Sculpture – Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Thu, 15 Mar 2018 20:47:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sculpture – Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 Sculpting History Tue, 27 Feb 2018 19:13:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition in Fort Worth, Tex., explores four European-born artists who made their careers in America.

Gaston Lachaise, Woman Seated

Gaston Lachaise, Woman Seated, modeled 1918, cast 1925, bronze, 12 in. (h).

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Gaston Lachaise, Man Walking Gaston Lachaise, Woman Seated Robert Laurent, The Bather, circa 1925 Elie Nadelman, Acrobat, 1916 William Zorach, Spirit of the Dance, 1932

A current exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, “A New American Sculpture, 1914–1945: Lachaise, Laurent, Nadelman, and Zorach,” showcases four pivotal sculptors working in America during the first few decades of the 20th century. The show, which runs through May 13, features some 55 sculptures and 20 drawings by Gaston Lachaise, Robert Laurent, Elie Nadelman, and William Zorach. Each of these artists came to the United States as immigrants—Lachaise and Laurent from France, Nadelman from Poland, and Zorach from Lithuania—but helped define American art’s unique identity during the interwar period. Their innovative approaches to sculpture, in both concept and construction, helped shape modernism, while their widespread influences and pioneering collecting habits have had an indelible influence on fellow artists and collectors for decades.

The exhibition, which ran last year at the Portland Museum of Art (its co-organizer), is uniquely suited to the Fort Worth, Tex.-based institution. “Part of the Amon Carter’s identity is a strong sense of early modernism,” says Shirley Reece-Houghes, curator of painting and sculpture at the museum. “It was something Louise Carter Stevenson wanted to nurture at the museum.” The Amon Carter’s collection includes works by Lachaise, Nadelman, and Laurent. “We wanted to be able to contextualize some of our collection,” says Reece-Houghes.

One of the pieces in the museum’s collection, and a standout of the show, is Lachaise’s Woman Seated (modeled 1918, cast 1925). The sculpture portrays the artist’s wife and muse, Isabel Dutaud Nagle, whom he fell in love with in Europe and followed to America (Nagle was married when she first met Lachaise but eventually divorced and married the artist). The subject’s pose, with its legs crossed and arms folded, exudes regal confidence, yet there is a casual cool that seems oddly more American than European. The subject’s dress, shoes, and hairpiece are nickel-plated, which gives them a radiant sheen. Lachaise had training as a jeweler and typically worked in bronze casting. After he came to America, he became interested in electroplating, which was one of the ways in which he pushed sculpture forward. As in Woman Seated, Lachaise’s electroplating techniques allowed for a variety of patina, sheen, and color—a variation from most bronze cast sculpture, which is all of one color.

Another innovative piece in the exhibition—and in the Amon Carter’s collection—is Head (Abstraction), a 1916 sculpture by Laurent made of carved mahogany. Laurent’s talents were recognized by art connoisseur Hamilton Easter Field when Laurent was just 12 years old, and Field brought him to New York in the 1910s. This piece was made within years of Laurent’s arrival in America and was one of his first direct carvings in the round. “There was no plan, no sketch, “ says Reece-Houghes. “He took a block of mahogany and started carving away.” Of the process of direct carving Laurent said, “What I enjoy the most is cutting direct in the materials, starting generally without any preconceived idea, preferably into a block of stone, alabaster or wood having an odd shape…It keeps you awake, looking for something to show up.”

Zorach also experimented with carving directly and responding to materials spontaneously. Young Boy, a 1921 sculpture in the exhibition, is an early example of his use of the technique. The artist, who moved with his family from Lithuania to Ohio as a child, left America to train as a painter in Paris in 1910. In New York in 1912, he married Marguerite Thompson, an American artist he met in Paris, and both artists were represented the following year in the famous 1913 Armory Show. Zorach was highly aware of the trends in Paris but forged ahead to create something new in America. “Gauguin had started hand-carving directly onto a block of wood, so the technique was part of a modernist momentum that started in Europe,” says Reece-Houghes. “But through the idea of truth to materials, Laurent and Zorach revitalized sculpture in America.”

It wasn’t just technique that shaped these artists’ unique brand of modernism; it was also their influences, particularly those that were considered “primitive” at the time. Zorach attended a show of African art at Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery in 1911—Young Boy seems particularly indebted to African and Oceanic art—and examined Aztec, Mayan, and Inuit carvings at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. His admiration of Cycladic and Egyptian figures can be seen in The Artist’s Daughter, a 1930 piece directly carved from marble. Laurent was also impressed by African sculpture, which he observed as a youth during a visit to Picasso’s studio. The characteristics of African masks and the markings of Japanese woodblock ukiyo-e prints, which were also a leading influence on Laurent, appear quite clearly in Head (or Mask) (circa 1915, walnut on marble base). Nile Maiden and Princess, both circa-1914 carved wood panels, reference Egyptian and African art rather directly in both subject and style.

However, one influence in particular set these artists apart from their peers in Europe and America—American folk art. At the turn of the 20th century, most American artists and collectors were completely uninterested in folk art, but these artists saw the tradition with new eyes. Laurent, who established a summer art colony with Field in Ogunquit, Maine, began collecting American folk art from local sales as a means to furnish the fishing shacks the artists were living and working in. Zorach, who also had a house in Maine, looked to carvings in the American folk art tradition for inspiration. “These immigrant artists were some of the first to delve into folk art,” says Reece-Houghes. “They were trying to assimilate to American culture, but it was also part of the modernist sensibility to look at a lot of sources.”

Nadelman became deeply entrenched in American folk Art as both an inspiration for his own work and as a lifelong collecting passion. The Polish artist amassed a collection of thousands of pieces with his wife, the heiress Viola Flannery, and erected the Museum of Folk Arts in Riverdale, N.Y., in 1925. Nadelman is best known for his cherry wood sculptures, which he created models for and had craftsman execute. As with Chef d’Orchestre (circa 1919, cherry wood, stained and gessoed), a sculpture in the show and the Amon Carter’s collection, Nadelman would create a weathered look by applying a gesso made of plaster of Paris, glue, and color. “He was inspired by his collection of cigar-store Indians and painted wood sculptures,” says Reece-Houghes. “He was meshing ideas of modernist tech with historical appearance.”

Dancer (1918), a cherry and mahogany sculpture by Nadelman, referenced the trade and shop figures in the artist’s collection. The piece is actually modeled after Eva Tanguay, a vaudeville dancer renowned for her high kicks. Dance is a major subject for these artists, either in the modernist vein à la Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis or popular American entertainment like Minsky’s burlesque or the circus. Many works in the show directly address dance and acrobatics: Nadelman’s sprightly Acrobat (1916, bronze) and playful Tango (circa 1920–24, painted and gessoed cherry wood)—based on the partner dance that had made its way to America from Argentina in the 1920s and become an absolute craze; Lachaise’s gravity-defying Acrobat (1927, bronze) and Two Floating Nude Acrobats (1922, bronze); and Zorach’s dramatic Spirit of the Dance (1932, bronze). But even when not so literal, the notion of portraying bodies in motion captivated these artists, which is palpable in the show’s selection of drawings. Some works in their own right, others studies for sculptures, the drawings beam with exuberant examples of life captured in graceful lines.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Through a Glass, Brightly Mon, 29 Jan 2018 21:16:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Michael E. Taylor’s abstract glass works draw us into the invisible realms of subatomic physics and computer code.

Michael Estes Taylor, Probing for Innovative Clarity

Michael Estes Taylor, Probing for Innovative
Clarity, laminated cast optical cadmium and
copper glasses, 55.9 x 55.9 x 35.6 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Michael Estes Taylor, Probing for Innovative Clarity Michael Estes Taylor, Tantric Landscape, 2009 Michael Estes Taylor, Rocketeer, 2014 Michael Estes Taylor, Quantum Disorder, 2012 Michael Estes Taylor, God Particle, Higgs Boson, 2016

Glass has been used since as early as ancient Egypt, and its fascination is evinced by the material’s central position in our holiest of places, in the form of stained glass. The translucence of stained glass appears to have been both a practical choice (people enjoy seeing) and a clear means of expressing the nature of the spiritual mysteries that permeated the lives of worshippers and the world around them like so much light. Novelist and art theorist André Malraux wrote in his critical manifesto, Voices of Silence: “Stained glass is not indifferent to the changes of light which, when our churches were thronged with worshippers at successive hours, endowed it with a vitality unknown to any other art form…. Stained glass has an immediate appeal to us, by reason of its emotivity, so much akin to ours, and its impassioned crystallization.” Despite this lofty exaltation of stained glass as medium, an artist who deals with glass in the context of sculpture could either take the ineffable quality of the material as self-evident or make it the very core of their work and practice. Artist Michael E. Taylor has chosen the latter.

