. ip to them. Some things climbed up, hugging other things for support. Others hung above your head. Objects were broken up, yet remained continuous.Some forms very different from each other were adjacent yet made a coherent image. Space was used in every conceivable way. It was active, it was as if it adapted itself to the needs of the world, that its role was not merely passive.
(6) Intermittently in the late 1960s and more intensely from 1970 on, Sugarman’s investigation of active space took the form of outdoor, public sculptures. While, as already noted, the Hunter exhibition skipped this aspect of Sugarman’s career, the show did include Yellow to White to Blue to Black (1967), the sculpture that became the model for the first of Sugarman’s public commissions, for the Xerox Corporation in El Segundo, Calif. In contrast to Two in One, this work’s four streamlined forms, which describe a variety of internal volumes, are spaced out widely from one another. The roughly 3 1/2-foot-high pieces are also characterized by Sugarman’s emerging interest in larger, curving planes.
This tendency toward sleeker shapes finds its fullest expression in Ten (1968-69), a compelling, and in some ways uncharacteristic, work which was one of the last sculptures Sugarman made in wood. (Its presence at Hunter was especially welcome since the Museum of Modern Art, which purchased Ten in 1976, rarely displays it.) Standing over 7 feet high and 5 feet wide, stretching to almost 12 1/2 feet in length, Ten initially presents itself as a single, self-enclosed, smoothly contoured white form, looming up in the space like a svelte igloo. Quickly, however, its reliance on separate components becomes evident.
As the title subtly tells us, the sculpture is composed of 10 distinct, differently configured forms which have been set within inches of one another. The narrow spaces between these tall verticals allow you to peer into the physically inaccessible interior. These gaps are carefully situated to bring light into parts of the interior, while other areas are left in darkness.
The play of light and shadow is further complicated by the fact that the vertical elements are not simple walls but forms which loop up and down like towels hanging on a rack. Truncated, footlike extensions along the bottom of these looping elements help stabilize the piece as well as establish a formal connection to the floor on which the sculpture sits.In addition to its understated technical brilliance, Ten also exudes powerful symbolism. Holliday T. Day, the curator of Sugarman’s traveling retrospective of 1981-82, has drawn attention to the work’s female and male polarities: the three narrow forms at one end suggest a phallic lingam form, while the oval at the other end is emphatically egglike.
(7) Brad Davis, an artist who worked as Sugarman’s assistant during the making of Ten, has described the work as being somewhere between an Egyptian sarcophagus and a tantric cosmic egg.(8) The work also presents a paradoxical situation of a shelterlike structure which is impossible to enter. It’s a tribute to the undogmatic nature of Sugarman’s imagination that Ten should forgo so many of the qualities that characterized his work of the previous decade (bright colors, incongruous elements).
And it’s equally noteworthy that after completing Ten he didn’t go on turning out variations on the theme.After a quick stop in 1970 for Green and White Spiral, a tour-de-force demonstration of how to arrive at formal complexity by multiplying and repositioning a single element, the Hunter show skipped ahead to 1987. In the intervening years, Sugarman embraced the medium of painted aluminum, both for large-scale outdoor works and smaller sculptures. (It would have been interesting to see some of the maquettes Sugarman fashions, using a pliable paper and leather compound, for the aluminum works.) In the 1970s, as well as creating public sculptures around the country, Sugarman expanded his practice to include wall reliefs and acrylic paintings. Responding to the properties of his new materials, while still retaining his enthusiasm for color and irregular shapes, he opted for different kinds of forms, building sculptures out of fiat, foliage-like elements. After the austerities of the Minimalist 1960s, his work found a more congenial art-world environment in the mid-’70s. In his recent survey Art of the Postmodern Era, Irving Sandler discusses Sugarman’s 1970s work in the chapter on Pattern and Decoration Painting, noting how the profuse forms and exuberant color of his early 1970s work stunned the younger P & D artists.
(9) (Sandler also makes the intriguing suggestion that Sugarman’s painted-metal works may have influenced the metal reliefs Frank Stella began making in the mid-1970s, when the erstwhile Minimalist embraced wildly colored, curvilinear forms.) The seven sculptures from the late ’80s and ’90s that rounded out the Hunter College exhibition demonstrated that Sugarman, who turns 87 this year, has continued to evolve artistically. The Hanging Men (1987), is a freestanding, black-and-white structure that evokes mechanical objects such as gears, rudders and airplane parts. The sculpture seems to reject the sensual spirituality of Ten and is equally devoid of the gracefully proliferating, vegetal forms that mark many of Sugarman’s public works. The hanging men of the title–three black, bladelike forms impaled on a white spar that projects from the sculpture’s side–are less the sculpture’s subjects than they are its victims. Yellow Fringes (1990) shows Sugarman’s continuing involvement with eccentric, disparate forms.The core of this sculpture, which is installed high on the wall and suggests a spiky, half-open fan, is a bundle of three black-and-white girders–one sporting sawtooth edges, another punctuated by bent flaps–which jut out several feet at about a 40 degree angle. Wedged between these girders and the wall are five flat aluminum forms, alternately black and white, that resemble oversized Christmas stockings.
