Stone Barns Center | Essay

Rite of Spring

Paris, 29 May 1913, evening. The trees have come into leaf across the city. Flowers fill the parks. And at the newly built Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, people are screaming bloody murder. It is the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, a composition and choreography so modern that the audience, whether in rage or excitement or some combination of the two, quite loses its collective mind.  

Spring doesn’t usually arrive with such evident force. It seems the kindliest of seasons — the arrival of new life, and all that. Yet the notorious furor set off by Stravinsky’s dissonant masterpiece directs our attention to what’s really going on, out there beyond our walls: the sheer explosive power of spring, all those seeds and bulbs bursting the ground asunder, sap running free, plants stretching themselves upwards to receive the light. Most people simply watch it all unfolding, like an audience set comfortably back from a stage. Gardeners are more in tune, channeling natural potency into neatly circumscribed beds. But comparatively few of us, these days, put themselves fully in the way of the seasons, allowing their cyclical energies to shape their own daily round.

That’s what’s happening, day in, day out, at Stone Barns Center. Developed on the site of an old dairy farm, the organization has itself grown organically since its opening in 2004, connecting farmers to cooks in pursuit of an ecological food culture alongside its partner Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The phrase “farm to table” only hints at the interlinked systems of the place, though: dining room, kitchen, farm, greenhouse, pastures, slaughterhouse, educational programs, and — now — a gallery, all combining in glorious harmony.

The present collaboration with the itinerant art and design fair, Object & Thing, is the latest outgrowth of this holistic method. Every aspect of the seven-artist presentation involves materials or display elements sourced from the Stone Barns property: clay dug from the earth, dye materials harvested from plants, stones retrieved from the ground, fresh-cut branches and blossoms placed in baskets and pots. In so many ways, the exemplary works on view are sympathetic with everything else that grows here: the unique outgrowth of a unique moment in time. 

Will the public, seeing this beautifully formed exhibition, be as moved to passionate response as those Parisians were a century ago? Maybe so. Not to outrage, of course. But perhaps some other emotion, equally profound, propelled by the forces released all around. The feeling of spring, sprung.

By Glenn Adamson