Rather than simply being objects filling an inert space, Taylor’s forms, much like a sacred pane of stained glass, give a material presence to what is unseen but always there. His geometrical forms seem to grow in space, recalling Malraux’s “impassioned crystallization”; they are time-lapse crystals in a state of becoming. The transparency of Taylor’s work invites the viewer to consider its place in space and to question what exactly that space is and what fills it, beyond the sculpture being viewed. Non-transparent sculpture may negate or work within a space, but with a definite beginning and end to its form. Glass sculpture, on the other hand, harnesses light and allows us to see form without obliterating the space it inhabits. The result is a shaping of light and space, as if a trowel could scrape and pull the air into pure form.

The experience of looking at Taylor’s 2015 laminated optical and pigmented glass sculpture, Positron, is akin to putting on a pair of special goggles that allow the viewer to see physics in action. There is a powerful illusion of motion in the work that is conveyed by a series of transparent three-dimensional rectangles that move further clockwise along the same axis with each successive repetition of the form. The result is a freeze-frame of motion that evokes the most fundamental subatomic phenomena or a string of DNA under construction. The very nature of the work brings to mind spirit photography from the turn of the 20th century—faked images that purported to provide evidence for the belief in life after death.

Both the hoax of spirit photography and Taylor’s work give form to a belief. In Taylor’s case it is the belief that our world is governed by an immutable set of scientific laws that correlate with physical realities. Positron (an antimatter particle) however, differs from a spiritualist’s photograph, in that the reality of what it “believes”—that we exist in a world of matter and particles governed by invisible laws that, as we continue to learn more, cannot be perceived by the naked eye—also makes its existence possible.

In an exhibition currently on view at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., titled “Michael E. Taylor—Traversing Parallels” (through May 12), the artist’s artistic and technical innovations are on full display. Taylor’s career as an artist and educator spans 50 years, and his experimentation and mastery of glass (particularly his pioneering work with cut and laminated glass) have enabled him to ask pressing contemporary questions about our rapidly changing world. The world Taylor sees is framed and understood through science and abstraction. His geometrically surprising forms present the beauty and uncertainty of the human perspective quickly dissolving into a collection of data and unseen algorithms and laws. His 2014 laminated optical and pigmented glass sculpture, Rocketeer, seems to beg the viewer to be understood on its own terms. There is a life to the work, which is made up of a collection of blue half-circles surrounding a large diamond-shaped base. The physical laws of the work are strange and unexpected, yet there is a character, a personality to it that, while not human, still communicates with the viewer. Rocketeer stands like a wild creature in a post-human age, a peacock-like abstraction that is unfamiliar but friendly.

The 2014 sculpture Artificial Intelligence Code, made from optical, borosilicate, and other laminated glasses, gives a physical form to something that is regarded as ostensibly non-physical—computer code. The collection of colored glass makes a pretense of clear organization, but this organization is indecipherable to the viewer. The sculpture evokes the clean design of a consumer product, but it is nonetheless “useless” for any practical purpose. It is inhuman, holding within itself its own logic. Contemporary philosophy is reckoning with this hyper alienation from “thinking machines” and a growing world of objects. Object-oriented ontology is a school of contemporary philosophy that does not privilege the human place in the order of things. It is a rejection of what it regards as anthropocentrism, and instead sees the world as a place filled with people and objects which share the same level of reality outside of our perception of them.

With Artificial Intelligence Code, and much of the rest of his work, Taylor takes a step toward giving form to this post-human reckoning with the world. His creations seem to move and think, but maybe most importantly, simply to be. The rules of their existence are beyond the comprehension of our naked eye and, more and more, beyond the grasp of our intellectual conceptions of reality. Now, in much the same way that stained glass gave form to the mysteries of the spirit, Taylor’s work gives form to the mysteries of being in a world that refuses to fit into a human-shaped box.

By Chris Shields

Unique Pairing Wed, 25 Oct 2017 22:21:51 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A new exhibition in San Francisco puts works by Auguste Rodin and Gustav Klimt on view together.

Gustav Klimt’s last studio

Moritz Nähr, “Gustav Klimt’s last studio, at Feldmühlgasse 11, in the thirteenth district of Vienna, shortly after his death, with two unfinished paintings,
“The Bride” and “Lady with a Fan,” on two easels,” 1918, photograph;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Gustav Klimt, Joanna Staude, 1917-1918 Gustav Klimt, 1913 Gustav Klimt’s last studio Auguste Rodin, circa 1900 Claude Lemery, “Rodin’s Studio in Pavilion of Alma, Meudon,” Auguste Rodin, The Kiss, circa 1884

Last month the Legion of Honor in San Francisco opened “KLIMT & RODIN: An Artistic Encounter,” an exhibition that puts works by the celebrated French sculptor Auguste Rodin and the renowned Austrian artist Gustav Klimt in direct dialogue. The show, which will be on view through January 28, features 22 pieces by Klimt—many on view in the U.S. for the first time—and 25 sculptures and works on paper from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s prominent Rodin collection.

The Legion’s long-term relationship with the artist—its collection, the first on the West Coast, dates to the museum’s opening in 1924—gives it a privileged vantage point, not to mention plenty of material, from which to mount several simultaneous Rodin shows. Throughout 2017, the museum has staged a yearlong celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of Rodin’s death, including a show called “Auguste Rodin: The Centenary Installation” (through December 21), and installations organized by contemporary artists Urs Fischer and Sarah Lucas (both closed earlier in the year). The Legion is also hosting the region’s first major Klimt exhibition (which will act as a centenary of Klimt’s death as well—he died in February 1918). “An Artistic Encounter” surveys the full breadth of Klimt’s practice, but the linchpin of the show is the 1902 Vienna Secession exhibition—the occasion that prompted the two artists to meet for the first and only time.

In May 1902, Rodin, then in his early 60s, traveled to Prague for a large retrospective of his work. Before returning to Paris, he made a brief stop in Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which of course at the time also included Prague. During his stay, the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition was on view. Though Rodin had exhibited several works at the Vienna Secession shows of years prior, he had never been there. His trip afforded him the opportunity to meet Klimt, the Secession’s president. Although he had not achieved Rodin’s astatus, it was very likely the French artist knew him by reputation.

The Vienna Secession, which held its first exhibition in 1897, became the vanguard for modernism in a city—and an Empire—that was at first slow to embrace it. The group set out to show its own new and exciting work while also showcasing that of the most interesting artists throughout Europe. Rodin was recruited by the painter Josef Engelhart to become a “corresponding member” of the group, and the sculptor’s work was included in the first Secession exhibition, in 1898 (the Viennese papers called him a “modern Michelangelo,” and Rodin’s sculpture Head of a Woman sold), and then in 1899. Rodin’s work was most prominently displayed in 1901; works on paper and 14 sculptures were on view, including the multi-figure sculpture The Burghers of Calais, the male nude The Age of Bronze, and pieces of Rodin’s controversial rendering of Balzac.

The 1902 Vienna Secession took the German composer Ludwig von Beethoven as its theme and honoree, but above all, the show celebrated the 19th-century notion of the roguish artist as genius. Klimt, who had been a leading figure in the Secession since its inception, exhibited his monumental Beethoven Frieze in 1902. The frieze, which was painted directly onto the walls of the temple-like Secession building (it was later preserved) measures 7 feet high and 112 feet wide. Featuring several figures, gold, and calligraphy, the sumptuous work celebrates Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and serves as an allegory for the human desire for happiness in a turbulent world. An exhibition copy of the frieze is on view in “An Artistic Encounter,” giving American viewers the opportunity to experience the power of the work.

Viewers will also come face-to-face with Nude Veritas, an 1899 oil on canvas painted by the Austrian artist during his Secession years. In the painting, a nude female figure, her feet encircled by a snake, holds out a mirror to the viewer. Above her, a text by the German poet Friedrich Schiller reads: “If you cannot please everyone with your actions and your art, you should satisfy a few. To please many is dangerous.” The Black Feathered Hat, painted in 1910, two years after Klimt and his circle left the Secession, is also on view. The painting, which brings to mind both El Greco’s work and Picasso’s Blue Period, finds Klimt forgoing his Symbolism-influenced opulent and intricate style for a pared-down nod to Expressionism. In juxtaposition is Baby, a lavishly colored 1912 oil and tempera on canvas, painted the year before his death, and several luminous landscapes.

As for Rodin, there are Reductions of Five of the Burghers of Calais, a bronze reduction of the sculpture shown at the 1901 Secession (reduced 1886–1900, cast before 1929), as well as Age of Bronze (cast 1875–77). The elegant marble Miss Eve Fairfax, La Nature, which is also on view, comes from the collection of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, an artist’s model who married a sugar baron and purchased works directly from Rodin, with the dancer Loïe Fuller acting as a middleman. Her and her husband were behind the building of the Legion, which was inspired by the design of the French pavilion in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. They eventually donated some 100 works by Rodin to the museum. Another of those, a 1884 bronze of The Kiss, of course shares a title with one of Klimt’s most famous works. Both pieces, with their fluid way of depicting human figures like pieces of draped silk, showcase the artists at their most iconic.

Austrian journalists noted Rodin’s approval of The Beethoven Frieze. However, it’s difficult to know what the two artists said to one another. According to one journalist, after seeing the exhibition, Rodin addressed those in attendance over refreshments, saying, “Your artistic achievement will prove to be an asset not only to your own country; it will enrich the whole of Europe. In America, too, it will meet with a keen response.”

