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World-Renowned South African Artist and Sculptor Daniel Popper to Exhibit at Morton Arboretum

Apr 30, 2021 ● By Anna Marie Imbordino
Ven a la Luz by Daniel Popper-Tulum Mexico 2018

Ven a la Luz by Daniel Popper-Tulum Mexico 2018. Photo courtesy of The Morton Arboretum

Following the highly successful installation Troll Hunt by Denmark-based recycled artist and environmental activist Thomas Dambo, The Morton Arboretum welcomes yet another internationally renowned artist to its property in Lisle. The Morton Arboretum’s newest outdoor art installation, Human+Nature, will open this month, after the original June 2020 opening was delayed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This will be the first major U.S. exhibition by renowned South African multidisciplinary artist and sculptor Daniel Popper, and his largest exhibition to date anywhere in the world. It will feature five, 15-to-26-foot-tall interactive public art installations created exclusively for the Arboretum.

Built to create a sense of awe and wonder, the Human+Nature (pronounced “human nature”) sculptures will be in various locations across the 1,700-acre Arboretum site to lead guests to areas they may not otherwise explore. Popper caught the eye of Arboretum curators on Instagram.

“The space provides a real challenge due to size,” shares Sarah Sargent, manager of interpretation and exhibits. “We wanted something that could hold its own over 16 miles of hiking trails and over 1,700 acres of property. Troll Hunt was such a success, so we hoped to create something really distinct from trolls that could inspire new audiences to experience the Arboretum and connect with nature.”

Works of this scale are not new for Popper, who has spent years sculpting monumental public installations and stages for numerous music festivals and events from Electric Forest, in Michigan, to Modem Festival, in Croatia. His most recent sculpture, titled Thrive, will be a permanent public installation at Society Las Olas, in Fort Lauderdale.

Where installations like Troll Hunt celebrated conservation through recycled art, Popper hopes his work can communicate a different message. “I looked at this opportunity as a way to share a different message about conversation. If you create a tree out of plastic bottles, that certainly sends a message and is wonderful, but for me, what was more important was to bring awareness to humanity’s deeper relationship to nature. How closely related we are to the natural world around us as a sentient being.”

Audiences will experience a towering interpretation of a female figure, diverse human facial traits interwoven with root structures and large-scale human hands. Made of glass-reinforced concrete, fiberglass and steel, each sculpture will weigh several metric tons. The largest ground footprint will be 28 feet wide and 37 feet long. Popper, who is new to concrete as a design medium, is excited at the challenge. Concrete was a practical, as well as artistic choice for Popper, as he and his team hope to create somewhat permanent installations that can withstand Chicagoland winters.

Popper described his upcoming installation as playful, sentimental and at times serious, but ultimately reminds audiences that they are just statues. Some may find Popper’s work to be inspiring, while others may find the work unsettling, but all feedback about his work is celebrated by Popper, who finds the criticisms just as beautiful as the praise. “There is a lot to be said when a piece of art makes you feel something, even if that feeling is uncomfortable. That experience of discomfort can really change your perspective on things.”

The different perspectives of his work Popper describes as fantastic and exactly what he hopes for. “Some may get freaked out, some will love it, some will be in awe, but everyone will project their own stories onto these sculptures. Enjoy them. Take your own meaning. There is something interesting about why you resonate with it, or don’t like it. What is triggering you there? That is also beautiful and part of the experience I hope to share with Arboretum guests.”

In addition to his work with the Arboretum, Popper has plans to showcase installations in 2021 at the Bellagio Hotel, in Las Vegas, this summer, in addition to private property installations in Joshua Tree, California, and Miami.

To explore more of Daniel Popper’s monumental works, visit and Instagram @danielpopper.

The Morton Arboretum is located at 4100 Illinois Rte. 53, in Lisle. Entry is currently by advance registration for timed entry. For more information and to make reservations, call 630-968-0074 or visit

Anna Marie Imbordino is an award-winning writer, publicist and environmentalist based in Chicago and Charleston, SC. Connect on social media by following @CHiBuzzMarketing.