Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Art Encounters from 2014: Sculpture

This post presents sculpture in a manner similar to my painting post of August 27, 2015.  In this instance, I have selected 32 photographs documenting sculpture which happened to catch my attention in my wanderings last year--mostly, but not entirely, in New York City.

The sculptures run the gamut from large, hard to miss, free-standing pieces to smaller works, some of which are relief sculptures, easy to overlook unless we are gazing down at our feet.

As usual, my inclination leans toward capturing interesting contexts rather than providing straight-forward, ideal photos of a particular work of art. And so, several of my pictures are simply details. Also, in the case of the final two works, I take the liberty of designating as sculpture two perfectly functioning, mass-produced machines.

Albert Paley, Ambiguous Response, 2012, detail, Chesterwood, Stockbridge, MA

Albert Paley fabricates large-scale, abstract sculptures in his studio in Rochester, New York and, in 1955, became the first metal sculptor to receive the American Institute of Architects Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Prior to this 2014 show of eleven large pieces by Paley, which had been installed on the rural grounds of Chesterwood, the country home of Daniel Chester French, Manhattan had hosted thirteen of Paley's large pieces on the central malls of Park Avenue (from June to November of 2013).

Louise Bourgeois, The Couple, 2007-2009, Cheim Read Gallery, Manhattan, NYC

The French-American sculptor, Louise Bourgeois, completed this piece the year before she died at the age of ninety-nine.  In this work, a cocoon of aluminum appears to encase two people, identified by protruding feet and hands. 

Is Bourgeois suggesting some form of imprisonment, or are those coils a metaphor for the power of a couple's loving embrace?  Bourgeois leaves the answer to us, simply noting that "hanging and floating are states of ambivalence."

Mark di Suvero, Raft, 1963, Park Avenue Armory, Manhattan, NYC

A section of pipe, two pieces of milled timber and a cast left hand and forearm constitute the elements of di Suvero's Raft. This early work by the Italian-American sculptor, Mark di Suvero, evokes some form of desperation, implied by that diagonally-thrusting forearm and its vise-like hand, gripping a timber beam. The rough, gnarly, re-used nature of all the materials further contributes to this mood.

The title, Raft, is an obvious reference to Géricault's painting of The Raft of the Medusa (1818).  Still, wherever Géricault combines hand and timber, he represents those hands as lifeless and limp. At best, di Suvero's reference to Géricault is general and indirect. It is much more likely that he owes the power of that hand to another Frenchman, the sculptor Auguste Rodin.

As I see it, this early, representational, small-scale piece by Mark di Suvero is not so different from his later, large-scaled, abstract work.  Whether early or late in his career, di Suvero remains wedded to compositions of powerful, diagonal gestures and rough, re-used materials. The main difference is scale. And when working at a scale that requires cranes, hoists and industrial welding equipment for assembly, one naturally turns to abstraction and non-objective forms. We can find one example here in New York at the south-east corner of Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan.

Barnett Newman, Broken Obelisk, 1963-1967, detail of Base, Garden, Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan, NYC

Barnett Newman is one of America's major abstract expressionist painters. He also made six sculptures.  Broken Obelisk is his largest, over 25 feet of solid Cor-Ten steel.  Robert Hughes called this work "the best American sculpture of its time...a steel pyramid from whose apex an inverted obelisk rises like a beam of light. Here, Newman bypassed the Western associations of pyramids and broken columns with death, and produced a life-affirming image of transcendence."

In my photograph, I give you that tiny "apex" from which another 6,000 pounds of steel soar upwards. It is from this point that "transcendence" begins.

Ewerdt Hilgemann, Dancers, 2013, Park Avenue at 59th Street, Manhattan, NYC

The German sculptor, Ewerdt Hilgemann, made seven sculptures that were exhibited on Park Avenue from August 1-November 5, 2014.  He placed them--at the invitation of the Fund for Park Avenue Sculpture Committee and NYC Parks--between 52nd and 67th Streets and called the installation "Moments in a Stream."

In the case of these two Dancers at 59th Street, one is a rectangular tube of Cor-Ten steel while its twin partner is made of highly-polished stainless steel.  Hilgemann calls these "implosion" sculptures, and his process for forming them is as fascinating as it is simple.  Essentially, it is something most everyone has done after draining the liquid contents out of a plastic bottle: suck out the air and let the atmospheric air pressure that surrounds us re-mold the bottle.

