Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Eight: One of a Kind

Tonight we're going to look at three artists whose talent and ambition go far beyond any classification.

Yoko Ono is one of the most important and most radical of the conceptual artists.

Since she felt that the concept was the most important aspect of a work of art, she might use any art form to realize her idea.

The bulk of Yoko's output has been experimental music. Her music is unconventional, but respected in certain quarters, and over the years she has had some major hits.

She has also produced many ground-breaking concept films. 

She is particularly well-known for producing "happenings," live events featuring some sort of surprising performance.

Some of her works are art installations featuring symbolic objects, such as might be shown in a gallery or museum.

Yoko was born and educated in Japan, but she has spent the majority of her adult life in New York, so she is sometimes considered Japanese-American.

Yoko collaborated with rock star John Lennon on several musical projects and happenings. 

Yoko and John were married in 1969; their marriage was notoriously tumultuous, highly publicized, and contentious. Yoko was reviled for breaking up the Beatles, but John's interest in conceptual art shows that he was moving beyond pop music anyway. 

Since John's murder in 1980, Yoko has preserved and promoted his legacy, but she has also resumed making music and maintains an active presence at peace events and on social media.

Note: Don't forget video

Niki de Saint Phalle was an artist whose huge talent manifested itself in just about every art form: sculpture, painting, performance art, conceptual art, and sculpture gardens.

Her most significant work was sculptures—from a small size for galleries to a huge size that can be entered and explored—and environments that showcase sculpture.

Her art was unified by an overwhelming desire to express women's values and to defy the standards of patriarchal society. Niki invented new forms, new processes, and new themes for art.

Since the male-dominated contemporary art world loved high seriousness, subtle conceptualism and formal use of color, Niki created art that was exuberant, cheerful, over-the-top, fantastical, superstitious, wildly colorful…and irresistible.

Niki was born in France, but raised in the U.S. As an adult, she lived in France and Italy, but she retired to Escondido, California.

Niki collaborated with Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely on many projects. They were lovers for awhile, and eventually married, but they mostly lived separately because Niki was so obsessed with making art.

Judy Chicago was one of the most important artists of the 20th century, and she still retains that position in the 21st century.

Judy defined and promoted Feminist art, and asserted the value of women's bodies and women's point of view. Her designs were based on female sex organs, and she forced the art world to accept this imagery by the power of her work.

Judy innovated the idea of collaborative art, raising the old tradition of quilting bees to the level of fine art production. She created projects in which she employed many crafts people, while maintaining her identity as creator of the whole.

She promoted women's crafts—such as embroidery, ceramics, and tapestry—which had been considered unworthy of notice by the art world.

She originated Feminist Art Education. She devised a curriculum centered around women's achievements in the arts, and developed a program for college students in California.

Judy was a growth-oriented person who eventually came to feel that her original approach to Feminism was wrong because she assumed that all women were friends and all men were enemies. She came to see that some men were feminists, whether or not they used the term, and some women disrespected and undervalued themselves and other women. 

Note: Don't forget video

Conclude with a review.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Seven: Sculpture, Part Two


Women entered the history of sculpture in the mid-1800s in America.

The first wave of women sculptors produced Neoclassical work in marble that depicted characters from mythology or fiction.

Harriet Hosmer

Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra, c. 1859
St. Louis / Jan's photo, 2010

Emma Stebbins

Commerce, 1860
Hecksher / Jan's photo, 2012

Edmonia Lewis

The Death of Cleopatra, 1876
Smithsonian / Jan's photo, 2010

Anna Hyatt Huntington

Joan of Arc, 1915
Legion of Honor
Photo by Dan L. Smith, 2010


In the mid-20th century, women sculptors turned to abstraction, and pushed sculpture in whole new directions.

Last week we covered 2 of them: Louise Nevelson and Barbara Hepworth.

Louise Nevelson
End of Day—Nightscape IV, 1973
Nelson-Atkins / Jan's photo, 2013

Barbara Hepworth

Sea Form (Atlantic), 1964
Dallas / Jan's photo, 2012

Preview of Tonight's Session:

This week we will cover two more sculptors who worked with abstract forms:
  • Beverly Pepper
  • Ursula von Rydingsvard

Next we'll look at 2 sculptors who created forms that represent their internal, psychological experience:
  • Louise Bourgeois
  • Kiki Smith

Then we'll look at a pair of living sculptors who have limited their subject matter:
  • Magdalena Abakanowicz
  • Deborah Butterfield

Finally, we'll look at sculptors in the Bay area:
  • Ruth Asawa 
  • Viola Frey
Abstraction, continued:

B. 1922: Beverly Pepper

Beverly Pepper is one of the most important living sculptors, now age 95.

She was one of the most versatile and ambitious sculptors in the last 4 decades of the 20th century.

