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Indepth Arts News:

"Cast and Carved: American Sculpture 1850-1950"
2004-11-09 until 2004-12-17
Gerald Peters Gallery
New York, NY, USA United States

Gerald Peters Gallery, New York is pleased to announce their presentation of Cast & Carved: American Sculpture 1850-1950. The exhibition will be on view from November 9 through December 17 and will present an examination of 100 years of American sculptural traditions. The objects on view represent some of the finest examples of the Neo-Classical, Beaux-Arts, Western and Modernist styles of American sculpture and trace the development of a uniquely American vision.

Over 60 artists will be featured in the exhibition including Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Frederic Remington, Paul Manship and Isamu Noguchi. Works on view range in size from tabletop to monumental, and are composed of a variety of materials, including bronze, wood and marble. The total weight of the exhibition’s 90 works is approximately 10,000 pounds or five tons, an amount that required the gallery to reinforce the floors of their 19th-century New York townhouse to ensure adequate support.

1800 - 1850
Early 19th century American sculptors were mostly self-taught although they were influenced by the technical resources, training and sculptural traditions of Europe. Before the Civil War, the most promising American sculptors joined their English and French counterparts in traveling to Florence and Rome to learn and adopt the classical idiom. Thomas Crawford arrived in Italy in the 1830s and was one of the first American artists to compete internationally and achieve commercial success outside of the United States. Subsequently, Crawford went to Munich to learn new casting techniques and consequently embraced a more modern style. Crawford’s work, which can be seen in many museum collections in the United States, is represented in Cast & Carved by the over life-size carving of A Boy and a Dog (1854).

During the 1840s and 1850s, a second generation of American sculptors traveled to Italy to study, to compete in the Salons and Expositions and to seek commissions. Their carvings are imbued with Victorian sentiment and a new naturalism. Many of these artists, including Harriet Hosmer, established studios in Rome or Florence and relied upon wealthy Americans to visit their studios and buy their work. The exhibition features Hosmer’s Puck (carved before 1865), an amusing and delightful composition that makes witty references to French 18th-century works as well as an example of tour de force carving technique. The sculpture was so popular upon its completion, that more than 30 examples of the work were carved. Its size (31 inches) and affordable price contributed to the demand for the piece in both England and America.

1850 – 1900
Beginning in the 1850s, bronze sculptures were cast in America and artists favored a more naturalistic style that was perceived as modern and independently American. After the Civil War, the demand for statues commemorating war heroes led to the birth of a new American industry, the art foundry. The 1870s saw a sustained preference for sculpture cast in bronze, a desire for subjects uniquely American and nationalist in spirit, and for works to be made in the United States. Among the sculptors known for creating these new “American” artworks were Hermon Atkins MacNeil, Cyrus Dallin, Alexander Phimister Proctor, and two artists who dominated American art production from 1880 until 1907, Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

The sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens reflects a filtering of antiquity and the Renaissance through a modern American vocabulary. His early training as a cameo carver further honed by two years in Italy studying early Renaissance carvings and a long sojourn in Paris learning modern sculpture techniques led to the artist’s unique ability to work in relief. The highlight of Cast & Carved is the eight-foot-high marble, Amor Caritas, 1902, which exemplifies Saint-Gaudens’ mastery of technical aspects of sculpture production and his success in imbuing his sculpture with intimacy and personality. The French so admired Saint-Gaudens’ work that the monumental bronze relief of Amor Caritas (Angel of Charity) was purchased by the government in 1899 and now resides in the Museé d’Orsay. The work is considered such a masterpiece that a gilt-bronze cast of Amor Caritas was commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art a decade after the sculptor’s death. Saint- Gaudens won the grand prize at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris and was elected to the Société des Beaux-Arts that same year, a further testament to his position in the international artistic community. In the United States, Saint-Gaudens received numerous private and public commissions, including the Shaw Memorial (Boston Common), the Adams Memorial (Rock Creek Cemetery, D.C.) and the Sherman Monument (Grand Army Plaza, Fifth Avenue at 60th Street, outside the entrance to Central Park).