Bristling from the outside of the girders are three bright-yellow aluminum forms (the fringes) cut into rhythmic, fencelike patterns. With a formal unpredictability as great as his one thing after another floor sculptures of the mid 1960s, Sugarman here invites viewers to exercise their vision by focusing attention in an unusual place (where the wall meets the ceiling) and, there, to engage in retinal battle with a thrusting sculpture that keeps its complexities partly hidden. Yellow and White (1995) is a roughly 5 1/2-foot-high aluminum work composed of two elements: a gracefully twisted white shape at once suggestive of a curving funnel on a ship, a megaphone and the pistil of a flower, and, at its base, a boxy yellow form with irregular folds and scalloped edges.Sugarman works against our expectations by placing the more brightly hued, petal-like form on the floor rather than at the top of the stemlike white form. He also creates a work which, with its tapering edges, torqued planes and opened and closed volumes, offers the mobile viewer an equally mobile set of formal relations.
In his introduction to the catalogue that accompanied the Hunter show, Museum of Modern Art curator Robert Storr suggests that there is a resonance between Sugarman’s work and that of younger sculptors such as Polly Apfelbaum, Charles Long and Peter Soriano. I agree with Storr in seeing an affinity between their work and Sugarman’s (particularly his painted-wood sculptures of 1963-67), and would only add to his list three more American sculptors: Jeanne Silverthorne, Jessica Stockholder and Daniel Wiener. One quality of Sugarman’s work that links it to the sculpture of artists 40 or more years his junior is that in the early 1960s he rejected the notion of troth to materials, happily obscuring the natural properties of the wood he used with repeated coats of acrylic paint.Another is his Baroque-influenced fondness for extended forms that undertake unruly excursions from their bases.(10) Given these affinities with younger artists, it’s surprising that Sugarman’s achievement isn’t more widely recognized and that it was left to Hunter College, rather than a major American museum, to offer this survey. No doubt, Sugarman’s long focus on public art (rather than on gallery and museum work) has been a factor. Also at play, I fear, is the profound indifference shown by large swaths of the art world to the kind of formal inventiveness and complex visual thinking on which Sugarman’s art is based. I can only hope that the art students who made up a significant portion of the audience for this exhibition found some of their late-century assumptions about art-making challenged by the high order of visual invention on hand.
(1.) Quoted in Barbara Rose and Irving Sandler, Sensibility of the Sixties, Art in America, January-February, 1967, p. 51.(2.
) Amy Goldin, George Sugarman, in George Sugarman: Plastiken, Collagen, Zeichnungen, Kunsthalle Basel, 1969, unpaginated. (3.) John Perreault, George Sugarman, Joslyn Art Museum, Artforum, Summer 1982.
(4.) Stephen Davis, Disparity in Sugarman, George Sugarman, New York, Hunter College, 1998, p. 8. Davis also points out the similarities between Sugarman’s work and Frank Gehry’s architecture, especially his Guggenheim Bilbao. (5.
) See Holliday T.Day, Shape of Space: The Sculpture of George Sugarman, Omaha, Joslyn Art Museum 1982, p. 16. (6.) Artist’s statement in George Sugarman, Tokyo, Contemporary Sculpture Center, 1993, unpaginated. (7.) Day, p. 42.
(8.) Ibid., Recollections, p.88. (9.
) Irving Sandier, Art of the Postmodern Era: From the Late 608 to the Early 908, New York, HarperCollins, 1996, p. 144. (10.) Compare Bardana and Ritual Place with Silverthorne’s Untitled (Fragment), 1996 [A.i.
A., June ’97, p. 100] or Wiener’s Ball, 1993 [A.i.A., Nov.’95, p.
105]. George Sugarman was seen at the Gallery in the Fine Arts Building, Hunter College, New York [Feb. 18-Apr. 11, 1998].The accompanying catalogue includes texts by the curator Stephen Davis and by Robert Storr. Sugarman was also included in a recent three-person show at Tatunz Gallery, New York [Feb.
2-Mar. 20]. His newest large-scale public sculpture will be inaugurated in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, in July, as part of the Universiada Sculpture Park.LANGUAGE: ENGLISH IAC-CREATE-DATE: April 23, 1999 LOAD-DATE: April 24, 1999 1999, LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.