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Lot 31: Thylacine

Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

by Christie's

November 13, 2007

New York, NY, USA

Martin Puryear (1941) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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Description: Martin Puryear (b. 1941)
tinted pine and yellow cedar
61¾ x 58½ x 2 in. (156.8 x 148.6 x 5.1 cm.)
Executed in 1982.

Notes: On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in lots consigned for sale which may include guaranteeing a minimum price or making an advance to the consignor that is secured solely by consigned property. This is such a lot. This indicates both in cases where Christie's holds the financial interest on its own, and in cases where Christie's has financed all or a part of such interest through a third party. Such third parties generally benefit financially if a guaranteed lot is sold successfully and may incur a loss if the sale is not successful.
Thylacine embodies the exquisite craftsmanship and rich poetic associations for which Martin Puryear is celebrated. At first glance, the work appears as a finely wrought Minimalist-inspired sculpture in its geometric simplicity. Yet the title of the work, which refers to an extinct animal known as a Tasmanian tiger, opens the sculpture up to another level of elegiac resonance. The thylacine was an unusual carnivorous marsupial that had roamed Australia, but was extinguished in the Twentieth century by settlers who were terrified by the animal. In this light, the sculpture poignantly evokes the striped tail of the thylacine, isolated and ceremoniously curved in a closed circle, a victim of human civilization.

The discipline of craft was itself on the verge of extinction in the field of sculpture during Puryear's formative years of the 1960s, when Minimalism's industrial reductionism held sway. Puryear developed a reverence for the character of handmade objects, and particularly hand-carved wood, through a number of different experiences in his life. He had practical experience in crafts as a youth (carving canoes, guitars, etc.). Following college he studied African techniques of woodworking while volunteering in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, then explored furniture-making techniques while studying at art school in Sweden before studying sculpture at Yale University. Puryear's unique confluence of influences is evident in Thylacine , in its sensitively sculpted form and burnished surface.

The form of the circle has been particularly important in Puryear's sculptural oeuvre, as it brings together his art school training in drawing and his dedication to working in three-dimensional form. As he explains, "The circles are about line. From a few feet away they become lines drawn on a wall, yet they do not have volume. I have to build things. Even when I returned to the impulse to work with line on the wall, it was not with paint, pencil or crayon but by building it. Each of the circles reads as a line, but it really is an object. In a sense I guess you could say it's drawing with wood" (M. Puryear, quoted in Martin Puryear , exh. cat., Amherst, 1984, p. 23).

24421980: Thylacine, Thylacinus cynocephalus . c Kenneth Lilly Getty Images.

Provenance: Private collection, Dallas
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Artist or Maker: Martin Puryear (b. 1941)

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