1900 – 1910
Two other important artists during the first decade of the 20th century are Frederick MacMonnies and Frederic Remington. MacMonnies was Saint-Gaudens’ studio assistant, and in the tradition of his teacher, he maintained a connection to France by keeping a studio in Paris and being artistically loyal to the Beaux-Arts style. The artist’s works can be characterized by an energetic, amusing and often sensual treatment of materials. The sculptures of MacMonnies still grace Brooklyn’s Prospect Park (Horse Tamers and Boy and Duck Fountain) and his Bacchante and Infant Faun, originally commissioned for the courtyard of Boston Public Library, now resides at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The exhibition’s Cupid on the Warpath and Cupid Running (1904-1906) are fine examples of MacMonnies’ sculpture. These works crowned the fountains at the former Knickerbocker Hotel (in Times Square) and were removed with the advent of Prohibition.

Despite his lack of formal training as a sculptor, Frederic Remington is known for bronzes that exemplify some of the most advanced casting in the early 20th century. Initially trained as a painter at Yale University, Remington was among the first well known American sculptors who did not train in Europe, did not belong to any of the Academies, nor compete for commissions. After 1900, Remington began using the lost wax method, which allowed him to create more details in the wax and cast complex groups of horses and figures. The result was an unparalleled depiction of horses bucking precariously, racing at full gallop or in descent without the need of support structures. Remington’s work focused on the Wild West: the cowboy, the “Indian” and the cavalry. His sculptures captured a nostalgic view of the country’s fading frontier and today remain an important emblem of early 20th century American art. Bronco Buster, the artist’s first attempt at sculpture, was cast in an edition of at least 150 examples during his lifetime and is now considered an icon of American art. A superb and rare example of Bronco Buster with Wooly Chaps #44 (1906) is included in Cast & Carved.

1910 – 1950
The work of Paul Manship provided an alternative to both the heavy academic style of Americans following European traditions, as well as the newer abstracted works. Manship combined classical motifs, streamlined silhouettes and decorative elements of the Art Deco movement with an unrivaled surface treatment, evident in works such as the exhibition’s Europa and the Bull (1924). Manship’s command of both large scale formal commissions and intimate personal works is well established. He is best known for his major commissions in New York such as the Prometheus Fountain at Rockefeller Center; the sundials and fountain groups created for the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens; and The Rainey Memorial Gateway for the Bronx Zoo. The exhibition also includes a bronze figure of a Tortoise (1936-37) which refers back to the Zoo commission and was an image the artist used again for The Wilson Memorial , a large celestial sphere which was placed in Geneva in 1939 in honor of the League of Nations.

With the advent of World War I, a wave of immigrant artists introduced contemporary styles such as cubism and constructivism and a predilection for new sculptural techniques. The American reaction was to absorb some of these lessons, particularly that of direct carving. American artists John Flanagan and William Zorach were important proponents of direct carving, and both were firmly rooted in the figural tradition. The artists incorporated texture, shape and color, as well as a personal philosophy about the material to achieve an aesthetic, which was part of the transformation from academic to modern sculpture in America. Examples of Flanagan and Zorach’s sculpture in Cast & Carved are Standing Figure (circa 1928) and Gemini (Twins), 1950, respectively. Austrian-born Chaim Gross also practiced direct carving, using simple, exaggerated and distorted proportions of the body as design elements, while retaining a sense of human personality and organic movement. A fine example by Gross in Cast & Carved is Abstract Figure (1940).

Max Weber, Gaston Lachaise and Elie Nadelman, who all came from Europe before World War I, as well as expatriate John Storrs, defined the innovative and eccentric concept of American sculpture before 1940. Both Storrs and Weber worked in a non-objective language, but their work had little impact on their contemporaries. Figure in Rotation (1917), depicts Weber’s renewed interest in African sculpture, as well as the Cubist work of Picasso and Braque. In Lachaise’s work the impact of American culture on a foreign artist is evident for the first time. Through his erotic treatment of the figure, exaggerated proportions, and his obsession with mass, Lachaise was able to free himself of the confines of French tradition as exemplified by Dancing Nude (1928). Elie Nadelman was also influenced by American culture, more specifically folk art, which he superimposed upon classical imagery. Nadelman references American contemporary life sculpted in non-classical materials in a unique “tubular” style as represented by High Kicker (circa 1920-1924) in Cast & Carved.

Despite the assimilation of new styles and techniques, American sculpture emerged from the figurative or narrative tradition and proceeded to create its own identity after World War II. Isamu Noguchi is just one of many artists who created his own abstract visual language using stone slabs. Untitled (1943-49) in Cast & Carved is one among many examples of American artists defining themselves on their own terms, a mere glimpse of what was to evolve.

Isamu Noguchi
Untitled, 1943-9
Purple Slate
56 1/8 inches high

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