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Just outside Yellowstone National Park in Fishtail, Montana, with the Beartooth Mountains on the horizon, sits Tippet Rise Art Center. There, large outdoor sculptures by Mark di Suvero, Stephen Talasnik, Patrick Dougherty, Ensamble Studio, and Alexander Calder are spread out over a 10,260-acre working sheep and cattle ranch.
The Center, founded by philanthropists Peter and Cathy Halstead, just closed its second summer concert season of classical music performances from Michael Brown, Jenny Chen, Xavier Foley, Jessica Sindell, Paul Huang, Caroline Goulding, and more. At the heart of the program is a desire to connect art, music, and architecture with the land.
To visit Tippet Rise, which this fall was named the Best Museum of the Year, North America by the 2017 Leading Cultural Destination Awards, is unlike any other experience we’ve had, although we are no strangers to an outdoor sculpture park. The site in Montana is truly special. At most, two outdoor sculptures could be seen from the same viewpoint (one maybe viewable only be squinting off into the distance). The Center’s concert hall is exceptionally designed acoustically, but perhaps more moving is witnessing a performance under Ensamble Studio’s site-specific sculpture, The Domo, as we did this past August. The day prior, we sat down with the Halsteads—as a string quartet practiced in the next room over, providing the perfect background music—to learn more about their hopes to cultivate transformative experiences at Tippet Rise.
WHITEWALL: At the heart of Tippet Rise is a mission to connect visitors with the land, art, and music. Since Tippet Rise opened in 2016, what have you personally experienced that you didn’t foresee?
CATHY HALSTEAD: I think for me it happens frequently. What I’ve found so wonderfully surprising is the way that our audience and our visitors have embraced Tippet Rise, have brought it into their own lives, and write letters or talk to us at a concert. What has meant so much to us for so many years now means so much to so many other people. And that has been incredible.
PETER HALSTEAD: A man came to me in the local supermarket, and said, “I want to talk to you.” He said, “I want to tell you a story. My kids hate music; they especially hate classical music. They won’t practice the piano. They are teenagers. So I took them to Tippet Rise and after that one weekend they fight over who gets to play the piano first. I want to say to you, thank you.”
Another woman, who is very sophisticated and goes to many concerts, said, “I’ve heard Bach all over the world, but I never heard it until I heard it here.”
WW: Even the sculpture. We’ve seen Mark di Suvero before, but it was nothing like seeing it here.
CH: It is very different. The land is so strange and beautiful. And that, I think, heightens every sensation. We feel it every time we come on to the ranch, that all of a sudden you’re somewhere else. When we found the land, we sensed that difference. And being able to do what we’ve done here brings all those elements together, but also heightens that sense of what it is about the land that is so extraordinary.
PH: We spent a lot of our time when our kids were young in Nantucket. We love the moors there and the blowing heather. And this has the blowing heather, and smell of the sage like Nantucket. We also love Ireland and Scotland and the rolling moors. It has the rolling hills, but in the U.S., which we thought was important.
And it has the big sky. It makes you look at the celestial gears. There are certain places, like Stonehenge, where you feel closer to the workings of the celestial gears. It’s very connected to science, quantum mechanics. A black hole hums in B flat. It’s the key of the universe.
WW: How do you see future sculptural commissions rolling out?
CH: It’s a little more organic than that. It’s something we’ve given some thought to. We don’t feel in any way anxious about it. We really feel that the right things and the right artists and the right ideas, as we explore—which we can’t help doing—will present themselves and we’ll then slowly add on in ways that feel right.
PH: And composers as well. We’re looking for them to create pieces that embody this feeling of correspondence in nature. We are composed of elements found only in stars. We have our immortal longings. And it’s fascinating to touch that through music and art.
CH: Like Ensamble Studio. I think they have done such an unbelievable job of finding that line between earth-made and man-made. Is it human, is it some kind of geological force? What is it that created these things?
PH: Art takes us into dimensions that are equally valid in measuring the achievement of man and the position of man in the universe.
This article appears in Whitewall‘s winter 2018 New Luxury issue, out now.