Of course, Hilgemann uses a vacuum pump instead of his mouth. He can't determine the exact form his pristine steel tubes will assume once they begin to crumple, but he can control the degree of deformation by either stopping the pump or by pumping out more air.  Here is a video [3:05] of the making of Habakuk 1, one of the other pieces that he installed on Park Avenue.

Rachel Feinstein, Folly: Flying Ship, 2014, Madison Square Park, Manhattan, NYC

From May through September, Rachel Feinstein installed three large sculptures in Madison Square Park.  She named her installation Folly, a word conjuring up the gardens of 18th-century British and French nobility that contained extravagant and surprising architectural constructions intended simply for personal delectation.

As was the case in those earlier gardens, Feinstein intended park users to interact with her pieces in imaginative ways. In her words, "I picture Folly as an empty Fellini-esque set....where the real people who occupy the park every day will stand in as Commedia dell'arte performers."

Building on her reference to the Commedia dell'arte, she admits that "The Flying Ship came from a theatrical skit concerning Punchinello attempting to fly his ship to the moon."

Linda Cunningham, Urban Regeneration 2, 2014, Westchester Square, Bronx, NYC

The juxtaposition of bent, warped and twisted structural steel beams and trusses with various types of stone makes an unusual sculptural idiom.  Pictured above is one of a two-part installation on separate traffic triangles flanking the Westchester Square-East Tremont Avenue IRT subway station. It was commissioned as part of the Department of Transportation's Art Program in support of temporary installations meant to invigorate the City's streetscapes.

If the structural steel is generic and ubiquitous, the stones are quite particular: volcanic rocks from California, coquina or fossil rocks from the waters off the coast of Florida, quartz from Vermont and limestone from the Delaware River Valley.  Linda Cunningham, whose studio is in the South Bronx, thinks of the stones as objects for meditation and contemplation, much as they might be were they part of a Chinese or Japanese garden. 

But the urban garden of the Bronx demands a radically different aesthetic and philosophy. And so, those sections of rusting steel and their insistent gestures refocus our meditation from the natural, geologic processes which formed those stones to our urban environment and the threats posed by industrial reality on nature.

Bernard (Tony) Rosenthal, Alamo, 1967, Astor Place, Manhattan, NYC

Alamo, aka: Astor Place Cube or The Cube, was one of several sculptures placed around New York in 1967 under the initiative of Doris Chanin Freedman, a major advocate for locating public sculpture in the city.  Of those sculptures, only it has been retained, as local NoHo and East Village residents cottoned to it and it "became a favorite huddling place for hippies and students of nearby Cooper Union." 

Certainly part of the appeal was that this Cor-Ten steel sculpture, measuring eight feet on a side and weighing 1,800 pounds, was mounted on a bearing, enabling it to be turned--slowly and with some difficulty.  The sculptor, Tony Rosenthal, had said that "it is important to me that the sculpture interact with the public," and over the decades it has been flyered, chalked, spray-painted and once even covered to resemble a Rubik's cube. 

As we see in the above photograph, Alamo still interacts with the public....and it still would except that it has been removed temporarily while Astor Place undergoes reconstruction and the sculpture is restored and repainted.

Sebastián, The Torch of Friendship, 2002, detail with signature, Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX

I couldn't resist taking a picture of Sebastián's welded signature on his fifty-ton sculpture, located near the downtown entrance to San Antonio's Riverwalk.  (For more on San Antonio, see my post of January 29, 2015: "Discovering San Antonio: A Photographic Souvenir").

Gregg Lefevre, Library Walk: Georges Braque, 1998, East 40th Street sidewalk, Manhattan, NYC

Manhattan Island Native American Settlements in 1600, 2002, Union Square pavement, Manhattan, NYC

Gregg LeFevre, the sculptor who made both these pavement plaques (and all of their many companions), has a studio in the Village and lives in Harlem. In the words of a New York Times article of 2003 by Kelly Crow, "of all the sculptors who have left their public stamp on this city, none rival the bronze ubiquity of Gregg LeFevre."

The Braque quotation stating, "only falsehood has to be invented," is a pithy aphorism, whether in reference to the delightful artistic inventions he and Picasso were offering with their coeval cubist paintings or to the more recent, unethical political pronouncements made in justification of so many indefensible positions.

The Braque plaque is one of 96 quotations embedded in the 41st Street sidewalk (both sides) between Park and Fifth Avenues. This Library Walk, of course, leads directly to the main entrance of the New York Public Library, which sponsored the relief sculptures along with the Grand Central Partnership and the New Yorker magazine.

The lower photograph shows a plaque which maps lower Manhattan in 1600, and is one of 22 bronze reliefs set into the sidewalk surrounding Union Square. Each one of these documents or celebrates some aspect of history or labor history as they relate to the important activities/developments that took place in the area we now know as Union Square.