By Sarah E. Fensom

Alice Aycock: Storm Chaser Thu, 25 May 2017 20:12:32 +0000 Continue reading ]]> With her sculptures, Alice Aycock can make massive pieces of metal swirl in the air, and with her drawings she makes impossible worlds appear perfectly plausible.

Alice Aycock, Spin-the-Spin

Alice Aycock, Spin-the-Spin, 2014, powder coated aluminum, 18 ft. high x 15 ft. wide x 20 ft. long (This sculpture was installed at 55th Street on Park Avenue in New York);

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Alice Aycock, Another Twister Alice Aycock, Hoodo (Laura) From the Series, “How to Catch and Manufacture Ghosts”— Vertical & Horizontal Cross-section of the Ether Wind Alice Aycock, Spin-the-Spin Alice Aycock, Three-fold Manifestation II Alice Aycock, From the Series Entitled, “Sum Over Histories”: Timescape #5 Over the Landscape of the Pacific Ocean Alice Aycock, Hoop-‐La (Park Avenue Paper Chase), 2014

Alice Aycock is in a turbulent phase. That’s not to say that her life is in disorder; far from it; she’s a highly productive artist with a studio in New York’s SoHo who’s been steadily making art for four decades. The turbulence is in the work she’s making right now—sculptures and drawings in which ribbon-like abstract elements coalesce in tornado-like configurations. They are strikingly, unignorably beautiful, but they also seem dangerous, as if their rotational kinetic energy could at any moment spiral out of control. But she’s content with that. “These turbulent, chaotic forms I’m investigating right now, I’m happy to stay with them for a little while,” she says. She relates them to the period that humanity is entering into at present, a period of great change—in the climate, in culture, in global politics. Her current series of works, called “Twisters,” embodies that instability, acknowledging and analyzing it without aspiring to exorcize it.

Aycock is known for large-scale, outdoor public sculptures, constructed from aluminum by the artist in collaboration with a team of designer-fabricators. Some, like Another Twister (João) (2015), taper downward to a tiny point on which they balance balletically, which gives them them a sense of weightlessness. Others, like Cyclonic Twist (Park Avenue Paper Chase) (2013), consist of a concatenation of tornado-like forms, nested one within the other. These sculptures are not literal depictions of tornadoes or any other natural phenomena; they are more like diagrams of forces—or, as Aycock puts it, examples of “complexity that can’t be seen literally but that can be visualized.” In 2014, some of these pieces were installed on Park Avenue in New York. Aycock sees her works as equally appropriate to urban and rural environments: “When in a pastoral setting, it’s speaking to nature; in New York City, it’s speaking to the chaos of the city.”

Aycock is also exploring the possibilities of the twist forms in two-dimensional media; a still-in-progress group of 15 digital inkjet prints places a row of white twister forms, each rotating on an axis or pole, against light-suffused skies in a range of warm and cool colors. Looking at these, one comes away with the impression that the slightly ominous, seething energy of the twister is always present, vibrating beneath every mood. Aycock herself describes the process of creating these works as “having fun.”

Other recent Aycock pieces, such as The Riddle of the Flying Saucer #1 (2015), deploy her characteristic intertwining aluminum strips in a way that is more reminiscent of mechanical devices than of natural phenomena. Aycock has always been interested in science; she has drawn inspiration from Renaissance cosmic diagrams, Leonardo’s scientific drawings, mechanical engineering and architecture, and computer technology. Some of her drawings look like physics experiments gone mad—the title of a 1990/2012 watercolor and ink on paper, Hoodo (Laura), From the Series, “How to Catch and Manufacture Ghosts”—Vertical and Horizontal Cross-section of the Ether Wind (1981), references the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887, in which two American physicists proved that the speed of light was always the same, laying the groundwork for the theory of relativity. In the course of their experiment, they disproved the old theory of the “ether wind,” the supposed movement of a hypothetical medium in which light waves would travel.

Aycock has a certain fondness for outmoded notions such as this one. “I’m as curious about false theories that are obsolete as I am about true ones,” she says. “A lot of my machine-oriented work was about getting these pieces of scientific apparatus together for totally magical reasons.” Rather than trying to make art out of science—which would be bad art in any case—Aycock has been engaging in what she calls “a kind of imaginative play with science” that helps her get at “the relationship between scientific thinking and magical thinking.” In her magical aspirations, Aycock fits herself into a centuries-old—if not millennia-old—tradition of art as a source of mind- and world-altering power, but among the most recent magicians in art she finds the most inspiration from Marcel Duchamp, especially in his complex, intricately crafted works such as The Large Glass and the kinetic pieces. “Duchamp was very much one of my mentors,” says Aycock. “He opened Pandora’s Box, as all great artists do. He had one foot in science and one foot in alchemy.”

Aycock, who was born in Harrisburg, Pa., in 1946, came of age during the heyday of the land art movement. When she was at Hunter College in New York getting her master’s degree, her teacher was Robert Morris, who was himself deeply influenced by Duchamp. Aycock’s early works were mainly land-based, site-specific structures—for example, a maze, a house that spins on an axis, or a tower—that worked their magic by placing the viewer within the work, where his or her perceptions would inevitably be manipulated by it. Aycock cites as a major influence Tatlin’s Tower (1919–20), a famously never-built design for a monument to the Bolshevik Revolution. This piece of Russian Constructivist architecture was to consist of two intertwined spirals rising at an angle to a height of 400 meters and housing electronic equipment for information storage and radio transmission—in short, it was intended to be not only a monument but an incarnation of modernism. Aycock compares it to Jorge Luis Borges’ “aleph,” a portal in space and time, adding, “To me, it was the major move that reoriented us in the 20th and 21st centuries.”

As the daughter of an engineer and builder who owned a construction company, Aycock absorbed influences at home that resonated years later when she encountered Tatlin’s Tower, land art, and conceptual site-specific sculpture. From her father, she says, she “learned how to bring together a group of people to construct things. He said, ‘You can always find a way to do something, but the idea has to be good enough.’” Today, for her large-scale works (which range from about 20 feet high to well over 100), Aycock works with 8 to 10 fabricators from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.–based firm EES Design LLC, and has also worked with a group called Perfection Electricks. She says, “This kind of work cannot happen without a team of extraordinary talents. The computer gives me the ability to design very complex forms; it has enlarged my ability to make things without infringing on my creativity.”

As a woman artist who has had to compete in the particularly male-dominated realm of large-scale sculpture, Aycock has her own take on feminism. “For whatever reason,” she says, “from a very early age I felt that I had a direction. It occurred to me that if I had been born a man, things would have been easier, but the way men feel entitled, I felt entitled. If I was interested in something, I was going to follow it. I want to eat at the table where I have access to everything. Not that I didn’t feel that men didn’t discount me, because they did. But is there a male science and a female science? No, there’s just science.” Her grandmother, a math teacher who attended college at the end of the 19th century, was another big influence in her life. Aycock’s most recent work, still in the studio, is an homage to one of the earliest known creative women in history, the Greek poet Sappho. Terra Incognita for Sappho (2017), a large digital inkjet print on watercolor, depicts a globe with a fiery core, surrounded by a corona like that of a solar eclipse. Within it are grid-like structures that resemble electronic circuits or diagrams of force fields, and the entire surface of the sphere is strewn with fragments of a papyrus manuscript of Sappho’s poems, which assume the place of continents. Of Sappho, Aycock says, “She seems like someone who could be alive today, someone who was just born. There she is, speaking to us from 700 B.C.! That’s why I thought she deserved a drawing.”

By John Dorfman

Ethan Stern: Crystal Clarity Thu, 27 Apr 2017 18:12:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Enriching his art-glass practice with unusual techniques, Ethan Stern creates objects of luminous beauty.

Ethan Stern, Cut Clear I & II

Ethan Stern, Cut Clear I & II

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Ethan Stern, Crosscut (Wedge) Ethan Stern, Cut Clear I & II Ethan Stern, Metrics Ethan Stern, Titan Lima Ethan Stern, Crosscut Striation Rose.

“For a while I was in denial of the characteristics of glass,” says Seattle-based artist Ethan Stern. That’s a pretty bold statement from someone who has spent a 15-year career working exclusively in the medium, but it’s less a confession than an expression of the intense striving that has constantly moved his work forward. Stern is referring to the way his earliest bodies of work used extremely dense and deeply colored glass to convey an opaque effect. “Starting from a ceramic background,” he says, “I wanted to shield my viewer from the naturalistic aspects, the shine, the transparency and clarity that glass has right out of the gate. So I tried to work with glass that absorbed the light. Now I’m admitting to myself that the glass wants to be transparent.”

