Sculpture gets its due

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By John Werenko

Sculpture when compared to painting, drawing, prints and photography is much maligned. There was once a famous New York art critic, his name escapes me but I think it was Clement Greenberg, who once said that ‘sculpture was something you bumped into in a gallery while trying to view a painting.’ This is hardly the best way to begin a review of an exhibition at the Art Center, totally dedicated to sculpture. This acerbic statement by a critic, however, makes an important point. Two-dimensional media such as paintings and drawings are generally favored by the public because they are often seen as pendants to literature and the written text. We live, after all, in a very literate world.  Paintings, prints, drawings and photographs are frequently used as illustrations in books, along side poems, as visual descriptions for technical tomes or novels and short stories.  

Sculpture, on the other hand, confronts us with its pure physicality or ‘thingness.’ We grow up, first appreciating sculpture as ‘statuary.’ That is, as depictions of real-life people and animals modeled in the round. These figures are horses with generals astride their backs, sword and arm held high. They can be ‘memento more’ to great historic individuals like Julius Caesar and the like.

Over the past 100 years, just as form and content have changed for painting, so too have the function, purpose, appearance and presence of sculpture. If the public were asked to comment on three different local sculptures one would find a rather diverse response.

Let us take as a first example, the bronze figure of a mountain lion at the roundabout in Los Alamos. This sculpture or statue provides a naturalistic and almost zoological illustration of an animal. The second sculpture is in front of the Bradbury Museum. The artist is Frank Morbillo and the stainless steel and bronze abstraction is analogous to the cracks and fissures one sees on the ride up the hill to Los Alamos.

The major difference between this one and the first sculpture is the abstract form and the fact that the work functions as a fountain.

The third art work is on display in front of the Art Center and is also by the same sculptor. It is titled “Broken Monolith” and is pure sculpture, non functioning and metaphorical.

 As painting is to literature, sculpture is to opera. Sculpture is frequently a collaborative affair, as with bronze casting and foundry work. Opera is a grand production that brings together music, drama, poetry, literature, stagecraft, sight, sound time and space. Sculpture also interacts within the totality of human perception and is often seen as a foil to architecture, a related medium. All objects have the potential of becoming sculptures but not all objects have the potential to become paintings, drawings or prints. That is the idea behind the exhibit titled, “Sculptural Ideas” opening at the Art Center Friday through          June 13.  

Many of the sculptors in this show have been associated with Shidoni Sculpture Garden and Bronze Gallery located in Tesuque. Some are currently represented by Shidoni Gallery. This world-famous bronze casting foundry is owned and has been operated by the Hicks family for more than 40 years. The Art Center is grateful to Shidoni for allowing several of their consignment sculptors to be exhibited in “Sculptural Ideas.”

Noel Aronov’s “Untitled Aluminum and Stone” and his “Landscape II in Bronze and Wood” demonstrates the penchant for abstraction that held sway for most of the 20th century, mainly in the medium of painting. Aronov’s work has affinities with David Smith extending back to Brancusi. Doug Czor showed last year in the “Art, Science and Technology” exhibition at the Art Center with his rainbow holographic images. This time Czor is showing “Promise I and II,” steel and aluminum sculptural models for monumental size work. Czor is a geologist who has a passion for the environment and space.

Cricket Ernst’s delicate traceries of “Frost Flowers” and the “Sun Came Out” belie the bronze in which they are cast. Ernst is the artist commissioned by the Mesa Public Library and the County of Los Alamos to create the aluminum gates in front of the library outside the fire stairwell to the utility level of the building. It is titled “Odetta’s Gate.” Ernst is an Indian American artist as is another individual in this show, Rollie Grandbois.

Both Ernst and Granbois are graduates of the Institute for American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

Granbois is a world- recognized stone carver who is the founder of The Southwest Stone Carving Workshop held every year in Jemez Springs. This workshop draws artists from all over the world. Much of Grandbois’ work draws its inspiration from American Indian motifs but he admits influence from many of the great modern sculptors of the 20th century such as Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi.

