Saturday, June 25, 2016

From Start to Finish

Where: Smithsonian American Art Museum

When: through September 5, 2016

Every so often, I go to an exhibit not expecting very much and am surprised and delighted at what I see.  This Martin Puryear retrospective is one of those exhibits.  It's a collection of the prints and drawings he makes in preparation for his sculptures.  I'm not a big fan of prints and drawings, so I went more out of a sense of obligation (I go to see everything, so I'm going to go see this) than out of a strong desire to see these works, but I walked away a fan.

I think the most successful parts of the show are those in which either a finished piece or a model of the finished piece are shown along with the preparatory materials.  Seeing photographs doesn't really give you a sense of the final product the way a three-dimensional representation does.  This is sculpture after all, and it needs depth to work.

The piece with which I was most taken was "Face Down."  It's a bronze of a human head that is face down.  You don't see the face at all - in fact the thing that makes it a head, rather than a pitcher or other object are the small ears projecting from the sides.  I find that really fascinating all on its own - how one work can be a representation of divergent things, based on a small detail.

Then, to make this even better, in the next area of the exhibit space is a large wooden structure called "Vessel."  I realized right away that this is "Face Down" except in a much larger (and wooden) format.  I didn't notice any wall notes pointing this out, so I looked carefully to see if I was just imagining this, but, to my eyes anyway, the two pieces were identical.  The difference, other than the size and materials used, was that inside "Vessel" are a small wooden ball and a larger wooden(?) ampersand, covered with some sort of mesh with tar on it (I'm probably not describing this properly, but the point is that it's black, where as everything else about the piece is plain wood).

What does this mean?  I don't know, but I'd be very interested to find out.  I'm going to do some research and see if I can fine some analysis or explanation of his works.  They're tremendously intriguing, in that they draw you in, even if you don't exactly understand them.

Verdict: Go see this show - it's large, but not unmanageable for a lunch hour.

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