Stern’s latest series, called Crosscut, consists of translucent semicircular, almond-shaped, or ovoid pieces of colored glass that are carved with deep linear incisions, like furrows in a plowed field. Some parts of the glass are left uncarved, so you’re seeing the incisions, and then you’re seeing other incisions on the other side of the piece, as refracted through the glass. Where two bands of incisions meet they form grids, which have a texture of their own. In some of the pieces, the little squares of the grids are left the same color as the rest of the object, while in others the squares are colored a different, usually complementary, color. The whole effect is a combination optical puzzle and object for contemplation.

Stern says the Crosscut series was “directly inspired” by cut glass, of the kind traditionally used for luxury tableware. This is interesting, in that the worlds of cut glass and art glass have always apart and didn’t talk to each other. “When I started to do research,” Stern recalls, “I found that the history really lives in the industrial glass process, in the master cutters who worked in the factory setting for generations. I started thinking about how my experience contrasts with theirs.” He immersed himself in the American tradition of completely handmade “brilliant” cut glass, which has roots dating back to the 18th century but was at its peak from around 1876 to the First World War. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the industry was in decline and cut-glass factories were shutting down. Stern found two of the few remaining master cutters, one from Ireland and one from Poland, who both worked at the now-defunct Lenox Crystal factory in Pennsylvania. They taught him how to use the special lathes with which they cut and faceted the glass; these techniques were quite different from the so-called “cold-working” he had learned from his professors in art school.

In search of his own equipment, Stern located a classic 1920s lathe from a factory in Austria that closed, and has also put together a sizable collection of old cutting wheels. “I saw old photos of this machine with its wheels, and it ended up becoming a link between me and history. That’s very important to me.” Not that he sees himself as an epigone of the cut-glass masters of bygone days—far from it. “There are aspects of cut glass that I don’t like,” he says, “such as the fact that the design is very busy and over the top, every millimeter is cut and polished and reflecting light and creating a prismatic effect. My aesthetic is more Asian, sophisticated and quiet, like Japanese ceramics, almost minimal.” Contrasting his cut-glass pieces with the functional ones created at places like Lenox, he has described them as being “not vessels to hold things, but containers to hold light.”

Likewise, Stern’s method of working with the cut-glass equipment differs from that used in the factories. The traditional cut-glass makers “would hold the piece of glass above the wheel and look up through it at the cut happening on the opposite side of the glass,” he explains. “I look down at where the wheel and the glass connect. I’m essentially drawing with the wheel.” That makes it sound more low-key than it really is—when Stern is working with the lathe, he holds a 15- to 25-pound chunk of glass in a bear hug and presses it against the spinning wheel. With an apron and face mask as protection, he seems to be engaged in a primeval wrestling match of man versus machine.

Stern didn’t start out working with glass; at Alfred University in upstate New York, where he graduated in 2001, his original medium of choice was ceramics, and he also devoted a lot of time to metal sculpture. As a result, his first efforts in glass closely resemble ceramics. They are opaque or close to it, in forms that allude to vessels, and feature a lot of abstract surface decoration. His first major departure from this style was his Lunar Light series, in which he began to explore the creative potential of interactions between opacity and transparency. In these pieces, each side is carved so that half is smooth and transparent and the other half is engraved with a dense network of very thin lines. On the other side, it is carved the opposite way. “When you look through it,” says Stern, “it exposes a very thin slice of light that passes through the center; it controls the light and pushes it through the piece in a certain way. As you walk around, that sliver of light becomes larger or smaller like the waning or waxing of the moon.” A somewhat later series is called Coastline, and in these works Stern uses the wheel to create an undulating line, almost fractal-like in its complexity, that divides the glass into two regions. While not representational, the curves seem like they could be the edges of continents, and abstract topography becomes imaginary cartography. Here Stern is using the wheel very freely, to paint in glass rather than carve precise grooves as in the Crosscut works.

The very latest iteration of the Crosscut concept is a series of colorless pieces that Stern calls Clear Cut. With this literally crystal clarity, the artist is hewing closer to American brilliant cut glass than he ever has before. But there’s a critical difference, which you can see especially in a piece titled Stacks (2017), in which short incised lines are scattered across a completely transparent smooth surface. Stern explains: “With the Coastline series, I just draw on the glass and then cut out the pattern or images. It evolves as I work. But with the Crosscut pieces, there’s no room for that. The lines have to be drawn a certain distance apart. In Stacks, I’m trying to get back to that place where I can be a little bit more free, trying to make it even but with some of that wabi-sabi feeling to it, as well. There’s a tension in my personality, in which I go back and forth between being a total square and letting go.”

Works by Ethan Stern are available from:

By John Dorfman

Gaston Lachaise: A Worshipper of the Goddess Tue, 28 Mar 2017 21:15:24 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Gaston Lachaise infused his bronze sculptures with life and love.

Gaston Lachaise, Dolphin Fountain

Gaston Lachaise, Dolphin Fountain, 1924, bronze, 41 x 23 x 17 in.;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Gaston Lachaise, Egyptian Head, 1922 Gaston Lachaise, Dolphin Fountain Gaston Lachaise, Torso, 1932 Gaston Lachaise, Torso of Elevation, Gaston Lachaise, Ogunquit Torso, 1925 Gaston Lachaise, Acrobat Woman, 1934

The genius of the 20th-century French-American artist Gaston Lachaise radiates from his Dolphin Fountain of 1924, a sprawling, darting, diving ballet cast in bronze. It is so deftly rendered that it approximates a magic trick. Juan Manuel Pretel, vice president of Findlay Galleries in Palm Beach, Fla., and New York, which represents the Lachaise estate, is an avowed fan of dolphins and of Lachaise’s interpretation of them. “When I look at it, it makes me happy,” he says of Dolphin Fountain, which measures almost three and a half feet long by almost two feet deep and 17 inches high. “This is such a dynamic work. It’s alive. It’s exquisite. Not only are they moving like dolphins do, they are a wave themselves.” (Works by Lachaise are on view in the Palm Beach and New York locations of Findlay Galleries this spring.)

As Pretel speaks, he states that the tour-de-force bronze—one of two cast during Lachaise’s lifetime—features 14 dolphins in all. Then he reconsiders, starts to count, and is confounded. He now sees 15. “Every time I count them, I get a different number. I’m not kidding you!” Pretel says, laughing. “There’s so much movement, I lose count.”
The kicker here, of course, is that Dolphin Fountain is a sculpture. It doesn’t move; that’s part of what makes it a sculpture. Yet Lachaise’s vision is so vibrant that your brain wants to flesh out the movie that his leaping dolphins suggest. It’s a trick that many sculptors through the ages have tried to pull off and few have achieved. Lachaise is so good at evoking the illusion of movement that you can circle Dolphin Fountain and try to count all the animals in it and they won’t sit still for you, even though the metal fixes them in place and ensures that the contest is fair.

Lachaise’s life was full of strange and wonderful magic, and he translated much of it into art. Born in France in 1882, he showed his promise early. His older sister found him in their father’s woodworking studio, where the five-year-old was chiseling a hunk of wood into a font. Alarmed to see little boy wielding a grown-up tool, she moved to take it from him, only to hear her father counsel her to leave him be—he had been quietly watching Gaston work. Whether the boy had slipped into the studio on his own or had gained permission and promptly fallen into a work-fugue is impossible to say. But it was the dawn of a career that gained him a place at the Académie Nationale des Beaux-Arts at the age of 16.

Four years later, he saw Her. Isabel Dutaud Nagle was an American, from Boston. She was 10 years older than Lachaise, unhappily married, and the mother of a son, Edward. The need to give Edward the best education possible brought her to Paris, where Lachaise first saw Nagle. The artist did not record the precise date of that fateful spring encounter (historians believe it probably happened around 1902) but even as late as 1931, four years before his death, he loved recounting the details: “…as I was coming out through the beautifull [sic] formal garden and the beautifull gate of the School, I passed a majestic woman that was walking slowly by the bank of the Seine. I succeeded to meet the majestic woman later—through her the splendor of life was uncovered for me and the road of wonder beguin [sic] widening and far out reaching…”
And that was that. Finishing his course of study no longer mattered to him. Dreams of winning the Prix de Rome (and Lachaise was unquestionably a contender) exited his mind. His new goal was to save money for a ticket that would ferry him across the ocean to the country that Isabel called home. He quit school to toil for a year in the atelier of René Lalique, absorbing the Art Nouveau style while he cast jewelry and other decorative delights. Lachaise arrived in Boston in January 1906 and never looked back.

Lalique was one of many future immortals Lachaise met. He worked for sculptors Henry Hudson Kitson and Paul Manship (who hosted a post-wedding dinner for the Lachaises after Isabel’s divorce became final) and associated with Alfred Stieglitz, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and George L.K. Morris, who commissioned him to sculpt The Mountain, which would become a noted masterpiece, for Morris’s estate in Lenox, Mass. And Isabel’s son, Edward, brought Lachaise to the attention of his Harvard schoolmates e.e. cummings, Scofield Thayer, and others who took the helm of The Dial in 1919 and focused it on contemporary culture. Lachaise was intertwined with The Dial from its relaunch issue, which featured a relief by him, titled Dusk.