She has created monumental abstract forms in a variety of materials; her simple forms call attention to the material itself, and especially to the texture of the surface.

In the 1970s Beverly started making large-scale earthworks, known as Land Art.

Beverly was born and educated in the U.S., but she has spent most of her adult life in Italy.

She was married for almost 70 years to a well-known journalist.

B. 1942: Ursula von Rydingsvard

Ursula von Rydingsvard is a world-renowned, living sculptor who carves abstract forms on massive stacks of red cedar planks.

Her most famous works are monumental forms that resemble geological formations, organic forms, or giant vessels.

She was born in Germany to parents of Polish descent, but her family moved to the U.S. when she was 8 years old, and she has spent her entire career in various studios in Brooklyn.

Ursula is married to Paul Greengard, a neuroscientist who is a winner of the Nobel Prize.


Other women artists became interested in the expressive capabilities of sculpture. They wanted to represent their inner worlds through forms that were symbolic and moving.

1911-2010: Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois was one of the great sculptors of the 20th century because she produced a constant stream of highly influential innovations.

Louise introduced a whole new purpose for sculpture: expression of the artist's internal emotions and psychological traumas.

Her childhood trauma was centered around her father: he was domineering and temperamental, he was verbally abusive to Louise, and, unbeknownst to her, he installed his English mistress as governess for herself and her 2 siblings, a situation that continued for 10 years. When she discovered the truth, she tried to commit suicide.

Louise constantly changed her materials, her style and her symbols.

Her career took off in the 1960s with various exhibits, but she didn't receive full national recognition until the 1980s. At the age of 71, she was the first woman to have a full retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

Louise was born in Paris and came to the U.S. as an adult; she became a citizen.

She was married one time, to a prominent American art historian, and raised 3 sons during the early part of her career.

B. 1954: Kiki Smith

Kiki is one of the most influential sculptors of her generation.

She uses sculpture to express the general conditions of the human body, with an emphasis on feminine issues.

She works in many other media than sculpture, and is especially well known as a graphic artist.

For sculpture, Kiki generally produces works in bronze.

She first became famous in the 1980s, and has produced a constant stream of provocative work since that time.

Kiki is a single whose career networking blends into her social life.

Fixed subject:

Some artists limit their work to a particular subject, with variations that suggest various feelings or states of mind, as well as formal innovation.

B. 1930: Magdalena Abakanowicz

Magdalena is pretty much the first, and only, Polish artist to become a major star in the international art scene.

Her works are widely exhibited by U.S. museums.

Magdalena has limited her subject to monumental standing human figures that are headless and hollow. She creates the work from coarse sackcloth, stiffened with synthetic resins, then translates this form to bronze.

She grew up during the Communist era in Poland, and most of her work expresses what it felt like to live under Communism.

She lives and works in Warsaw. She is married to a civil engineer.

Her career started in the 1960s, but her signature works date from the 1990s to the present.

B. 1949: Deborah Butterfield

Deborah is one of the most widely collected living sculptors; many American museums exhibit her work.

She has restricted her subject to horses, while experimenting with material and technique.

The attraction of Deborah's work is that although it appears to be made of natural materials, such as branches and bark, it is actually cast in bronze, with a patina that mimics the texture of wood.

Deborah lives on a ranch in Montana where she tends several horses, practices riding skills, and supports community riding events.

She feels that the figure of the horse is a canvas or screen on which she can project her feelings, about herself, about horses, and about nature in general.

Her career has been important since the 1970s.

She is married to a very interesting artist named John Buck.

California Sculptors:

California, being a unique place, has a unique type of sculpture.

1926-2013: Ruth Asawa

Ruth Asawa was one of the great sculptors of the 20th century because of the innovative and engaging forms she created she created in wire.

Her famous wire works date from the 1950s and 1960s.

In the 1970s and 1980s she created many fountains for the city of San Francisco, and became known as the Fountain Lady.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ruth was active in support of arts education.

Ruth was a well-known and beloved figure in San Francisco for 5 decades.

Ruth was married to a successful architect, and she raised 6 children in the beginning of her career.

1933-2004: Viola Frey

As an innovator of ceramic figurative sculpture, Viola Frey was a major star of the California art scene for 3 decades.

Viola's most important work consists of giant size figures of women and men in a funky, California style.

She innovated the practice of using the surface of the sculpture as a background for abstract expressionist painting.

Viola was a professor at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, where she got her own training.

Her life partner was one of her sculpture instructors.

Six: Sculpture, Part One

This is the first of two lectures on women sculptors. We're going to cover 14 artists whose works may be seen in American museums.

Sculpture is a much more challenging form of art than painting.

While tribal cultures make wonderful carvings in wood, the tradition of Western European sculpture values the durability of marble and bronze.

