Boston Herald, July 17, 1992

"A meshing of nature, technology"

by Joanne Silver

In a garden where others have planted lilacs, rhododendrons, azaleas, yews, oaks, maples and a lone cherry tree in memory of a friend, Beth Galston has planted houses. More than a dozen of these simple structures are sprinkled about the grounds of the Bunting Institute, where Galston was a fellow. Some stand large enough for a person to enter; others are more like dollhouses or doghouses or dwellings for some woodland sprite. With their sun-dappled walls of perforated metal, Galston's works are filled with the spirit of nature: light, air and grass gleefully growing high enough to poke through even the taller platforms. And yet, because they resemble buildings, paths and treehouses, the pieces in "Translucent Garden" serve as a constant reminder of the human environment as well.

Only a thin membrane--represented by the perforated sheets of aluminum and steel separates, or perhaps unites, nature and technology, inside and out, booklearning and first-hand experience. You can see through all of Galston's structures with varying degrees of clarity, depending on the size and spacing of the holes and the arrangement of the walls. The result is architecture that is not an end but a means, architecture that embraces its surroundings.

Galston's Garden subtly echoes the designs of Mary Bunting-Smith, founder of the 30-year-old institute, which claims to be "the largest and oldest multidisciplinary center of advanced studies for women in the country." The male-dominated world might operate as "racetracks and may the best man win," Bunting-Smith said. "If the promise of deomacracy is to be fulfilled, a very different approach is needed. Not racetracks but gardens. The Radcliffe Institute offers its members a place to grow, each according to her own design."

Beyond the kiosk, Galston plays upon images--visible and imagined--suggested by the community and buildings framing her display. One cluster of three miniature houses mimics the rooflines and pastel tones of the prestigious Bunting's four Victorian houses. If the diminutive houses' peaks and gables hint at austerity and purpose, however, their Necco-mint colors and dollhouse size evoke a world of childlike wonder.

At every turn, Galston's message seems to be to welcome the unexpected. Two short serpentine paths, as wavy as the Victorian houses are linear, have become overgrown with grasses. Just as Galston's houses offer little shelter from the elements, these paths hardly present the most efficient route between two points.

What they do is to invite us to wander with no particular goal, and to glimpse the beauty of our meanderings. Two tiny rooftops, plunked directly on the ground, do the same thing. Too small to be entered by adults, they proved just the right size for a 4-year-old looking for a place to sail a new toy ship. As he cruised the boat through oceans of tall grass, he glanced up at the Bunting's violet-gray main house and asked, "Are the big buildings part of the show, too?"

Boston Globe, June 24, 1992

"Artists make the outdoors their canvas"

by Christine Temin

In summer, art goes outside like people do, and so some of the most intriguing exhibitions around now are sculpture shows out-of-doors.

There's a solo show by artist Beth Galston, the result of her work as a fellow at Radcliffe College's Bunting Institute. Galston is known for her installations that use fabric scrims to sculpt space. Her "Translucent Garden" is an extension of that work: a series of architecturally inspired shapes made of thin sheets of perforated aluminum that let the light through. The works are placed in a civilized urban oasis: the grounds of the Bunting Insitute.

You might walk right past Galston's sculpture if you weren't tuned into it. The cylinder on a pole stuck into the ground--the first piece you encounter if you arrive through the parking lot--could almost be a trash receptacle or even a new-fangled form of phone booth or mailbox. It has an official character.

These are not attention-grabbing works. But they're very good ones. Most of them are situated on an oval of grass in the center of the Bunting buildings. Those buildings, converted 19th-century houses, are architectural translations of Victorian rectitude. A couple of them have mansard roofs with scalloped slates, while the others are plainer farmhouse types. They're painted pale rose, peach, buttercup and warm beige. The effect is one of traditional feminity--not at all the image of the Bunting, which describes itself as the "largest and oldest multidisciplinary center of advanced studies for women in the country."

Although I'd been to the Bunting several times, I'd never thought about these buildings as anything but attractive and useful: It took Galston's installation to make me really look at them. It was a pleasant task, sitting on a teak bench among the orderly plantings of rhododendrons, holly, potentilla, and day lilies, all parked in pine bark. This is a very managed, controlled, ladylike environment. Some of Galston's works comment on that ambience. The doll-size houses that repeat in miniature the sweet pastel colors and the gabled, mansard or just plain peaked roof lines of the real houses, also seem to be making fun or them. Some of the pieces contradict the sense of control and order, especially those works where tall grass has been allowed to grow through the holes in the metal. It's ironic that the man-made high-tech material is nurturing wildness, literally protecting it from being mowed down.

A pair of serpentine paths, each maybe eight-feet long, lie on top of the grass. A sign says you can walk on them, but they seem better to look at: You'd only be able to take a half dozen steps, anyway. The wiggled lines of the paths have an obvious feminine reference, as do their diminutive scale.

The largest pieces suggest walls, doors and platforms, and they both shape space and, because of their ethereal translucence, evade it. Down a path, away from the other pieces, is one that looks like a treehouse. You can stand up inside it, and your view of the rest of the world is automatically softened and filtered.

A work that subtly implies danger and adventure is one that extends straight out from a little slope; it reminds me of those houses that cling to the sides of canyons in Los Angeles, until a mudslide sweeps them off. This sculpture, too, is being conquered by nature, in the form of overgrown grass poking up through the holes.

Galston's "Translucent Garden" is on view at the Bunting Institute, 34 Concord Ave., Cambridge, through Aug. 31.