Lachaise worked tirelessly and devoted his free studio time to works inspired by Isabel. Their relationship grew stronger as they grew older, and he remained artistically faithful to her until leukemia ended his life at the relatively young age of 53. (Isabel outlived him by 22 years.) Theirs was not a traditional artist-muse relationship in that she wasn’t required to pose for hours on end as he drew or worked the clay. The luxury of togetherness wasn’t an option for them early on, when he was a 20-year-old Parisian art student and she was a 30-year-old wife and mother visiting from America. They accustomed themselves to being apart, and later on, even when they lived in the same place, they didn’t always choose to live under the same roof. Lachaise’s visions of Isabel are not rigidly accurate; they’re more about his love for her, and his impressions of her, and how it all made him feel. Through Lachaise’s art, Isabel morphs into a capital-W Woman, a goddess symbolic of all who share her gender.

Lachaise’s depictions of women are remarkable for their presence and their heft, and for how these qualities are inseparable from their beauty. Lachaise was active during the age of the flapper, a woman whose ideal body was as slender as the cigarettes she smoked. But his women take up space, and they do so without apology. Perhaps this liberating attitude is what moved him most when he spotted Isabel strolling near the Seine more than a century ago. Though his women seem like giantesses, Isabel was not; more than one source reports that she stood five feet, three inches tall and weighed 110 pounds, well within the dimensions of what we’d call “petite” today. Maybe she glowed with an outsize sense of comfort in her own skin that the young artist had never seen before. Lachaise skillfully infused aspects of her being into his sculptures and drawings, but he struggled to put them into words, once telling a friend that she “has a great deal of something which it’s difficult for me to express to you, something of a great calmness and ardor, a quality of both old age and youth.”

But he didn’t just transform her ethereal qualities into art. He captured evidence of Isabel’s faith in the beauty and worth of her own body in a series of nude photographs that he took outdoors during one of the couple’s many sojourns in Maine. A 21st-century woman who shares Isabel’s shape might feel too ashamed of her supposedly imperfect body to pose for the camera at all, even fully clothed. Isabel, who lived in a world that lacked movies, television, the Internet, and social media, frolics across the landscape as if it’s the most natural and right thing that she could do.

Lachaise’s peerless command of his chosen media earned him the first solo retrospective that the Museum of Modern Art bestowed on a living sculptor. And while Lachaise is not as famous as Warhol or Picasso, he continues to enchant new admirers who keep his flame alive. “I know from talking to collectors who own Lachaise’s works that they cherish it so deeply that generations of families love it,” says Pretel, noting that it is more common for children to reject the art their parents collected. “It’s beautiful enough that when the kids grow up, they love it too.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Richard Erdman: Set in Stone Tue, 29 Nov 2016 01:06:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> For sculptor Richard Erdman, marble is a living thing.

Richard Erdman, Continuum IV

Richard Erdman, Continuum IV, Italian travertine, 24 x 25 x 24 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Richard Erdman, Continuum IV Richard Erdman, Cascata Richard Erdman, Miranda Richard Erdman, Tondo Rosa Richard Erdman, Torso in Motion

Richard Erdman can make marble float. In his sculptures, ribbons of stone curl like smoke through the air, or like plumes of paint diffusing through water. His abstract forms evoke thoughts of wings, waves, snakes, or human bodies. And beyond the initial impact of the geometry, the color and texture of Erdman’s materials commands attention. To many people, marble may connote whiteness, coldness, and even death, as in the marble of a tomb effigy. But Erdman’s marbles are colorful—buttery yellow, pink, red, and dark grey as well as white—and they seem alive, as if the veins in the stone were actually vessels for some vital essence.

Love for marble is certainly in Erdman’s blood. He was born, raised, and still works in southern Vermont, an area so rich in marble quarries that during the 19th and early 20th centuries, most of the marble used in public buildings and monuments in the U.S. came from there. As a boy, Erdman used to play and explore amid the raw marble deposits. “I would spend time on weekends sneaking into this quarry; you could pry the wooden doors open in those days,” he recalls. “You entered another world, this enormous underground cavern, tons of of compressed calcium all around you, over your head, supported by natural columns. You’re standing in the stone, not on it.” Erdman points out that the marble was formed over geological eras from plankton and other tiny forms of life from the sea. “With the sculpture I make from this stone,” he says, “I think of myself as re-forming older life into a new life that should last a millennium or two. Marble is the most life-affirming material available, in my view.” His sculptures give prominence to the inherent, individual qualities of each piece of stone. For example, in a piece titled Tondo Rosa, Erdman intentionally kept the strata of the Persian travertine oriented horizontally with respect to the base—“like the layers of the Grand Canyon,” he says. “The veins of the stone pulsate with time.”

An early work, Torso in Motion, is very revealing about Erdman’s relationship with stone. It’s a little bit rough, looking almost as if it were a found object like a Chinese scholar’s rock, or perhaps a Neolithic fertility figure. The fact that the stone is flesh-colored makes it seem even more human. Back in the ’70s, when he was starting out, Erdman was looser and more experimental in his technique than he is now, partly because he didn’t have a staff of assistants to help him polish marble, and partly because he couldn’t afford to throw away any odd scraps of stone. While Torso in Motion is not a representational piece, its strong allusion to well-muscled human anatomy illustrates something else about Erdman—his profound debt to Michelangelo.

“Michelangelo was so influential for me in what I want to do with stone,” says the artist. “Jean Arp and Noguchi were, as well, of course, but Michelangelo understood the internal life in stone. When I was young I read a quote from an art critic, saying that since Michelangelo, nothing significant has been done with stone. And that drove me!” Not that he tries to imitate the Italian Renaissance artist in any overt or literal way. For one thing, Erdman is not a figurative sculptor. “As soon as you try to work figuratively, you are constrained by trying not to imitate,” he says. “I admire artists like Picasso, who never painted abstractly in his life, but there’s always something in his work that references what we know. I’m interested in going where we don’t know.”

A lot of Erdman’s work now is large-scale commissions for outdoor spaces. Presently he is working on two in Taiwan, one of which is for a Richard Meier building. “Because stone is a classic material,” he says, “and Meier is known for pure white, modernism, and a linear approach, they want to offset this building with an organic piece that has an architectural feeling but is also vibrant and moving.” Both of the sculptures are examples of a new style that Erdman has developed, in which the sculpture is installed over a pool of water on which it appears to float. The fact that the sculptures taper from more volume at the top to less below enhances the illusion of anti-gravity.

Currently, through January 31, six new outdoor sculptures made from white Carrara marble are on view at Melissa Morgan Fine Art in Palm Desert, Calif. In these pieces, Erdman pushes the stone to its limits with ultra-fine carving, conveying a sense of balance between safe solidity and risk. This element of risk, of making marble perform extreme feats, is key to Erdman’s mission. While he is clearly in the tradition of modernist abstraction, he describes his work as having a conceptual aspect. “The values that I’m pushing are things that really shouldn’t be happening in stone, that defy what our innate sensibilities think should be happening,” he says. “It’s abstraction, but that gives it a contemporary push.”

If the scale of a sculpture is monumental enough, marble is just not feasible from an engineering standpoint, so in those cases Erdman uses bronze. By welding together a number of components, a gigantic bronze piece can be assembled without compromising structural soundness. Bronze can also go thinner than stone without breaking under its weight. Another reason Erdman uses bronze is to make multiples. “I cast one from the original marble, take a mold, and at the appropriate time make a cast if I think it works. That way I can extend the one-of-a-kind marble into a small edition of six or seven,” he explains.

Still, though, for Erdman it has always been about one medium only. “I don’t want to discourage the bronze pieces,” he says, “but I am a stone guy. That’s how I started and that’s where my heart is. Stone has never been, is not, and never will be old.”

Works by Richard Erdman are available from:

By John Dorfman

The Art of Enlightenment Thu, 27 Oct 2016 19:15:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Buddhist sculpture is a rich field for collecting and contemplation.

Bodhisattva Maitreya, Pakistan, ancient region of Gandhara, circa 3rd century

Bodhisattva Maitreya, Pakistan, ancient region of Gandhara, circa 3rd century, gray schist, height 23 3⁄4 inches;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Head of Buddha, China, Northern Qi Period, 550-577 Bodhisattva Maitreya, Pakistan, ancient region of Gandhara, circa 3rd century Buddha Amitabha, Eastern India, Bihar, Gaya region, Pala Dynasty Lohan holding lotus on pedestal, China, Tang Dynasty, 618–907 Manjushri, Nepal, 1690

The paradox of Buddhist art is that it uses the human form to represent something that is formless and more than human. A sculpture of the Buddha is not a portrait of a person but an invitation to enter the higher state of consciousness that the Buddha (a Sanskrit term meaning “awakened”) discovered and wanted to share with all people. For the first 500 or so years of its existence, up until around the first century A.D., Buddhist art was purely symbolic, consisting of geometric forms and impersonal symbols such as wheels, architectural elements, trees, and animals. It was an austere art meant as a support for contemplation by the spiritual elite. What changed that was concern for the unmet needs of ordinary Buddhists.

