Pin It
Favorite

The Anti-Ironist 

click to enlarge Marin Puryear, Untitled, print, 1999.
  • Marin Puryear, Untitled, print, 1999.


Martin Puryear’s sculptures, which were exhibited in a major retrospective at MoMA in 2007, represent a striking departure from the overly ironic, content-driven, late mannerist oeuvre one has come to expect from an art-world luminary. There is a return to minimalist form: large, tactile, abstract sculptures made of wood, wire mesh, tar, rawhide, and other natural vernacular materials. Their craftlike assemblage and elemental shapes contain vestiges of preindustrial cultural artifacts, such as baskets, huts, tools, and boats, yet they also have biomorphic elements, implying metamorphosis. The hollow interiors of the closed vessels are trapped inner spaces resonating with a kind of consciousness, a latent alertness. The tension between formal and implied opposites—containment and sieve-like penetrability, tensed movement and sagging weight, obtuseness and grace—suggests there is more than meets the eye.

As it happens, Puryear works and resides in Ulster County. Thanks to this geographic connection, an exhibition of his prints will be shown at the Kleinert/James Art Center, in Woodstock, from September 12 to October 18. Given Puryear’s stature as one of the most celebrated artists in America—he has a closetful of awards, including one from the MacArthur Foundation—the show is a coup for the local venue.

Included in the exhibition are seven woodcuts inspired by the 1923 novel Cane, written by Harlem Renaissance writer Jean Toomer (the prints are the originals of a special artist’s edition published in 2000). But most of the 22 works consist of large-scale etchings related to Puryear’s sculptures. These employ a primal visual vocabulary: stark contrasts of black and ivory, a line that is by turns elegant, terse, and organic, a single object depicted against a ground. With the simplest of means, Puryear sets into motion a multiplicity of allusions that creates slippages in meaning.

In Untitled (LA MOCA portfolio) (1999), a black ovoid shape resembling both a head with two earrings and an upsidedown jug is balanced on a delicate ruled line. The ivory-colored ground is smudged with fingerprints, splattered with a dusting of ink and incised with hatched lines. These expressive marks imbue the bare page with a history and animate the image, as if exclamations were emanating from the otherwise mute, mysterious head.

A similar shape, turned upside down, pierced with three holes, and drawn as a spidery white armature on a black ground, is depicted in Untitled (2002). It’s both a vector field and a leaky pot. The form is dematerialized, a representation spun out of the barest of materials, yet resolutely handmade, asymmetrical, ample. High tech and low tech fuse: the lightning-quick, networked infrastructure of the information age and the obdurate, material resistance of daily life with its repetitious tasks. Jug (2001) is cartoonlike, a bulging sea creature in a mottled ground that resembles fluid seen under a microscope. It is uncomfortably large, a soft, feminine form pulling against its small, bulls-eyes handles and emphatic spout, a container that’s too contained. Untitled II (2002) is a pirouetting line, describing a vessel whose handle curls up like the arabesque head of a cubist guitar. Two carefully placed ellipses add dimension to the form, but they are ambiguous, suggesting rolling motion rather than solid object.

Puryear’s uneasy, beautifully made art points to an unusual, eclectic education, a well-traveled sensibility. Born in Washington, DC, he lived in Sierra Leone for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, studied printmaking and wood carving in Sweden, and obtained an MFA from Yale, in 1971. Besides his free-standing and wall-mounted sculptures, he has created large-scale, site-specific works in stone, bronze, or steel in California, Japan, China, and Washington, DC. The works at the Kleinert/James were previously shown in an exhibition at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

“Martin Puryear: A Survey of Prints,” will be exhibited September 12 through October 18 at the Kleinert/James Arts Gallery, 34 Tinker Street, Woodstock. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, September 12, from 5-7pm. (845) 679-2079;www.woodstockguild.org.

Speaking of...

  • The Electric Mess Rocks Woodstock
  • The Electric Mess Rocks Woodstock

    The New York garage punk band plays Colony on June 30.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • Woodstock's Colony Makes a Comeback
  • Woodstock's Colony Makes a Comeback

    Spring is, of course, a time of great renewal. And perhaps for the Hudson Valley music scene this year's greatest spring-renewal story is the reopening of Woodstock's former Colony Cafe as, simply, Colony.
    • Jun 1, 2017
  • Recipe for Resilience
  • Recipe for Resilience

    A Historic House Gets a New Kitchen in Woodstock
    • Jun 1, 2017
  • More »
Pin It
Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Hudson Valley Events

submit event

Rhinebeck Crafts Festival

Sat., June 24, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sun., June 25, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. — 200 of America’s best independent artists and craftspeople are coming together in...
Plant Communication, A Two-Day Workshop @ The World Peace Prayer Sanctuary

Plant Communication, A Two-Day Workshop

Sat., June 24, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sun., June 25, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. — Nature has the ability to communicate with us in a voice all...

View all of today's events

Latest in Woodstock

  • Creative Neighbors: Woodstock and Saugerties
  • Creative Neighbors: Woodstock and Saugerties

    The Most Famous Small Town in the World flies its peace signs with pride. A casual observer might be forgiven for thinking this place is resting on its hippie laurels, stuck in time. But quirky, iconic Woodstock, home of high-end creative pyrotechnics for well over a century, gifted and burdened with the legacy of the Iconic Concert that Wasn't There, continues to grow into all that mojo through a constant stream of reinvention.
    • Aug 1, 2015
  • RUPCO Painting to be Unveiled
  • RUPCO Painting to be Unveiled

    On April 16, the mural depicting Tamara Cooper and the community she helped bolster will be unveiled at Seven21 Media Center in Kingston.
    • Apr 11, 2015
  • Painting the Town
  • Painting the Town

    RUPCO's Woodstock Commons
    • Apr 1, 2015
  • More »

Related to Woodstock

More by Lynn Woods

  • Andres Serrano Goes Back to School

    The Andres Serrano retrospective at The School, the spectacular exhibition space established by Chelsea gallery owner Jack Shainman in Kinderhook, is a rare event.
    • Mar 1, 2017
  • More »

Hudson Valley Tweets