Description: MARTIN PURYEAR (b. 1941)
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Sitka spruce and Pine
64 by 97 by 28in. 162.6 by 246.4 by 71.1cm.
Executed in 1980.
Young Hoffman Gallery, Chicago
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1980
Chicago, Young Hoffman Gallery, Martin Puryear, May 1980
Omaha, Joslyn Art Museum, I-80 Series: Martin Puryear, August-September 1980
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1981 Biennale Exhibition, January-April 1981. p. 91, illustrated
Amherst, University of Massachusetts, University Gallery; Pittsfield, The Berkshire Museum; Boston, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists; New York, The New Museum of Contemporary Art; La Jolla, Museum of Contemporary Art, Martin Puryear: Ten Year Survey, February-December 1984, p. 12, illustrated in color
Chicago Public Library Cultural Center, Martin Puryear: Public and Personal, February-April 1987, p. 28, illustrated in color
Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Hewlett Art Gallery, Martin Puryear: Sculpture and Works on Paper, April-May 1987
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Three Decades: The Oliver-Hoffmann Collection, December 1988-February 1989, p. 55, illustrated in color
Sao Paulo, 20th International Sao Paulo Bienal 1989, Martin Puryear, October-December 1989, p. 15,
illustrated in color
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago; Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Martin Puryear, November 1992-January 1993, cat. no. 12, p. 75, illustrated in color; frontispiece, illustrated (installation view at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984)
Puryear's evocative sculptures are a perfect union of craft and artistic sensibility, achieving a purity of form and an affinity for material that evokes the spiritual nature of art. He distilled disparate influences from many
cultures into a body of work that embraces a pluralism of the creative spirit. Puryear believes that the work flows from an inner sense of the object and the material, without the constraints of aesthetic ego. The elegant sweep of Bower, with its exquisitely rendered latticework and lyrical patterning, is the epitome of an object of resonant presence. In the words of Soetsu Yanagi, a writer studied closely by Puryear, "the thing shines, not the maker". (S. Yanagi, The Unknown Craftsman, Tokyo and New York, 1972, p. 200)
Puryear first encountered this
non-Western attitude among native carpenters with the Peace Corps in Africa in the mid-1960s. He then
proceeded to Sweden in 1966, where he met James Krenov, a cabinetmaker with a profound commitment and sensitivity to his craft and his
materials. By the time Puryear entered the graduate program at Yale University in 1969, his desire was to add a dimension of the heart and mind - of the artistic and intellectual - to the craft of object-making. "At a certain point, I just put the building and the art impulse together. I decided that building was a legitimate way to make sculpture, that it wasn't necessary to work in the traditional methods of carving and casting." (Hugh M. Davies and Helaine Posner, Martin Puryear, Amherst, 1984, p. 9)
Puryear's time at Yale coincided with the moment when the doctrine of Minimalism was being challenged by Post-Minimalist artists interested in "process" and the bodily presence of the artist. Puryear rejected such a
division of attitudes, forging a personal definition of sculpture which combined a self-conscious choice of material, the dexterity of "process" and the subliminal presence of the human spirit in art. In his most powerful early works, such as Cedar Lodge (1977), Self (1978), and Bower, one senses an artist increasingly capable of projecting himself into his work without revealing himself in any explicit manner. Like Cedar Lodge, Bower is reminiscent of a structure - either a sloping lodge or the prow of a rising ship. It also calls to mind Puryear's installation, Where the Heart Is (Sleeping Mews) (1981 to 1990).
In the form of a yurt, this structure suggests a surrogate spiritual space - evocative of nomadic mobility on the one hand, and the stability of home on the other.
Unlike the covered form of Cedar Lodge and the presence of objects in Where the Heart Is (Sleeping Muse), Bower expresses a different relationship between an object and the space it inhabits. The softly curving form of Bower possesses a sweeping, airy silhouette yet it is strongly volumetric. The intricate latticework of Bower suggests both presence and absence, causing this golden-hued structure to seemingly float above the floor. At the same time, the strong linear
circumference maintains a taut contact with the floor. In its shape, Bower is a powerful counterpoint to the seminal work, Self from 1978 in the collection of the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. A solid, black form, Self "feels
massive and heavy, as if to suggest the weight and solidity of stone planted firmly in the earth. Yet, this is an illusion, as Puryear built the form in thin layers over a hollow core. He has described the piece in the following terms, "...Self is all curve except when it meets the floor at an abrupt angle. It's meant to be a visual notion of the self, rather than any particular self - the self as a secret entity, as a secret hidden place."(Neal Benezra, Martin Puryear, Chicago, 1991, p. 25). Bower's play on presence is equally contradictory. With its open frets and slats, the viewer would assume that nothing is hidden in Bower's framework, yet the haunting human spirit and presence of this work is just as elusive.