I’d been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts, looking for a rainy day to visit Andy Goldsworthy’s installation, “Watershed,” on the grounds of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. The Scottish artist’s stone shack channels water from the hillside upon which it sits through to a spout inside—like a rain spout or a minimalist version of a spitting gargoyle on a medieval church. It turns weather into a show.
There had been rain one Saturday afternoon, but the timing didn’t work out—my sweetheart was away with the car to teach a class. Another day it rained a bit, but I had to work in the office.
The forecast for the following Saturday predicted rain in the afternoon and evening, so I packed my whole family into the car that day and drove out to Lincoln, Massachusetts.
(Note: To help stem coronavirus, in mid March 2020, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum closed its indoor galleries, but the grounds, including Goldsworthy’s “Watershed,” remained open and free of charge. But by Tuesday, March 24, deCordova announced: “In response to the emergency order issued Monday by Governor Charlie Baker, requiring all non-essential businesses and organizations to close, prohibiting gatherings of over 10 people and discouraging unnecessary travel or activities, the Trustees has made the difficult decision to temporarily close all outdoor properties, from Tuesday, March 24 through Sunday, April 7 at noon.”)
Goldsworthy is known for making artworks by laying on pavement in the rain to (briefly) leave a dry “shadow,” constructing rock cairns, leaning into the wind, scrambling through hedges, carefully arranging brilliant autumn leaves on boulders, crafting arches and spirals out of ice. His poetic-philosophical endeavors are perhaps best represented in videos like the 2001 documentary “Rivers and Tides”—assuming you couldn’t be there in person, and, of course, his solitary bent usually means almost no one can be there in person.
“Watershed” is one of Goldsworthy’s museum projects from recent years that have sought to nail down his ephemeral performance-sculptures into more permanent constructions—like the 1997-1998 stone wall wiggling through Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, New York, or the 2015-2016 “Boulder House” at Alnoba Art Park in New Hampshire. The pieces often lose something vital in the translation to permanence—feeling like fossilized remains of something that happened long ago.
Back around 2011 or so, Goldsworthy proposed to construct “Snow House”at deCordova, inspired by pre-industrial refrigeration ice houses that preserved ice cut from frozen winter ponds for use during summer. “Instead of ice, Goldsworthy plans to fill the ‘Snow House’ with a single snowball, approximately 8 feet in diameter,” the museum reported in November 2013. “Each winter, after the first significant snowfall, deCordova staff and local community groups will create the snowball within the ‘Snow House,’ where it will remain enclosed until summer, when the chamber will be opened to reveal a physical reminder of winter. The snowball will slowly melt over a week to ten day period, and the ‘Snow House’ will then remain open until the following winter.”
“Watershed” improves on that idea by being potentially active year round. Which was why I’d been keeping my eye on the weather.
“Watershed,” which debuted in November, is a simple, but exquisitely pieced together, 18-foot-long stone shack nestled into the side of a wooded hill that slopes down from the museum at the top to a pond at the bottom. The open doorway and two frosted skylights in the corrugated steel roof let in sun. On the winter day I visited, it smelled of the fresh spruce pine of the rafters and felt cold and damp. It functions a bit like Goldsworthy’s “Watershed Boulder” (2015-2016) at Alnoba. On wet days, runoff from a parking lot next to the museum and a road running up to it are funneled through the back of the shed. The water spouts out of a hole in an interior wall assembled of curved stones that make concentric circles around a stone pipe—like energy radiating out from the sun or ripples spreading from a drop in a pond.
We walked up the paved driveway that winds up the hill to the back of the museum, then split off onto a path on the right that curves along the hill counterclockwise. The footing was icy and slushy, so my eyes were focused on the ground more than on the crisp stone shed when it appeared around the bend.
“Watershed,” constructed of locally-quarried granite by Goldsworthy’s team of British masons, seems to be assembled like a fieldstone wall, but with squared-off blocks, more precisely puzzled together. The structure’s concentric circle geometry and the way the stones fit together into precise rectangles feels very Goldsworthy—unruly nature whipped into strict geometric order.
“Watershed” is one of the best examples of Goldsworthy’s permanent pieces because it’s active, not static, built to showcase shifting natural phenomena. And this encourages you to try on his sensitive, philosophical mindset, acutely attuned to the whims of weather. Goldworthy has said, “I’d love that in the future when bad weather is forecast, rather than saying, ‘I’m not going to deCordova today,’ people say, ‘Let’s go to deCordova today.”
Which was my plan. At home days earlier, when winter snow thawed and turned into streams and puddles, I imagined how that might translate at the “Watershed.” I’d been looking to visit during a good, heavy rain, when I hoped rainwater would sluice out of the stone building’s hole.
But the predicted rainstorm held off as we drove to deCordova. We arrived to find water drooling out of the hole. The fluid had darkened the rocks down the wall and the gravel and leaves scattered on the floor. The water appeared brownish and I considered what motor oils and toxic junk it might be saturated with from the parking lot and road.
“Watershed,” of course, is a pun. It’s a shed building that looks across the Flint’s Pond watershed, surrounded on this end by fencing because the pond serves as the town’s main drinking water supply.
My kids built a snowman from drifts plowed to the edge of the parking lot and we toured inside the museum as we procrastinated to let more rain come.
I kept peeking out the museum’s windows, wishing for a downpour that didn’t arrive. When we went back out, cool mist glazed our faces. We trudged back up the road around the building to “Watershed.” We sat on the twin stone benches built into the interior end walls. The water coming out of the pipe was now a trickle—and seemed to seep out from between stones lower down the wall as well.
I sat there feeling foiled by the fickle winter weather. The frosty damp air and the cold bench seeped into me, leaving me miserable. It was 4:30 p.m. and nearing dark. We returned to the car and drove home. It rained a bit during the drive, to my annoyance.
And this is what I thought: Goldsworthy has lured me into trying on his mindset, lured me into attuning myself to the weather. And the weather is unpredictable, elusive, fugitive, fleeting. So chasing after a glimpse of Goldsworthy’s art before it melts or dries up or washes way, you often find yourself at the right place at the wrong time.
If this is the kind of coverage of arts, cultures and activisms you appreciate, please support Wonderland by contributing to Wonderland on Patreon. And sign up for our free, weekly newsletter so that you don’t miss any of our reporting.