Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Everyday Connotations

[Various bronze works with baked enamel]

Focusing on Nancy Graves’ playful polychrome bronze sculptures of the 1980s, this show at Ameringer McEnery Yohe runs through October 24th. In that period, she used bronze casting to create pieces from a variety of found items, both organic and manufactured. After Graves arranged them and welded them together, the pieces were painted with rich and colorful patinas. Her sculptures in this body of work, thus assembled, defied gravity and challenged the canon of metal sculpture. Graves told TIME Magazine art critic Robert Hughes that, “I try to defy, conceptually and visually, the logic of building. My sculptures aren’t evenly balanced in the obvious visual way: They’re balanced by imbalance.”

Before coming to that approach, Graves first struck a chord in the art world with her series of hyper-realistic camel-like constructions of wood, burlap, hair, and wax resembling taxidermied animals found in natural history museums. In 1960, she broke ground by becoming the first woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum. As part of Yale’s graduate fine arts program in the Abstract Expressionist infused early 1960s, Graves found herself in the company of realist painter Janet Fish, photorealist Chuck Close, minimalist abstract painter Brice Marden, installation artist Judy Pfaff, and minimalist sculptor and video artist Richard Serra to whom she was married from 1965 to 1970. From then on, Graves’ work and career would largely orbit on the interplay between natural elements and formal values of abstract art.

Unlike these colleagues, Graves went on to a variety of approaches and media in pursuit of creating art. After gaining prominence for her “camel series” (and before the exuberant assemblages of the 1980s), weather maps and NASA moon maps informed the paintings, drawings, and prints that she did in the early 1970s. These, in turn, evolved into her flat and linear abstract works of the late 1970s. Additionally, in the early seventies, Graves created five avant-garde films that, while representational, are fundamentally abstract in their approaches to and exploration of color, light, form, and distance. Travel had a major impact on all of her works.

Many of Graves’ sculptures, paintings, and works on paper may be found in such august collections as the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Art Institute of Chicago, National Gallery of Art, Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, and the National Gallery of Canada. Graves, who died of cancer in 1995, provided for the establishment of the Nancy Graves Foundation, which gives grants to individual artists, maintains an archive of her life and work, and organizes exhibitions of her work.

Nancy Graves

Through October 24, 2009

@ Ameringer McEnery Yohe

525 West 22nd Street, NYC 10011


The Nancy Graves Foundation:


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