Both marble and bronze are expensive materials and difficult to work, and making a sculpture  usually requires the assistance of highly skilled craftsmen.

Because of this, there is much less sculpture to study and compare—fewer sculptors, slower development of styles, less sculpture on exhibit at museums.

Outline History of Sculpture

Sculpture was the preferred art form for the Greeks, and they favored nude standing figures of "ideal" proportions.

The Romans developed realistic portrait busts, but they also copied the famous Greek works, and tried to apply similar aesthetic values to new statues.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, sculpture was exclusively for churches and depicted religious subjects. Sculptors were part of the interior-decoration team of craftsmen.

During the Renaissance, secular figure sculpture was revived, but it tended to defer to the standards and subjects set by the Greeks and Romans.

In the 1600s, as the European economy grew, there was more sculpture and it tended to be more flamboyant. This was the Baroque period.

In the 1700s, sculptors again looked back to Greek and Roman models. This was the Neo-Classical period.

Women do not enter the history of sculpture until the 1800s in the U. S. There are simply no records of women making sculpture that was known to the public until then, either American or European.

Here are some examples of works that would have been iconic when women first started becoming professional sculptors.


This sculpture was intended to show the ideal proportions of an Athenian athlete.

Doryphoros (Spear-Bearer)
Roman copy in marble of bronze work from 400s BC
Naples / Internet


The Augustus of Prima Porta is based on the Doryphorus. Augustus was the first emperor of Rome.

Augustus of Prima Porta


This is the first free-standing nude sculpture since ancient times.

David, 1430-1432
Bargello Palace / Internet

David, 1504
Accademia, Florence / Internet


Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Apollo and Daphne, 1622-1625
Galleria Borghese, Rome / Internet


Antonio Canova
Perseus with the Head of Medusa, 1804-1806
95" tall
Metropolitan / Internet

19th Century Sculpture

In the 19th century the market for sculpture expanded significantly in the U.S. As the economy grew, more institutions required official statues, and there developed a class of wealthy people with cultural aspirations who collected and commissioned sculptures for their homes.

Sculptors generally modeled their works in clay first, and translated them into marble only when they received a commission. Sculptors' studios also served as showrooms where clients could see various clay or plaster models, called maquettes, and they could order a their own version in marble or bronze. To fill out their product line, sculptors also did portrait busts and medallions.

Rome was the center of the sculpture world because high quality marble was readily available, as well as stonemasons with centuries of experience. American sculptors would go there to train, and then set up their own studios for their careers. They were part of a large group ex-pat American artists and writers.

Another advantage of Rome was that everyone who could travel made it a destination. Many wealthy tourists stopped by the studios of sculptors—which were actually listed in tourist guides—and purchased or commissioned a sculpture, selecting from a display of maquettes. It was sort of a fad among a certain class of people.

In the 19th century, the dominant style of sculpture was Neo-classicism. Sculptors looked back to the sculpture of Greece and Rome and emulated their idealized proportions, their balanced compositions, and their mythological references.

Typical of male sculptors at the time are Hiram Powers and William Wetmore Story. Here are examples of their works.

Hiram Powers

Hiram Powers
Fisher Boy

Hiram Powers
William Wetmore Story
Libyan Sibyl, modeled 1861, carved 1868

William Wetmore Story
Orpheus with his Lyre

American Women of 19th Century Sculpture

In the 19th century, the U. S. economy and social philosophy had developed sufficiently that there was a class of wealthy and educated women who began to think and write about a woman's role in society, and specifically to suggest that the traditional role could be escaped and a woman could live as independently as a man.

Some women had sufficient financial independence that they dared to avoid marriage, so that their activities could be self-determined.

There came to be a class of women who rejected marriage, while engaging in a busy social life with other women. Intense friendships formed among the women, and in some cases these developed into romances.

Some of these independent women began to aspire to be professional artists, and to achieve the same excellence as the great sculptors they admired.

A cluster of American women sculptors was attracted to Rome and formed an active and nurturing community there. In Rome, women felt free to be open about their romances, as well as to dress and act in unconventional ways. They were far away from their families, and the Romans didn't care about them because they were outsiders.

Unfinished portrait
Charlotte Cushman
by Thomas Sully
The catalyst for the women's sculpture community in Rome was an actress named Charlotte Cushman. She was a highly celebrated performer in the U.S., especially noted for playing mens' roles, a common practice at the time.

When she retired from the stage (at the age of 36), she went to Rome, where she set up housekeeping with her current romantic partner, a successful writer named Matilda Hays, and others.

Charlotte had recently discovered the work of sculptor Harriet Hosmer, and she invited Harriet to join them, which she did in 1853. Charlotte used her active social life to promote the young artist.

In 1857 they were joined by an older sculptor, Emma Stebbins, who soon became romantically involved with Charlotte. As with Harriet, Charlotte promoted Emma's career.