Berthold Nebel, The Council [top] & Buffalo Hunt [bottom], Doors for the original Museum of the American Indian, 1928, Audubon Terrace (West 155th Street), Manhattan, NYC

Swiss born Berthold Nebel emigrated to the United States with his parents as a young boy, studied art at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League of New York.  He won the prestigious Rome Prize in 1914 and would direct the School of Sculpture in what is now Carnegie-Mellon University until returning to New York in 1925.

These plaques, two of eight for the bronze doors of what is now known as the George Gustave Heye Center, depict basic activities of the American Indian.  Heye opened the museum in 1922.  It closed in 1994, and much of its collection is now housed in Lower Manhattan, in what was originally the U. S. Custom House.

Eugene Pfister, Grave Marker for John James Audubon, Base, 1893, Trinity Church Cemetery & Mausoleum, Harlem, Manhattan, NYC

Just a few blocks south of Audubon Terrace and the Heye Center, at 155th Street, is the Trinity Church Cemetery and the grave of John James Audubon.  Here we see the north and west faces of the base of the monument showing, in relief, a bust of Audubon and his painting palette and brushes. Rising above this base is a single slab of bluestone, nineteen feet high, in the form of a Celtic cross. It, too, is covered with relief sculpture of birds and animals.  

The stone mason in charge of all the carving was a Eugene Pfister. All I could find was that he was the foreman at the R. C. Fisher & Co. marble yards in Corlears Hook, N. Y.

Plan of the Alamo, Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX

In front of the entrance to the actual church of San Antonio de Valero is this cast bronze table showing, in relief, the several buildings, walls and plaza that make up the 4.2 acre compound that constitute the Alamo.  Some of these features date back to 1744. 

Even though this relief is more a didactic teaching tool than a work of art, I think it quite beautiful, particularly when covered with beaded raindrops, as it is here.

Daniel Chester French (with Adolph A Weinman), The Four Continents: Africa, 1903-1907, Alexander Hamilton U. S. Custom House, Bowling Green, Manhattan, NYC

Daniel Chester French (with Adolph A Weinman), The Four Continents: Asia, 1903-1907, Alexander Hamilton U. S. Custom House, Bowling Green, Manhattan, NYC

The Custom House in Lower Manhattan, which has housed part of the National Museum of the American Indian collection on two of its five floors since 1994, was designed in 1902 by the American architect, Cass Gilbert.  One element of Gilbert's design concept called for the four sculptural groupings that front his building. The sculptor was Daniel Chester French (whose country home was the site of the very first sculpture pictured in this blog post).

Africa (the top photo) rests her arms on a sphinx and a lion as she sleeps; and even recently Africa is still sometimes called the "Sleeping Giant."  Asia sits aloof and upright on a throne whose base consists of human skulls. She holds a poppy as if it were a scepter and is flanked by a tiger on her right and three pitiful figures on her left.  Those figures, as the sculptor explains, represent "the hordes of India and the hopelessness of life of so many of the inhabitants."

Deborah Butterfield, Josephson, 2013, Danese Corey gallery, Manhattan, NYC

Deborah Butterfield, Josephson, 2013, detail, Danese Corey gallery, Manhattan, NYC

As one can see from the detail photograph of Josephson, this horse is made of gnarled, weatherbeaten tree trunks and branches.  But then, there are no wires, no screws, and certainly no glue could possibly hold these pieces together. Only then does one realize that Butterfield's horses are actually bronze, each piece an exact copy of the actual wood she first selected for assembly.

Deborah Butterfield has been sculpting horses out of various scrap metals and wood for thirty years. As she recalled, "the first thing that I saw in my life that I remembered looking important and wonderful was a horse. I was just moved by them in a non-rational, passionate way before I even had words to describe it." 

In a revealing video [5:54] of 2012 that helps to explain her process of transforming wood to bronze, Butterfield equates those branches with drawing lines and sees them as generators of energy. She also says she always starts with the body, which then "tells" her "what happens to the neck and head."  Thus, her process of generating a life-like and expressive horse from the body shares a famous parallel in Michelangelo's sculptures, his Slaves in particular, where he begins with the torso in order to free the spirit from the marble matter imprisoning it. 

Xavier Figueroa, The Transfer, 2014, Bronx Museum of Art, "Bronx Speaks: No Boundaries" show, Bronx, NYC

Although Bronx artist Xavier Figueroa also paints and works two-dimensionally, many of his installations invoke certain urban environments from his memory, but made at a scale which invites viewer participation. The Transfer recreates a subway station from the 1980s, according to the artist.