The entrance to the Art Center is graced by a 10-foot bronze and steel sculpture “Broken Monolith” by Morbillo.

The pieces in the main Gallery of the Art Center by him are small, none over        26 inches and represent images of dancing figures, one is titled “Pirouette Study.” Nat Hesse’s “Twist” and “Winged Square,” highly polished bronzes, also echo the motion and movement of the art of dance but in geometric form.

Kurt Hopson’s bronze wall-mounted winged figure, Martin Spei’s black patina bronze of full-bodied men in awkward positions, Carol Ware’s artifact utensil series with mermaid and Darla Thompson’s harshly colored caricatured heads are all works that draw upon the human form. Kathleen Oschwald’ work is also figurative but in the more traditional vein of local Hispanic Santeros as demonstrated in her “Tin Cross with Copper and Brass and Cross with Dove.” Dave Ficht, although not American Indian, lives in Jemez Pueblo and is influenced by the figurative as shown in his relief work of deer and antelope set in metal against stone.

Two artists do work that is clearly functional and yet highly sculptural in their presentation. Richard Mole is a consummate Santa Fe glass artist whose work, as the title suggests, are candy colored, almost like the old-fashioned Christmas ribbon candy. Candy Bowl and Platter look luscious enough to eat. Wayne Kiser, is showing for the second time in one year at the Art Center. This California wood artist creates exquisite, tiny wooden boxes with Zen titles like “Kathleen’s Secret,” “Vessel for Written Thoughts” and “Windows of the Moon.” Debra Steinman’s unique pine needle weaving “Wedding Vase” is one of the most unusual pieces in the show. Her vase is largely symbolic and reminiscent of the basket weaver culture of the ancient southwest.

Clark Man, currently represented by Shidoni Gallery and Sculpture Garden is a well-recognized bronze artist and his titles are as intriguing as his work in bronze, paint and steel, such as “Spirit Macaw Mask” and the “Wee Ghost”series.  

Michael Edge    and Toshi Miki are a husband and wife team of artists recently relocated from New York to Abiquiu. Both showed work last year in the Art, Science and Technology exhibition and Toshi will have a Portal exhibit from July through September of this year. Toshi’s one sculpture is in wood and is a model for one to be cast or fabricated in metal. The arabesque quality of the imagery is much like her large-scale paintings and prints. It is an idea for a sculpture to be manufactured in another medium. Michael Edge’s work is “Untitled” and made of papiér mâché, a most unusual medium to work in due to its ephemeral qualities and association with children’s art. The great French artist Dubuffet often worked in this medium.

Jim O’Donnell, a local Los Alamos photographer, was asked by the curators of the show to create and display two dimensional works of art that show the sculptural process. O’Donnell has shown numerous times at the Art Center and is a big supporter of its programs.

He has chosen to give us images of sculptures by Troy Williams who is represented at the Glenn Greene gallery in Tesuque. There is also a photograph of the process of clay throwing on the potter’s wheel and photos of how nature sculpts land formations at White Sands and The Great Sand Dunes Park in Colorado. Forms in nature have the potential of becoming sculpture.

Jerry Beguin is the Portal artist and is also a local Los Alamos artist and long time exhibitor at the Art Center. Beguin calls some of the work on display, “Muzart” as it is inspired by music and its influence on a visual artist. He also has a number of brightly colored abstract acrylic paintings as well as photos on canvas from his nature series.

The Sculptural Ideas exhibition and Beguin’s Portal show opens on May 8 with a reception from 5-             7 p.m. The show closes June 13.  For information call the Art Center at 662-9331 or visit the website www.artfulnm.org/SculpturalIdeas.

Editor’s note: John D. Werenko, ACFL executive director, curated the exhibit with assistance from Board Member Frank Morbillo.