In Buddhist philosophy, enlightenment (nirvana) is not just a state of consciousness but deliverance from the suffering inherent in the ever-changing world (samsara). To guide people toward this deliverance is considered to be an act of compassion on the part of the Buddha, and his life as a human being and participation in suffering are considered expressions of that compassion. Therefore, in order to guide people to the goal, Buddhist art itself had to become human. Even then, of course, it was still symbolic. No one knows what the historical Buddha looked like, and Buddhist art is not a naturalistic art—although the faces of Buddhist sculpture can be very expressive and individual. The artists who created these works intended for them to seen in a special way. As the Asian art scholar and curator Ananda K. Coomaraswamy put it, “The spectator is not so much to be ‘pleased’ as to be ‘transported’: to see as the artist is required to have seen before he took up brush or chisel; to see the Buddha in the image rather than an image of the Buddha.”

In order to experience something of this kind of seeing, it’s not necessary to be a practicing Buddhist, but it does help to live with Buddhist sculpture and have the ability to look at it over and over again. The art market is full of opportunities to acquire beautiful and historically significant pieces, at prices that can be quite affordable. Due to the huge geographical and cultural range of Buddhism, the variety of the art, in terms of iconography, style, and medium—gilt bronze, carved stone, wood, and others—is truly vast.

Buddhist art began in India, where the religion itself was born but not destined to take root. Instead it spread south and east to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia—where the original form of Buddhism, called Theravada, still flourishes—and north and east to Nepal, Tibet, China, Japan, and Korea, where various forms of what is called Mahayana Buddhism are now prevalent. In Mahayana (“the great vehicle,” a later development), instead of being eternally separate, nirvana and samsara are considered to be one, in the deepest sense, so that avoidance of the world is not necessary for enlightenment. The appearances and phenomena of ordinary life can be occasions for awakening; one can, so to speak, escape the world through the world. For art, the consequences of this way of thinking were enormous. It greatly strengthened the impulse toward visual expression, the desire to depict Buddhist truths through images drawn from life in all its richness and variety. Buddhist iconography became more complex, and in some cases freely adopted the forms of gods and supernatural beings from other religions, repurposing them Buddhistically.

Nowhere did this happen more extravagantly than in Tibet and the Himalayan regions, where a gigantic, colorful pantheon developed, borrowing from Hindu tantra and native shamanistic religions. While Buddhist art may connote serenity to many in the West (and certainly many Chinese, Japanese, and Thai Buddhas are transcendently peaceful-looking), much Himalayan Buddhist art is anything but serene—in addition to smiling, gracious Buddhas is features angry, grimacing, weapons-brandishing deities who look more like warriors or even monsters than meditators. But their aggression is on behalf of the faithful, whom they defend against demons that symbolize temptations and lower impulses.

The sheer complexity and artistic exuberance of Tibetan and Nepali Buddhist sculptures make them favorites among collectors; in fact, this sub-field is the most active on the market right now. Prices are relatively high, driven in particular by buyers in China. During the Asia Week auctions in New York in September, a Tibetan Buddhist sculpture, an 18th-century gilt bronze figure of the fifth Dalai Lama, sold for $1,510,000 at Sotheby’s to a Chinese buyer who bid it to 15 times its high estimate. New York dealer Walter Arader, a specialist in Indian, Himalayan, and Chinese art, says that “65 percent of my buyers are now Chinese, and some of the Western private buyers are put off by the sharp rise in prices they’ve caused since 2009 or 2010.” Arader explains that despite the Chinese occupation of Tibet and a government campaign against Tibetan culture over the past several decades, there is now great respect in China for Tibetan Buddhism and its artistic expression. “The devastation of the Cultural Revolution can’t be erased, ever,” Arader says, “but major figures even in the Chinese government are practicing Tibetan Buddhism and funding it.”

Most Himalayan Buddhist sculpture is gilt bronze rather than stone, sometimes ornamented with materials like coral or turquoise. A 9-inch high gilt bronze Nepali figure of the bodhisattva (Buddhist saint or deity) Manjushri, at Arader’s gallery, shows many of the features that make Himalayan Buddhist sculpture distinctive. Dating to around 1690, the seated figure, atop a throne encircled by cobras spreading their hoods, has four faces and eight arms, one of which waves a sword, symbolizing wisdom that dispels ignorance. The attention to detail that characterizes Tibetan art is on view in a gilt bronze sculpture of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (“he who looks down”) from the Tsang Province in the 15th century, also available from Arader. The figure has 11 faces, stacked in four rows and getting smaller as they go higher, without losing any of the fine delineation of the features. Arader points out that it’s often hard to define styles regionally within Tibetan art, because sculptures were often given as diplomatic gifts from one monastery to another, so that a piece will often be found very far from where it was made.

One of the earliest and most desirable schools of Buddhist sculpture is the Gandharan, from what is now Afghanistan, beginning in the first century A.D. (Gandhara is an earlier version of the place-name Kandahar). With their elaborately draped garments and Western-looking facial features, these works—all in stone—are reminiscent of Classical sculpture. That is no coincidence, since the artists were influenced by Hellenistic culture brought via the easternmost conquests of Alexander the Great. “Gandharan sculpture is very approachable,” says New York dealer Carlton Rochell, “because it almost looks provincial Roman.” Despite the Classical connection, though, Gandharan artists in many ways set the pattern for a transnational Buddhist iconography that traveled up the Silk Road to North and East Asia. Rochell has a magnificent Gandharan Buddha from the 3rd–4th century, of gray schist with traces of polychrome still on it. Seated in a meditation posture, the Buddha has a contemplative expression with downcast eyes, and a disc-like halo hovers behind his head. One hand rests on the other in a mudra, or stereotyped symbolic hand position, called dhyana-mudra (meditation mudra). On top of his head is a topknot of hair, like a bun, which in later Buddhist iconography became exaggerated or specialized until it became a protuberance of the skull itself, called ushnisha. As Rochell puts it, the ushnisha is an expression of the Buddha’s “extra brain power.” Rochell also has a Pala Dynasty Buddha from Bihar, Eastern India, circa late 10th–11th century, which is made of a dense dark gray stone that renders detail particularly well. Pala art was one of the strongest influences on Tibetan art. This piece is an Amitabha (infinite light) Buddha, which represents the transformation of lust into wisdom. The meditating figure sits on a throne supported by beasts and flanked by stupas, or Buddhist architectural structures.

New York dealer Spencer Throckmorton, one of the specialists in Buddhist sculpture, particularly favors certain Chinese examples: “To me, the most sublime and beautiful are Northern Qi and Wei stone sculptures.” A Northern Qi limestone head of the Buddha, circa 550–577, has an ineffable smile, curly hair, and long earlobes, another typical mark of the Buddha-nature. The stone is veined with white, which gives it a distinctive look. A Northern Qi standing figure of the Buddha, from the same period, is limestone and has significant traces of the original red pigment and gilding. The standing posture gives it an imposing feel, but the outstretched hand and downcast eyes counteract that with a gentle, comforting quality.

The facial expressions of Buddhist sculptures are subtle and often enigmatic. A just-published book, The Face of the Buddha, by the great English literary critic William Empson (Oxford University Press, $50) sheds a fascinating light on the subject, and is itself an exciting discovery. Empson wrote the book, which he illustrated with his own photographs, based on his trips through East Asia during the 1930s. Right after World War II, the manuscript was misplaced and believed lost, and Empson, who died in 1984, never saw it again. A few years ago, an archivist found it among the papers of a long-dead editor, and now at last it can be read. While written by a non-specialist and of course not able to avail itself of the most up-to-date scholarship, The Face of the Buddha makes some keen observations and applies inexorable logic to the evidence of the eyes and the camera. What Empson—not a Buddhist but sympathetic to Buddhism—noticed again and again was a slight asymmetry in the faces, which he struggled to account for. His conclusion was that such sculptures are showing two aspects of the Buddha’s nature and function simultaneously, and also underscoring the Buddha’s humanity with naturalism, since real human faces, in fact, are also asymmetrical. One might imagine that a religious artist creating idealized, symbolic works would aim for perfect symmetry, but Empson cites convincing reasons why this would not be the case with Buddhist art.

Whatever one’s interest, Buddhist art is, to use Coomaraswamy’s terms, both pleasing and transporting. As Throckmorton puts it, “These pieces were carved by monks, who made them out of devotion. That’s why Buddhist sculpture has that incredible intangible quality of transmitting peace and harmony. It resonates with real power.” Rochell says, “It was made for a higher purpose, to be ideally beautiful. The themes that carry through are benevolence and a benign beauty that is universal.” And from the collecting point of view, he adds, “You can still pay in the tens of thousands of dollars and get museum-quality objects. There are not many areas of collecting where you can do that. Ninety-five percent of the books on it have been published within the last 30 years. This field is on the cutting edge of research and discovery.”

