art news & reviews & Interviews. jeff bergman, editor


I didn’t know Martin Puryear’s work well enough to say anything about him until the Museum of Modern Art retrospective a few years back and I am still fairly naïve.  There are some artists I just keep at a fair distance as a matter of course.  When someone like Puryear presents a form, I believe it is all he wants to show you and all he wants to say.   These structures and objects could be runaways from Brancusi’s studio.   At MoMA, it seemed as though I was seeing the offspring of the beautiful sculptural objects and modern design in the dark corners of MoMA storage.  Mating seasons past had given us these odd but elegant objects.

These sculptures are handmade in a way that evokes something before the term handmade existed.  At a loss to find an analogous art reference, I do what I often do and turn to music.  Fleet Foxes has a sound that is part roots folk and part art rock.  Swelling vocals and solid instrumental groundwork gives their sound footing in many eras.  Puryear does the same melding of centuries old craftsmanship and abstract origin.  Even when he used bark and rattan, I feel like I am seeing a truly solid object.  Solid in a sense that it is full of all that it should be, and made in a way that it will not be undone.

Some of these things fall in the ugly beautiful category.  With The Load, 2012, wood is married to steel and glass, evoking a horse drawn cart hauling a large brooding eye.  In Vehicle for Reflection, 2012, a mirrored mound as a vehicle defies a label and invites a slew of references to science fiction films.  Heaven Three Ways/ Exquisite Corpse, 2011 is an oddity in this bunch.  Its drill bit base and staircase steps are also otherworlds, less SciFi and more technologically surreal.  These works inspire the associative memory searching that we all practiced with the game “Memory” as kids.  Here there is no card to flip to find a match.

Other work feels plucked directly from nature’s playbook, reinvented and set loose.  Night Watch, 2012  seems to be a maquette for lonely reeds in a uninhabited grassland.  Its base is a table and its form is a heap of sloped willow.  I have seen some kernel of this before in nature, in painting (both figurative and abstract) and also have never seen this idea made whole.  Puryear finds all the parts and makes them whole.

I highly recommend spending some time at this exhibition before it closes tomorrow, June 29th.  Sorry for the long post to get to such short notice.  McKee Gallery / Martin Puryear: New Sculpture

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