New Edens - Sam Van Aken

Fall 2011

Schmucker Art Gallery

Sam Van Aken, Trees of 40 Fruits, acrylic containers, soil, aluminum, stone fruit trees, 2011

Main Gallery
October 21 - December 10, 2011
Reception: October 21, 5 to 7 p.m.
Artist's Talk: October 21, noon


An installation of hybridized fruit trees, grafted orchids, light displays, prints and collages by contemporary artist Sam Van Aken.

Through a process of sculpting by way of grafting and pruning, each tree on exhibit, part of an ongoing series entitled Trees of Forty Fruits, has the capacity to grow forty varieties of fruit from the family of stone fruits including peach, plum, apricot, nectarine, and cherry. The Trees of 40 Fruit are allegorical sculptures. Like the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, these trees represent the beginning of a narrative that transforms the site in which they are located. The far-reaching implications of these sculptures include issues of genetic engineering, biodiversity versus food monoculture, and, ultimately, the relationship of humankind with nature.

One of the most challenging aspects of the work is the planning or envisioning of how each graft, time of blossom, and fruiting will change the aesthetic and balanced quality of the tree. It is at this point that the process becomes sculptural. In speaking of his project, Sam Van Aken has said: "Nature poses a challenging collaborator. Where a bronze sculpture would provide an easier ally, working with living material can be temperamental. But it is this living quality that I feel gives the tree its greatest impact and potential."

Born in Reading Pennsylvania, Sam Van Aken received his undergraduate education in Communication Theory and Art. Immediately following his studies he lived and worked in Poland under the auspices of the Andy Warhol Foundation and the United States Information Agency. Returning after several years in Europe, Van Aken received his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2001. Since this time his work has been exhibited nationally and internationally receiving numerous honors including a Joan Mitchell Award, Association of International Curator's of Art Award and a 2009 Creative Capital Grant. Sam Van Aken is currently an Associate Professor in the Art Department at Syracuse University.