By John Dorfman

Sèvres Style Thu, 25 Aug 2016 01:08:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Sèvres porcelain factory started out cutting-edge and has stayed that way ever since, creating pieces that turn fantasy into gorgeous reality.

set of Sèvres plates designed by Roberto Matta

set of Sèvres plates designed by Roberto Matta

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Vase "Messaline," Sèvres orange tub with porcelain flowers pair of Vases à Oreilles Swan vase, Sèvres, 1900 set of Sèvres plates designed by Roberto Matta

Times were grim for the Sèvres porcelain factory in the 1790s. It was almost offered for sale in 1790, but King Louis XVI opened his own purse to keep its kilns lit. Three years later, the king’s angry subjects sent him to the chopping block, and the Sèvres factory nearly followed. But remarkably, the National Congress voted to spare it. While its legislators were deeply irked by the antics of Sèvres’ high-born patrons, they deemed Sèvres itself “one of the glories of France” and permitted it to carry on making its exquisite luxury goods. The revolutionaries “always understood it was wonderful stuff,” says Leon Dalva of Dalva Brothers, a Manhattan gallery that specializes in Sèvres.

We continue to talk about Sèvres porcelain today, centuries after it first appeared, because it’s still wonderful stuff—gorgeous colors, delightful shapes, expertly made. Pieces that thrilled the crowned heads of Europe in the 18th century turned the heads of Henry Clay Frick and Marjorie Merriweather Post in the 20th. The endurance of Sèvres porcelain may be linked to the reason its founders moved the factory in 1756 from its original location in Vincennes to Sèvres. The new town wasn’t near a deposit of clay or a forest of wood that could fuel the kilns, but it was convenient to Versailles and its deep-pocketed nobles. Placing its headquarters close to its customers rather than sources of raw materials was an inspired choice that planted the seeds that would sprout and grow into the modern French luxury goods market. Periodic exhibition sales of Sèvres’ latest, held within Versailles, became such a tradition that even when the revolutionaries forced the royal family back to Paris, the king was permitted to conduct Sèvres sales at the Tuileries Palace. “Everyone who wanted to be in good favor at court would buy a piece,” says Liana Paredes, director of collections and chief curator of the Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C.

Unlike the German porcelain factory at Meissen, which came into being as a state enterprise, Sèvres launched in 1740 as a private business (King Louis XV did not step in and raise it to a royal endeavor until 1759). The brain trust behind Sèvres knew they had to make their mark swiftly and surely if they wanted to seize part of the porcelain market from Chinese imports and from their German rivals, who were the first Europeans to figure out the formula for porcelain. “They needed to separate themselves from Meissen. They needed to be as competitive and as attractive, and they needed to do something better,” says Charlotte Vignon, curator of decorative arts at the Frick Collection in Manhattan. In its way, launching a porcelain factory in Europe in the mid-18th century was like the U.S. launching the Apollo program in the mid- 20th—it was an agonizingly expensive endeavor that recruited the finest, most talented scientists and technicians available, and it bolstered a country’s reputation as a leader, if not the leader, among nations. “Sèvres very quickly developed a French style,” Vignon says. “They employed Jean-Claude Duplessis, a talented designer who created shapes that did not exist anywhere else. Jean Hellot, their chemist, invented these colors, almost one a year. They had a bright team of very, very interesting people working for them.”

That bright team did something very, very French—they figured out how to transform their shortcomings into high style. During the factory’s early decades, the clay available to Sèvres was only fit for making soft paste porcelain; it lacked the kaolin that was in the clays used at Meissen and in China to create the more desirable hard paste porcelain. Hellot transformed soft paste’s challenges into virtues by concocting formulas for seductively candy-like hues. “It [the color] really sank into the body of the porcelain and acquired a depth and a brightness of color that was unattainable in hard paste,” says Paredes. Duplessis matched Hellot’s eye-popping colors with magnificent and daring shapes to decorate. “I think he was a genius in a way,” says Paredes, commenting on how Duplessis managed a more restrained take on the rococo style that prevailed in the 18th century. “The way he designed was about volume and plasticity and great shapes.” Sèvres’ expert marriage of color and form comes through clearly in a soup tureen and matching platter made at Vincennes in 1754 and now in Hillwood’s collection. “Duplessis was clearly looking at silver tureens,” Paredes says, pointing out the gilt-edged leaves that grace the legs of the Sèvres tureen. Its ground, or main background color, represents one of Sèvres’ inaugural achievements—a lush shade of blue that didn’t emerge from the kiln looking patchy, cloudy, or uneven.

Hillwood has another early Sèvres piece that glories in a technical achievement and shows how adept the factory was at exploiting the zeitgeist for marketing purposes. In 1757, Sèvres sold a cuvette “Mahon,” a type of flower vase that features a previously hard-to-master color: pink. Before Hellot nailed down the formula, the pink tended to drip and run and blend with the gilding on a piece, causing discoloration. To celebrate the triumph of chemistry, the powers at Sèvres named the new shade of pink after one of the factory’s best patrons, Madame du Pompadour. As it happens, she wasn’t a fan of that particular pink, but the name stuck, and she became the first person Sèvres honored by naming a color for them. (A notable exception was the bleu céleste that graces the soup tureen and tray. The moniker given to this debut color achievement of Sèvres translates to “heavenly blue.”) The name “Mahon” alludes to a 1757 French victory over the English for control of the Mediterranean island of Minorca; Mahon was and is its capital city. The new color, the color’s name, and the nod to the island triumph unite in a trifecta of cheerleading for France and the glories of its empire.

The Frick Collection includes many Sèvres pieces that Frick purchased from J. P. Morgan, among them a trio of pots-pourri with a purple ground, created in 1762. They have returned to their normal space in the Frick mansion after a year on display alongside other choice Frick Sèvres pieces in the museum’s Portico Gallery in an exhibition that ended in April. Vignon deems them among the “extraordinary, extremely rare” examples of 18th-century Sèvres that “every collector would die to have.” Frick wouldn’t have filled the pots with fragrant dried plant material, but even as far back as the time of Versailles, Sèvres customers accepted the idea that (tableware excepted) its punishingly expensive porcelain fancies were not to be used, even though they could be. “It served a different function. It served the function of decorating a home, and making a home fashionable,” says Vignon, adding, “It had a huge social function. In the close circle around the king, it [possessing choice Sèvres] showed if you were in or out.” Sèvres performed much the same role in 20th-century America, too; it was the sort of thing that Frick, as a Gilded Age titan, was expected to own, so he acquired it, paying as much or more than a French courtier would have when they were new. In 1916, he spent $100,000 on an exceptional ship-shaped pot pourri and a set of green-ground vases, all made in 1759.

Another reason that we continue to treasure Sèvres is that the factory never fell into the trap of endlessly repeating past triumphs. A stunning vase that it fashioned for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris provides ample proof of its resistance to resting on its laurels. Though it is hard to see from our 21st-century vantage point, this unique swan-decorated porcelain confection was meant to seem futuristic to fair-goers, and it did. M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans currently has the vase, and Bill Rau points out that its decorative scheme features “Art Nouveau, which was up and coming, but also parts of Art Deco, which was 20 years off. They’re saying this is the future of art. They’re saying, ‘We want to have the style of the next 100 years.’” In keeping with its 18th-century forbears, the swan vase was a technical marvel, as well, boasting a never-before-seen color palette and standing 45 inches tall. It was the largest single piece of porcelain ever made at the time, and it required Sèvres to build a special oversize kiln to accommodate it. “They were innovative,” says Rau, characterizing their attitude as one that declared, “We’re going to try to make things no one else has made.”

That attitude carried through the 20th century and right up to the present. Another tactic that has helped keep Sèvres fresh and relevant is its practice of inviting top artists and designers to collaborate, a practice that dates back to the factory’s beginnings, when it commissioned drawings from the likes of François Boucher. Auguste Rodin, Roberto Matta, Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, and Yayoi Kusama have all shared their artistic visions with Sèvres, as have designers Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Ettore Sottass. Atelier Courbet in Manhattan, the American representative for Sèvres, currently has works by these last two, including a bracingly spare white Art Deco vase designed by Ruhlmann in 1926 and two colorful vases from Sottsass’ early 1990s series of 14 vases, each of which he named for a famous woman from history. The two Sottass vases Atelier Courbet has, Tseui and Messaline, subtly reflect Sèvres ‘s past while remaining contemporary. Both draw visual strength from large expanses of a single hue, similar to the way that 18th century Sèvres pieces sported a captivating ground color that set off its decorated white-backdrop insets. And both vases were assembled from multiple pieces and invisibly joined with a technique akin to that with which the old Sèvres artisans assembled its biscuit figures. “Sèvres has always represented the height of fashion,” says Samuel Leeds of Atelier Courbet. “They’ve always worked with people who are the tastemakers of their day.”

This long, strong history of hiring the finest, most creative minds to imagine and produce objects that transcend the mundane tasks they were nominally meant to perform has also kept Sèvres relevant over the centuries. Its no-expense-spared porcelain follies fit perfectly in a world where weathervanes are plucked from roofs and hung on walls like paintings, and the toys of children long since grown and gone are restored and placed in carefully lit display niches. “Beautiful things are beautiful things. There are things that just work aesthetically. Sèvres always tried to make phenomenal aesthetic pieces, and I think they succeeded,” Rau says. “Drinking tea might go out of style, but Sèvres never goes out of style.”

