artist / participant

press release

Donald Young Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new sculpture by Martin Puryear.

This exhibition, which marks the artist's first one-person show in Chicago in over a decade and the first show of new work in five years, consists of five major sculptures which carry on and expand upon interests that have been present in Puryear's work throughout his career. A Distant Place, 2005 is a magical sculpture which combines highly finished, stained wood with rough natural elements. The base structure consists of a large maple burl which is intersected by two cross beams and topped by a small reliquary like structure. A large twisted spire rises out of the base and reaches up to a height of over fourteen feet. The exquisitely crafted spire makes one think of a Narwhal's tusk. Elements of this work can be traced back to Puryear's first temporary outdoor sculpture Box and Pole from 1977 which combined a refined 54-inch wood cube with 100 ft. pole made from two trees spliced together.

Refinement and precision are masterfully displayed in the Untitled work from 2005 which combines beautifully carved wood surfaces with an intricately woven wire and rattan enclosure. The central element of this sculpture is a biomorphic carved wood form with a flat front with three openings which from the back reveal organic protrusions. A clear sight of the beautifully carved forms is somewhat obstructed by the lattice enclosure which grows from the back of the carved wood form. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Puryear began making sculptures based on the Asian yurt. These nomadic dwellings consisted of woven wood covered by felt and secured by large wood doors. This work very closely relates to this general structural form as do numerous works Puryear has made over the years including many of the wire mesh and tar sculptures as well as the permanent outdoor commission at the Oliver Ranch in California. With these works Puryear creates an interior space which is unreachable and secure. Further works made of woven enclosures include Bower, 1980 and Brunhilde, 1998-2000

Confessional can be seen as related to the same issues, however this work is remarkably different from Untitled. In the late 1980s Puryear sought to make work that had a "raw, tactile and inelegant quality" and he found the appropriate material combination of wire mesh and tar. Of this material Puryear has said, "I'm interested in mediating between a feeling of massiveness and fragility to reach a point of extreme vulnerability. Wire mesh allows for all this. It can appear massive and opaque, but it is actually a thin veil." Confessional, like Untitled combines a large wood "door" like element which acts as a sealed portal to an interior space. In contrast with Untitled, Confessional's door is a rough and battered combination of woods which have been stained and defaced. Patches, highly finished knobs and handles cover the surface as small openings allow one to see through to the interior. The interior space to this piece is created from a collage of wire mesh with and without tar, thus creating a patchwork surface through which one can glimpse the hollow core of the sculpture. Related early works are Maroon in the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum and Vault in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.

In the late 1980s Puryear also began making a series of neck and body like forms which continues to this day. Le Prix, carved from both yellow pine and Alaskan yellow cedar, consists of a rounded "body" form from which a chain link "neck" extends from the base, rises at an abrupt angle and reaches up to a ringed form. The French title for this work was chosen for its double meaning of both "the prize" and "the price." The wood has been painted and sanded, subtly revealing the beauty of the natural wood grain. This work most directly relates to Lever #3, 1989 in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. but also to three important works from 1987 Empires Lurch , Sharp and Flat , and Timber's Turn. With each of these sculptures, which seem to grow up out of the ground, Puryear achieves a sense of motion and energy with the upward thrust of the neck. In Le Prix it is as if the neck is reaching up to grasp or present the prize.

Untitled 1997-2001 is a second sculpture in the exhibition which can be seen within the neck and body series. This large-scale sculpture in which the neck reaches up to a height of nearly 12 feet displays forms that are both roughly and highly finished. The body of the sculpture is made up of smoothly sanded wood slats that rise up out of a flat, rough base which is punctured by screws and bolts. The rear slats of the body rise up to meet the arched spine to a rounded point. The neck of the sculpture likewise rises up from the base and is shaped by a pattern of smooth slats and coarse disks, also penetrated by screws. This lattice pattern slowly tapers as the neck rises upward until it narrows into a solid, elegantly finished form which at its highest point, curves downward toward the ground. From this end point of the neck, a string weighted by a wood sphere falls towards to the ground creating a beautifully clear vertical line.

Martin Puryear was born in Washington D.C. in 1941 and attended both Catholic University and Yale. Puryear's work has been exhibited internationally and a survey of his work, curated by John Elderfield, will be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in the fall of 2007. The artist has created numerous important outdoor works including That Profile at The Getty Center, Los Angeles and his work is in the collection of major institutions including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Martin Puryear - Sculpture and Prints