Michael Ferris, Jr., Joe, 2013, Bronx Museum of Art, "Bronx Speaks: No Boundaries" show, Bronx, NYC

Michael Ferris, Jr., is both a painter and a sculptor who studied art at the Kansas City Art Institute and Indiana University.  His sculptures are mainly portrait busts, as is the case with Joe--shown above in a detail.

His technique is a variation of intarsia, a process of creating forms by inlaying wood that entered the west well over a millennia ago from the Near East and North Africa. However, where the western application of intarsia strove to create representational illusionism and a sense of depth, Ferris emphasizes surface pattern.

Where he does indicate depth, it is from creating actual depth through relief, as in Joe's hair.  One might infer that Ferris' heads are influenced by the explosion of tattoos in the past two decades. However, the real source of his abstractly patterned intarsia surfaces derives from his family background. He grew up at home (in Chicago) fascinated by the inlaid wood patterns of two Middle Eastern backgammon tables that belonged to his Lebanese father. 

Beatrice Goldfine, Golda Meir, 1984, Golda Meir Square, Midtown, Manhattan, NYC

Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel and the original "Iron Lady" of 20th century politics, became only the second historically important woman to be honored with a public statue in New York in 1984. This was a decade after she retired as Prime Minister. 

But, then, the first historically important woman to be honored with a public statue in New York and most definitely the very first "Iron Lady"--Joan of Arc--had to wait some 484 years after she died. According to Allison Meier, New York today has only five such public statues.

Amazingly, I have found almost nothing on-line about the Philadelphia sculptor, Beatrice Goldfine. I encourage anyone who knows about her or has easy access to printed academic literature on her to start a Wikipedia entry.

Radcliffe Bailey, Pensive (Portrait of W.E.B. Du Bois), 2013, No Longer Empty show: "If You Build It," Sugar Hill, Manhattan, NYC

This life-size bronze, showing a man sitting on four large, roughly-sawn fir logs, is much more than a mere portrait of W.E.B. Du Bois.  Its pose consciously appropriates that of Rodin's famous piece, The Thinker (1904), a figure which Rodin first had called The Poet and placed at the top center of his Gates of Hell (1880 ff).  

Rodin based his imagery for his Gates of Hell on Dante's Inferno. Because of this obvious visual connection, I would argue that Radcliffe Bailey's portrait, Pensivecelebrates Du Bois as the Dante of black America.  After all, as Du Bois championed a "Black Aesthetic" in literature well before Langston Hughes (see his The Souls of Black Folk, 1903), so Dante championed the volgare, the vernacular Italian native language over Latin in the 14th century.

As Dennis Looney writes in his 2011 book, Freedom Readers: The African American Reception of Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy, "in Dante they [African Americans] find not only a politically engaged poet who speaks truth to power...they also find a master craftsman of poetic language who forges a new vernacular out of the linguistic diversity around him...this linguistic task is the ultimate political act."

Pensive might appear no more than a simple portrait.  In actuality, it is a political statement in support of Du Bois' political militancy for black equality as well as of Dante's political positions, which led to his exile from the City State of Florence.

In reference to Pensive, its sculptor, Radcliffe Bailey, stresses the importance of Du Bois' concept of 'double consciousness,' in which black Americans are forced to see themselves through the eyes of others.  With this in mind, I also would suggest that Pensive acts as the sculptural companion to the recent book by this years MacArthur winner, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Anna Hyatt Huntington, El Cid Campeador, 1927, Audubon Terrace, Manhattan, NYC

In discussing the bust of Golda Meir, I made a lighthearted reference to Joan of Arc as the "very first 'Iron Lady'." It so happens that Anna Hyatt Huntington was the sculptor of that Joan of Arc, located on Riverside Drive at 93rd Street, and it was the first public monument in New York City to be made by a woman. Huntington also would become the first woman artist elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and among the few American sculptors of her gender to have a major career at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In her late 40s, Anna married the Spanish scholar and heir to the Southern Pacific Railroad, Archer M. Huntington. In 1907, he had commissioned the grouping of Beaux-Arts buildings at Audubon Terrace, land that once had belonged to John James Audubon. Twenty years later, his new wife, Anna, "completed" the architectural complex by siting her monument to El Cid in front of the wall of the Hispanic Society Library. Her sculpture has been called "one of the finest ensembles of monumental sculpture in New York."