By Sheila Gibson Stoodley

Designs of the Times Wed, 11 May 2016 16:15:54 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As the barrier between design and fine art crumbles, today’s artist-designers are giving their imaginations free rein.

Gregory Nangle, Forrest Bowl, 2015

Gregory Nangle, Forrest Bowl, 2015, cast silicon bronze leaves, cast bronze, 15 x 7 inches;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Vivian Beer, Ruffle Chaise, 2013 Laura Kishimoto, Yumi Chair II, 2014 Vivian Beer, Anchored Candy No. 6, 2014 Philipp Aduatz, Melting Chair Alex Rasmussen, Blue Lunar Console, 2016 Ball Nogues, Music Leg Glob Lamp, 2012 Gregory Nangle, Forrest Bowl, 2015

A delicate skein of openwork bronze leaves and branches coalesces to form a bench or a chair. A sinuously curved steel construction coated with auto-body paint is a chaise longue. What looks like an asteroid fragment glowing with cosmic rays is actually a floor lamp. With creations like these, today’s emerging designers are playing havoc with the modernist mantra “form follows function”—unless the function is to provide delight as well as utility, to stimulate the imagination as well to support the body. The design scene is being pervaded by a spirit of exuberance and playfulness, and something more—a sense that the traditional separation between design object and work of fine art is arbitrary and obsolete.

Some pieces seem at first glance to be sculptures but then turn out to have a functional aspect. Others may be non-functional (at least by the traditional definition) but are made by people who come out of the design world and show at galleries primarily dedicated to design. “It’s been my experience over the last 20 years that the lines drawn between artist, sculptor, designer have become increasingly porous and that the individuals in those categories are open to exploring other territories,” says Edward Cella of Edward Cella Art & Architecture in Los Angeles. “As a dealer, it’s been fascinating.” Lewis Wexler of Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia, which specializes in design, glass art, and ceramics, concurs: “The lines are blurred between fine art, design, and craft. The field has really changed. Fifteen years ago there weren’t design fairs at all; now at those fairs they would like you to show art as well as design. It’s a very exciting time to be in.”

To some extent, both the market and the museum world are simply ratifying what collectors are already feeling and doing. “Clients and collectors don’t tend to see the difference,” says Cella. “Go to Design Miami, and you see works by artists who are showing in museums next to design objects that are also in museums. Many museums are doing installations that combine art with design. At the Art Institute of Chicago or MoMA, you may see a Frank Lloyd Wright chair next to a contemporary piece, next to a painting, next to sculpture, with a rug underneath—an assemblage of objects with varying degrees of functionality and decorativeness.”

Thinking of fine art and design objects as being arranged along a spectrum of “functionality and decorativeness” is a good way to make sense of the diversity of today’s design. Toward the far end on the “fine art” side are works such as the ceramics of South African designer Andile Dyalvane, which will be on view in a solo show at the New York design gallery Friedman Benda from June 23–August 19. Some of the pieces have an opening at the top, giving at least a nod to the traditional concept of a vessel, but others are closed, which essentially makes them sculptures. The artist–designer incises the surfaces with patterns that allude to Xhosa ritual scarification, and to express the mixing of cultures in South Africa, some of those marks are made with fragments of 20th-century technological detritus found in street markets. The Friedman Benda show will also include a monumental ceramic-and-wood screen that recalls the forms of skyscrapers going up in Cape Town.

Another artist represented by Friedman Benda, Adam Silverman, also creates ceramic vessels, egg-shaped or asymmetrical, with differing degrees of functionality. A former architect, Silverman is having his first show at the gallery this month (May 5–June 11). Director Carole Hochman says, “To the question ‘are they functional,’ I would say they fall on either side of that line. He’s now starting to do groupings of open and closed vessels, so there’s a narrative between those elements. What I think is so incredible is his experimentation with surfaces—altering the thrown surface by pummeling, slashing, repeated firings and scraping away. It’s hard to classify him, but I don’t think that’s really important.”

Some of the non-functional pieces that are shown in a design context are made by people who come out of the design and architecture worlds and now are being given the chance to create works free from the constraints of function. Cella represents an L.A.-based collaborative team called Ball Nogues, led by architects Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues, who formerly worked for Frank Gehry. Known for producing large-scale outdoor installations, they now “take architectural methodologies and design skills and apply them to fine-art work,” says Cella. Some of the pieces have domestic functionality, like the glowing, rock-like floor lamps mentioned above, but others are pure aesthetic expression, like their wall-mounted rectangular pieces made of folded and crumpled strips of steel. These present themselves to the eye as framed abstract pictures, but the materials speak of the construction and thought processes of architecture and heavy industry.

The support of dealers who give designers the opportunity to make fine-art pieces has been instrumental in forming and sustaining this trend. Hochman says that at Friedman Benda, “the goal is to work with the designers so they have the freedom to develop new bodies of work. What you’re seeing with all these people is exuberance and energy; that’s what’s driving them. Our collaboration helps them get the freedom and time to experiment and push the limits, to come up with something new and fresh.” Wexler comments that this kind of freedom has been a longstanding need on the part of designers. “A lot of craftspeople always wanted to be in the fine-art world,” he says. “Talk to Wendell Castle—he wanted to be a sculptor. We’re about freeing up artists to create a body of work that doesn’t necessarily have to meet the confines of functionality, giving them the freedom to experiment with many different things.” Occasionally the process goes in the other direction—one of Wexler’s designers, Gregory Nangle, who makes the bronze-leaf furniture, was originally a glass artist and then wanted to do something functional.

One of the things that a lot of younger designers are experimenting with is materials—in particular materials typically used for mass production or industrial fabrication but now worked on by hand for unique or limited-edition pieces. An example is Alex Rasmussen, who makes tables, chairs, benches, trays, and more out of a patented colored anodized aluminum product that his family’s business, the Neal Feay Company of Santa Barbara, Calif., has been making for six decades. Rasmussen, the third-generation owner of the company—which started out making dental instruments and stereos—has fabricated pieces for designers including Marc Newson and Peter Marino and is now designing his own pieces. “He does hand-drawn design and digital design,” says Cella, “milling the aluminum himself. He knows that material like nobody else. There’s a kind of hand to it, a kind of intimacy; that is what connects it to art making process. The Jeff Koons model is a whole other thing.”

Vivian Beer, who is represented by Wexler, also uses industrial materials and processes. She works with welded steel and automotive paint in what Wexler calls “hot-rod colors” to make innovative pieces of furniture such as her “Anchored Candy” series of chaises longues. She has also made some chairs and benches out of steel tubing and a kind of artificial concrete composite called ferrocement. “She is one of those who bring a certain excitement to the design community,” says Wexler. “She’s incorporating car culture and also fashion.” Beer, who recently won “Ellen’s Design Challenge” hosted by Ellen De Generes on HGTV, spent a good part of 2014 researching the history of American industry, architecture, and transportation with a fellowship at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

A different kind of materials experiment is being made by Great Things to People (gt2P), a design, architecture, and art studio in Santiago, Chile. In partnership with Friedman Benda, they recently made a table that merges marble with bronze in one smooth finish. The marble is given a cutout treatment, and the resulting gaps are then filled in with bronze, which seems to spread like liquid across the table’s surface and then down into the legs. While these two time-honored materials have often been used together in pieces of furniture, this almost biomorphic interpenetration of the two is something new. Hochman says that Gt2P, which the gallery introduced at Design Miami, “are very energetic, using 3-D imaging techniques and pairing them with traditional techniques and local sourcing from Chile.”

One aspect of the exuberance of today’s design is a strong dose of fantasy, playfulness, or humor. Misha Kahn, a 27-year-old American who just had a show at Friedman Benda, makes wildly colored pieces of furniture and mirrors than look like they should be squeezably soft but are actually made of hard resin or concrete—sort of a tactile version of trompe l’oeil. He also works with bronze, plywood, epoxy, and even sawdust. Philipp Aduatz, an Austrian designer who shows at Wexler, made a black-chrome chair that is perfectly solid but looks like it’s melting. And nendo inc., a design firm founded in Tokyo in 2002, has created a series of 50 polished aluminum “Manga Chairs” that play with the visual language of comics. The series debuted last month in Milan at the Basilica Minore di San Simpliciano, in conjunction with the Salone del Mobile, Milano. Some of the chairs look like they have speech bubbles emanating from them; others have straight or curved lines of metal sticking out to one side indicating movements like spinning or zooming. Each can stand on its own, but together they form what Friedman Benda calls “a collective narrative.” In fact, says Hochman, all the pieces the gallery is showing “are more than just design. They all have some sort of narrative to them.”

But those narratives are inherent to the pieces; they’re not narratives about design becoming art, or art becoming design. “It’s not necessary to label,” says Hochman, “it’s how the pieces are realized. You have collectors who want to furnish and collectors who want more sculptural pieces to be juxtaposed with their art collections. Some are more concerned with function, some less. We don’t define it; we present it.”

By John Dorfman