dances on the water.

This work of art is tied to the environment in which it was placed, creating a larger idea of the inseparability of art and the rest of the world. Whether you have visited the little courtyard already or not, I recommend taking time to see Three Elements and experience the connectivity between the giant work of art and the elements of nature.

Sarah Parks, a 2013 graduate of Emory University, is an intern in adult programs at the NCMA.

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