Chapel Hill filmmaker celebrates an artwork’s poignant end

Jul. 18, 2013 @ 10:21 AM

A few weeks ago The New York Times took notice of the work of a Chapel Hill filmmaker, Olympia Stone, and her award-winning film, “The Cardboard Bernini.”

Isn't this something to celebrate? Or, have we are gotten used to the Times and other national media writing about our neighbors and noting the importance of their work, putting our town out front for the rest of the world to know and admire?
But it was on the front page of the arts section of the Times, illustrated with big bold color photographs! I still think this kind of attention is something special.
Even more to celebrate is the message of the film itself.
In one sense it is a simple narrative that follows the work of artist James Grashow through years of creating a cardboard sculpture inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his fountains in Rome. One was the Fountain of Trevi, whose design Bernini influenced although it was constructed after his death. That fountain became famous in the movie “Three Coins in the Fountain” and is such an icon that it is overrun by tourists at all hours.
But why try to copy the work of a classic artist and why do it in cardboard?
Stone’s film gives its viewers an opportunity to develop answers to such questions by following Grashow from the beginning to the end of his project.
Something that sets Grashow’s cardboard fountain apart from most other art forms is that the project has a definite ending and a planned destruction.
Completed after several years of intense work in 2010, the cardboard version of Bernini's fountains was displayed at venues in Roanoke, Va., New York City, and Pittsburgh. Then, in 2012, Grashow gave the work to Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Conn., with instructions to place it outside so it could be destroyed gradually by falling rain, and the museum visitors could follow its disintegration.
As Stone’s film follows the work on the project, Grashow talks on camera about his earlier work and his life as an artist. His wife and children chime in with loving recollections about their challenges accommodating Grashow’s various projects and the occasional hand-to-mouth times when the work he was driven to produce did not provide an adequate economic return.
Grashow explains his commitment to the cardboard fountain and its destruction, saying, “Ashes to ashes; mush to mush.”
His plan to create and then watch the destruction of this work comes from the same spirit as the Buddhist monks who visit Chapel Hill from time to time and, after spending weeks of intense work creating a beautiful artwork of colored sands, lovingly destroy it and pour the sands into a nearby creek.
In the film Grashow demonstrates that the enjoyment of art, as well as its beauty and meaning, can be enhanced by the promise of its upcoming destruction, by the knowledge that the final end is coming.
Like life itself.



The film will be shown at the Durham County Library on October 24 at 7pm. More information about the film at:


D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at Today’s guest is Ben Fountain author of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.”