Auburn museum’s biennial outdoor sculpture exhibition “Out of the Box” returning in October

Published: September 23, 2019
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Large, curious structures of stone, concrete and steel have appeared on the grounds of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, heralding the return of one of the museum’s most popular recurring exhibitions.

“Out of the Box: A Juried Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition” makes its official return beginning Oct. 4. The fourth in this series of biennial public art exhibitions will once again transform the Arts District grounds along South College Street into a larger-than-life outdoor sculpture gallery, with the provocative, eye-catching works remaining on view through Oct. 4, 2020.

“This year’s ‘Out of the Box’ is our biggest yet,” said Curatorial Assistant and exhibition Co-Curator Jessica Hughes. “We’ve expanded our exhibition to include the grounds of the new Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center, which has allowed us to bring in more sculptures than in the past.”

The competition calls for open submissions by artists from all corners of the United States, receiving more than one hundred entries by sculptors from as near as Birmingham to as far away as Maine. Finalists are selected by a high-profile artist who serves as juror and contributes a work of his-or-her own to be displayed concurrently with the sculptures of the chosen finalists.

“This year’s juror, Patrick Dougherty, named our top 15 finalists after carefully reviewing all of the applications through a blind-jurying process,” Hughes said. “Patrick reviewed an image of each entry without the artist’s name or any additional information that might bias his decisions. Once selected, the months-long preparation process of pouring concrete pads and organizing installations began.”

Dougherty is an award-winning environmental sculptor who is constructing one of his signature “stickwork” installations onsite at the museum through Sept. 27. His finished work, woven and sculpted from locally sourced Alabama sweet gum trees, will be displayed alongside the 15 other sculptural works in the exhibition.

“It has been an honor for the museum to have an artist like Patrick Dougherty juror this year’s exhibition and to host his September installation,” said Museum Director and Chief Curator Cynthia B. Malinick. “His rising sweet gum wood creation is awe-inspiring and beautifully reflects the intersection of art with Auburn University's land grant legacy.”

Throughout Dougherty’s September residency, volunteers from multiple colleges have assisted with the construction and maintenance of his large-scale sweet gum sculpture, with the School of Forestry and Wildlife collaborating on the selection of trees used in his work.  

A reception for Dougherty will be held at the museum Thursday, Sept. 26, at 5:30 p.m. that will allow visitors the opportunity to engage with the celebrated sculptor and get an up-close, early look at his original, house-sized creation.

Dougherty is an internationally acclaimed artist who for more than three decades has combined his passion for nature with his skills in carpentry in crafting more than 300 giant-sized tree sapling sculptures. Some of these spiraling structures reach more than 25 feet in height and have been exhibited in parks, museums and public spaces from Scotland to Japan to Brussels, and all over the United States. Dougherty is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2011 Factor Prize for Southern Art, Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, Henry Moore Foundation Fellowship and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His work has been featured in “Sculpture Magazine,” “The New York Times” and on “CBS Sunday Morning,” and a full-length documentary “Bending Sticks: The Sculpture of Patrick Dougherty,” which premiered in 2013.

“It takes courage to transform everyday material into imaginative objects, and I can appreciate all the hard work and energy that was invested in every submission,” Dougherty said. “This year’s choices are bold and imaginative and range from ground-based emplacements to works larger than life. Like the yellow brick road in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ meandering the walkways of the museum grounds and the Gogue Performing Art Center will offer those who take this year’s sculpture tour a rollicking adventure.”

“Out of the Box” began in 2013 as a celebration of Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art’s tenth anniversary. In addition to growing the museum’s permanent collection of outdoor sculpture, the event aims to engage a broad scope of community audiences, from K–12 and Auburn University students to lifelong learners and patrons in the Auburn area.

“As with each of our ‘Out of the Box’ competitions, it is the hope that everyone in Auburn and the wider community will find time to visit the museum and Gogue Center grounds to enjoy and contemplate the sculptures,” said Assistant Director Andy Tennant, who is co-curating the exhibition with Hughes. “We also hope that we will be able to add outdoor sculpture from this competition to our permanent collection through generous gifts from our patrons.”

Museum visitors who have attended previous “Out of the Box” exhibitions may recognize a few familiar names, as several of the artists have exhibited works in the past; however, this will be the first time any of this year’s sculptures have been displayed at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, and for some works, it is their premiere exhibition.

“For the first time we have an artist, Ray Katz, who has two works among the final 15,” Tennant said. “We also have four returning artists, Robbie Barber, Matthias Neumann, Joni Younkins-Herzog and Hanna Jubran.”

Jubran’s “3 Planets” can be seen flanking South College Street alongside North Carolina artist John Ross’s “Averted Visions,” the two kinetic works that will welcome visitors to the Arts District campus through next fall. There are also outsized welded-steel constructions like Barber’s nine-foot-tall bright-blue baby carriage, “Stroll in the Park.” 

Like other past “Out of the Box” finalists, Barber’s “Dreams of Flying,” which won 2013’s “Out of the Box” as honorable mention, is a permanent fixture in the Susan Phillips Gardens thanks to a charitable gift by Julian R. Haynes in loving memory of Lucile McGehee Haynes.

All 15 sculptures have now been installed and are open and free to view, but finishing touches will continue on the exhibition until the official opening Oct. 4. Dougherty will select three winning sculptures among the finalists; first place will receive a $3,000 cash prize, second place $1,500 and an honorable mention $500. The three winning sculptures will be announced Oct. 3 at the DIAVOLO: Architecture in Motion performance at the Gogue Center.

Dogherty’s reception is free for museum members and $25 for non-members; to register, visit For more information on the reception and the upcoming “Out of the Box” exhibition, contact Jessica Hughes at For more on Dougherty’s work, visit

“Out of the Box: A Juried Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition” is generously supported by Grace K. and David E. Johnson and the Kohnken Family Foundation.

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