Lee Lawrie, Two Marys, 1912-1915, Mullion Sculpture on main façade, Church of the Intercession, Washington Heights, Manhattan, NYC

This is one of a series of carvings on the north side mullion that flanks and enframes the main portal of the Gothic Revival Church of the Intercession, designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. I can find no reference to the sculptor, but I would guess that it is the work of Lee Lawrie, a close friend of Goodhue and one who worked with him until the architect's death.

Lee Lawrie, Tomb of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, 1929, Church of the Intercession, Washington Heights, Manhattan, NYC

Inside the north vestry of Goodhue's church, Lee Lawrie designed this wall vault which contains the ashes of his long-time friend and professional colleague. Patterned after a medieval royal tomb, this memorial carries an inscription which reads, in part: "Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue....His great architectural creations that beautify the land and enrich civilization are his monuments." 

The segmental arch at its top is carved with representations of several of Goodhue's most famous buildings--"his great architectural creations"--of which the Nebraska State Capitol (at that point not yet completed) is shown top center.

For Goodhue's effigy, which lies below this arch, Lawrie insured its accuracy by using Goodhue's actual death mask as well as the post-mortem castings of his hands.

Fernando Botero, Adam, 1990, detail, Time Warner Center, Manhattan, NYC

I've never been very fond of Fernando Botero's sculptures or paintings, except when captured in details, as here. Because it is twelve feet high, Adam offers his penis at just about eye height. It gets rubbed and fondled for titillation, good luck and, of course, photographic souvenirs. Soon it loses its patina, which then is reapplied. Life goes on.

Arturo di Modica, Charging Bull, 1989, Bowling Green, Lower Manhattan, NYC

If the genitalia of Botero's Adam won't satisfy one's needs, whatever those may be, there is always di Modica's Charging Bull. Simply leave the Time Warner Center, hop the #1 subway southbound, get off at the Rector Street Station and walk north one block up Broadway. It's a lot cheaper and quicker than cooking up a dish of Soup #5.

Attilio Piccirilli, Courage, detail of the USS Maine National Monument (1901-1913), Columbus Circle, Manhattan, NYC

The Maine Monument, commemorating the explosion on the Battleship Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898, the brief Spanish American War, and the rise of America as a world power, was a design collaboration between the architect, Harold Van Buren Magonigle and the Bronx sculptor, Attilio Piccirilli--one of the renowned family of stone carvers who also sculpted the Four Continents for the Custom House discussed earlier and many other major American public monuments.

Courage, or Courage Awaiting the Flight of Peace, is one of two lesser allegorical figures of the complex composition of the Maine Monument. The other is Fortitude Supporting the Feeble.

Jesus Ygnacio Dominguez, Fred Lebow, 1994, Central Park at East 90th Street, Manhattan, NYC

The sculpture of Fred Lebow, Romanian immigrant and founder of the New York Marathon, is the only public sculpture which moves each year--from this spot across Fifth Avenue from the Guggenheim Museum at 90th Street to the Marathon's finish line.

It depicts Lebow looking down at  his watch as runners cross the finish line. Its artist, Dominguez, is from San Diego, and the sculpture was promoted by another Californian, Daniel Mitrovich. after he ran the race in 1990.  The official name of this work is Forever at the Finish Line.

John Quincy Adams Ward, Statue of George Washington, 1882, Federal Hall (26 Wall Street), Lower Manhattan, NYC

John Quincy Adams Ward placed his George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall at the spot where Washington took the oath of office in 1789 to become the first President of the United States.

Washington's right hand extends out as if in blessing. But that gesture, in reality, is how his hand would be positioned as he took the oath of office. All that is missing is the Bible that would have been under his hand. 

What replaces that King James Version of the Bible, we realize as we look out from behind the standing figure, is the New York Stock Exchange.  Thus, J.Q.A. Ward has George Washington blessing "the global temple of capitalism."

Customized 1949 Chevrolet, West 25th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan, NYC

It's hard to pick out the make since this Chevrolet has been chopped, channeled, nosed, decked and frenched...and also given a completely different grille, loosely based on the toothed grille of an early Corvette.

Steve Heller, Fintasia, Customized 1959 Cadillac, Boiceville, NY

Steve Heller, who works out of Boiceville, NY, does some car customizing, as in this Cadillac, but chiefly makes unique furniture in which he integrates wood and car sections. His workshop and sales gallery on Route 28, Fabulous Furniture, is a sculptural paradise. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the great angles and perspectives, and especially the comments that provide interesting contexts. The bronze horse video was particularly inspiring- such a powerful, specific way of going about art.