A sculpture entitled “Out Of Sight” by Seward Johnson is...

A sculpture entitled “Out Of Sight” by Seward Johnson is on display at Old Westbury Gardens. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Karyn Dornfield couldn’t wait to see “Re-Visiting the Familiar: Seward Johnson At the Gardens” at Old Westbury Gardens – a reprise of an exhibition held at the gardens in 2017.

“I just thought it was so fascinating,” says Dornfield, 70, a retired paralegal who lives in Westbury, and, as a member of the gardens, attended a members’ only event.

On display through Sept. 5, the exhibit features 35 individual pieces of art and life-size sculptures focusing on scenes from day-to-day life including a boy flying a kite, a couple dancing, a woman whose umbrella has blown over and an artist painting.

Doug Graham with granddaughter Lucy Graham, 3, from Oceanside, dance next...

Doug Graham with granddaughter Lucy Graham, 3, from Oceanside, dance next to a sculpture entitled “Whispering Close” by Seward Johnson on display at Old Westbury Gardens. Credit: Corey Sipkin

This time around, the subjects, which are sprinkled throughout the gardens, are more diverse, reflecting the growing diversity of the country, notes Dornfield.

Realistic Art Amid the Flowers

Johnson, who died in March 2020 at the age of 89, was best known for his life-size trompe l’oeil sculptures, but was also a painter, working mostly in the acrylic medium. The current exhibit includes some of his painted trays which display scenes from his life at his New Jersey farm and Nantucket summer home.

The grandson of Robert Wood Johnson, co-founder of Johnson & Johnson, Seward Johnson was also a philanthropist who established the Seward Johnson Atelier, which promotes the legacy of his work and that of other contemporary artists, and Grounds for Sculpture, a 42-acre sculpture park, museum, and arboretum on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds, both in Hamilton, New Jersey.

This exhibit is different from the previous one because all but two of the 35 pieces are different, notes Lynn DeClemente, program officer at Seward Johnson Atelier.

The current exhibit also includes three maquettes, or unfinished sketches of the artist’s work, and a few pieces by Herk van Tongeren, including Teatro XVII, a nine-foot bronze sculpture of a giant ball resting precariously atop a staircase within a doorway. A former president of the Johnson Atelier, van Tongeren was known for his imposing architectural work.

Johnson accomplished his realistic, anthropological artwork through a very stylized methodology, notes DeClemente.

A sculpture entitled “Stormy Weather” by Seward Johnson is on...

A sculpture entitled “Stormy Weather” by Seward Johnson is on display at Old Westbury Gardens. Credit: Corey Sipkin

“It’s a snapshot of mundane moments that happen in everyday life,” says DeClemente.

Johnson’s series on display doesn’t simply commemorate big, important events, but the small moments that make up a life, such as a father and son fishing together or people simply enjoying the weather or even experiencing evident frustration.

Also part of the exhibit are works from Johnson’s Icon series, where the artist re-envisioned iconic and familiar sights, like his take on DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, in which the smiling subject dons boots over unshaven legs or Pondering the Benefits of Exercise, a sculpture of two men and a woman having a lavish al fresco lunch and looking as if they won’t be exercising anytime soon.

The gardens provide a perfect setting for the artist’s work, since Johnson was completely Intune with the interconnectedness between art and nature, says DeClemente.

“It’s created to activate spaces where people can go out in nature and explore different areas,” DeClemente says, adding that at Old Westbury Gardens, you can get lost emotionally in the art and its surroundings.

Look -- And Please Touch!

As guests drive into the gardens, they’re greeted at the ticket booth by Waiting To Cross, a sculpture of a girl twirling around the stop sign.

“We want people to experience and revisit the gardens in a little different way,” says Paul Hunchak, programs and exhibits director at the gardens. Adds Hunchak, “Most of his pieces are designed for outdoor experiences.”

Often, art is something you’re invited to look at, but forbidden to touch.

“But his artwork, you’re encouraged to interact with it,” Hunchak says. “So, if you’re tired and you want to take a rest from walking in the gardens, you can take a rest on one of the works of the artist that’s a bench, and sit next to one of his creations.”

Also special this time around, is a Sounds for Sculpture jazz concert on July 21 inspired by Johnson’s work. The Christian Tamburr Quintet will perform The Awakening, composed by vibraphonist/composer Tamburr.

“It’s such a great exhibit,’ Dornfield says. “I think it appeals to older people, younger people, kids. Kids get a kick out of it also.”

Re-Visiting the Familiar: Seward Johnson At the Gardens at Old Westbury Gardens; 71 Old Westbury Road, Old Westbury, now through Sept. 5, 516-333-0048, oldwestburygardens.org. Open daily (except Tuesdays), 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets, which are issued at specific arrival times, must be purchased in advance. The exhibit is free with admission: adults: $14, students and seniors 62 & over: $12, children 7 and under: $8. July 21, 7:30 to 9 p.m. The Awakening Sounds for Sculpture jazz concert (free with admission to gardens).