Bertoia! Bertoia! Bertoia!

Harry Bertoia, Golden Trees, 1956. Commissioned by Victor Gruen Associates for the Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota.

I am quite thrilled to say that I am now on research leave, which will last through the 2017-18 academic year. This means that I will not only finally have some time for new Sculptural Things blog posts, but also for two new and substantial projects, both focused on the amazing and all-too-undervalued American postwar artist/ sculptor/ designer Harry Bertoia (1915-1978). Bertoia has occupied a lot of my mental, and well physical, space in the last year or so. I presented a paper, “Harry Bertoia’s Craft: An Alternate History of American Sculpture at Midcentury,” at the College Art Association’s annual conference this past February in New York, and had the pleasure of undertaking numerous site and collection visits in Bloomfield Hills, MI (Cranbrook), Boston, Chicago, Dallas, D.C., Houston, Minneapolis, and New York to examine some of the works Bertoia created over the course of his tremendously prolific career. Many of these visits have involved researching and scouting pieces to possibly include in a major, retrospective exhibition on all aspects of Bertoia’s practice that I am co-curating with Jed Morse, Chief Curator at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. The exhibition is scheduled to open in 2019, but hopefully I will be able to announce more in the coming months!

The other project that will be taking up a large portion of my time over the next year is a new book project, tentatively titled Alloys: American Sculpture and Architecture at Midcentury. The postwar period in the United States saw both a building boom shaped by the ideologies of humanism and Modernist architects, and a widespread call for the re-integration of art and architecture. Leading architects of the period repeatedly turned to a small group of sculptors, including Bertoia, Alexander Calder, Richard Lippold, and Isamu Noguchi, who produced materially complex, site-determined sculptural walls, ceilings, and screens that connected threshold spaces like atriums, lobbies, plazas, and entryways. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of such collaborations, as well as the marginalized status of art allied with design or functionality, the significance of these commissions has been largely overlooked—especially those by Bertoia and Lippold. Drawing upon contemporary theories of synergy and alloying, this project examines the role of sculpture in this moment of cross-disciplinary synthesis and argues that such commissions suggest an alternate history of American art at midcentury. I will be undertaking archival research this autumn in Washington, D.C. as the 2017 George Gurney Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and will have dedicated writing time in the Spring of 2018 as a Tyson Scholar of American Art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

And if you don’t want to wait for the results of the above research/ work, you can check out my article, “Alloyed Screens: Harry Bertoia and the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Building – 510 Fifth Avenue,” recently published in special issue of Sculpture Journal on architecture and sculpture edited by Katie Faulkner and Ayla Lepine.


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