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.