In 1865 they were joined by Edmonia Lewis, an African-American sculptor who also had Native American heritage. She too enjoyed Charlotte's patronage.

Here is a closer examination of the biographies and work of these three sculptors.

Harriet Hosmer was the first woman sculptor to become a success in America.

Her peak period was the 1850s and 1860s.

She created marble sculpture in the dominant Neo-classical style that favored idealized figures and mythological or literary references.

Many of her sculptures depict women, both fictional and historical, who had been victimized sexually and abandoned by society.

She lived and worked in Rome.

Harriet lived a liberated lesbian lifestyle in Rome and was an ardent feminist.

1815-1882: Emma Stebbins

Emma Stebbins was among the first women to become successful sculptors in America.

She produced her most famous works between 1859 and 1869.

Emma worked in marble but her style was more realistic than Neo-classical. She was the first sculptor to depict contemporary subjects such as ordinary workmen.

For large commemorative works Emma created statues in bronze.

She spent her short career in Rome, then returned to the U.S.

Her most important relationship was with Charlotte Cushman, a famous American actress who was the center of the expat group of artists and writers in Rome.

1845-1911: Edmonia Lewis

Edmonia Lewis was the first African-American to be a successful sculptor. Her heritage was also part Native American.

Though she came from a disadvantaged background, Edmonia had a first class education, financed by her brother, who made his fortune as a barber in Bozeman, Montana.

She was part of the group of women sculptors who worked in marble and made their careers in Rome.

Edmonia applied the Neo-classical style to figures that represented her heritage. Sometimes she depicted Native American characters, and other times she depicted characters who represented African women.

Her peak period of productivity was the late 1860s and the 1870s.

Early 20th Century

In the first half of the 20th Century, the scene changed for American women sculptors. Instead of moving to Rome and working in marble, they stayed home and switched to bronze.

Instead of modeling in an idealized manner, they tended to be more naturalistic.

Instead of competing for large public commissions, they tended to specialize in small-scale sculptures for use in interior decoration.

Instead of banding together in same-sex communities, the sculptors pursued separate lives and conventional relationships. Frequently their careers were supported by their wealthy family connections.

The most prominent of these women was Anna Hyatt Huntington, who rose to fame as an animal sculptor and went on to excel at equestrian statues for public venues.

1876-1973: Anna Hyatt Huntington

Anna was the most prominent woman sculptor of the first half of the 20th century.

She first achieved fame as an animal sculptor, then progressed to heroic equestrian statues.

Anna Hyatt married Archer Huntington, an art scholar and philanthropist.

They established a sculpture garden in South Carolina called Brookgreen.

Anna adamantly rejected modernism.

Two of her works may be seen in front of the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. Anna was a member of the Legion.

2nd Half of 20th Century

In the second half of the 20th Century, sculpture in America changed dramatically for women.

The art scene was much more sophisticated, and it gradually became more internationalized. European women began to migrate to the United States, and U.S. museums began to show works by the most famous European women.

Instead of modestly hoping to make a living with decorative works, women began to compete like men to create aesthetic innovations that would knock the art world off its feet.

The result was a sudden jump from naturalism to abstraction—taking pleasure in the invention of abstract forms for their own sake and for their suggestive possibilities.

Abstract sculpture is an art form where the innovative developments were shared equally by women and men. No longer were women merely followers; they were in the advance guard. While male artists are generally favored by museums, curators could not deny the power of abstract sculpture by women, and all of the following women are shown frequently.

Several men made abstract sculptures in the mid-20th century. Two of the best were Henry Moore, a British sculptor, and Isamu Noguchi, an American sculptor who was raised in Japan. Here are examples of their work.

Henry Moore, 1898-1986
Working Model for ‘Oval with Points,’ 1969
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2016

Isamu Noguchi, 1904-1988
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2016

Isamu Noguchi, 1904-1988
Cronos, 1947-1964
SFMOMA / Jan's photo, 2016


Several women pursued pure abstraction in sculpture.

1899-1988: Louise Nevelson

Louise was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century.

Her sculptures were flat, abstract compositions of scrap wood, painted a single color, usually black, but sometimes white or gold. 

Most of Louise's works were designed to be hung on a wall like a painting. Her free-standing compositions also tended to be flat and wall-like.

For outdoor sculpture, Louise worked in metal.

The most successful phase of her career started in the 1960s and continued through the 1980s.

Louise was born in Ukraine but her family came to the U.S. when she was 6 years old. 

1903-1975: Barbara Hepworth

Barbara was among the first sculptors in England to create abstract forms in stone.

She used direct carving technique, instead of working from a maquette modeled in clay.

She was a leading figured in the international art scene throughout her career, peaking in the 1950s.

Her work is exhibited by many American museums.