Recorded (via Zoom) January 24, 2021. Garth Evans, Jock Ireland, Brandt Junceau, and Choghakate Kazarian discuss the Martin Puryear exhibit on view at Matthew Marks Gallery until January 30, 2021. (Video and edit by Maud Bryt) Below the video are some excerpts. Please see comments box below and leave a reply. (NOTE: just added: two images below illustrating two things Jock Ireland mentions in his reply)
What was going through my head was Brancusi infused with narrative. –Garth Evans
Puryear’s “Happy Jack” reminds me of Brancusi’s “Chief.” –Brandt Junceau
In recent years he’s made a bunch of monumental pieces that I think—as monumental art—they’re quite successful. –Brandt Junceau
There’s a sense in which I think that all of the pieces in this show feel like in a sense kind of public works. I mean they don’t seem to be purely Martin Puryear talking to himself. They are addressed to an audience it seems to me. I found the piece in the back, the wooden piece in the back room on the right—I found that the most engaging for me—and the least kind of speaking out as it were. There is a kind of speaking out quality to the works I felt. –Garth Evans
I think some of the objective/the task of those pieces is that they are deliberate irritants. You know, they pose problems that they won’t answer—which I think is a really credible method of social sculpture—because we don’t have answers. –Brandt Junceau
To put him beside Brancusi is putting him in territory I’m not sure he can stand up in. –Jock Ireland
I would like to go back to what you said about Brancusi, Garth. I have thought about this idea of purity that is so important in Brancusi’s work. But I believe in Brancusi’s work it’s more of a goal he’s trying to reach and it also translates not only through form but also how he deals with form by crafting it with his everlasting process. Brancusi’s process is a very long one: polishing, repolishing again and again. And I have the feeling that with Martin Puryear, purity is not a goal but is more a point of departure. It’s where he comes from. Although he rejected this Minimalistic purity of the Minimalist artists, somehow there’s always this nostalgia for purity—but it’s more like a nostalgia than a goal. Formally speaking he’s actually trying to do the contrary, to escape it. It’s still there on the inside as a more nostalgic feeling I believe. –Choghakate Kazarian
To accompany Jock Ireland’s written response to the video above, dance image: dancer Holly Farmer in a Merce Cuninningham dance, and sculpture image: “The Cathedral of St. John” by Jimmie Durham.
4 thoughts on “Martin Puryear at Matthew Marks Gallery, NYC”
Jan 29, 2021, 10:54 PM (12 hours ago)
Have you seen the Puryear show? Last day tomorrow. . .
Jan 29, 2021, 10:58 PM (12 hours ago)
Yes I saw it 3 or so weeks ago
I was v impressed….I’ve seen only a few if his works before….
Jan 29, 2021, 11:03 PM (11 hours ago)
What impressed you? Did you agree/disagree with anything we said at the Puryear Sculpture Forum?
3:45 AM (7 hours ago)
What impressed me about the MP works was
the craftsmanship (eg the “basket weave” in bronze)
The inventiveness – objects I haven’t seen before or imagined
The clarity of the idea – as if the sculpture was a vehicle to convey an idea, it was clear and simple
The impact of scale – eg the same basket weave much smaller is very different than the size shown (I think a big part of koons work is about scale – expanding the scale of the ready made)
10:02 AM (56 minutes ago)
Very interesting observations! Would you be interested in/willing to post our email exchange as a comment at Sculpture Forum? No problem if you aren’t interested.
I agree with you about the craftsmanship and inventiveness.
I think the Koons connection is very sharp. It never occurred to me, but I think you’re right–and it would be great to get that connection out into “the world” via Sculpture Forum.
Have to disagree with you about the clarity business. Often I don’t know what the “idea”/the content is. I see very beautiful objects–and I do see a struggle with content, but it’s not resolved, not coupled inextricably with the form. Koons is much clearer, but much more simplistic.
10:05 AM (54 minutes ago)
Hi Jock, sure happy to post
yes re Koons Ive thought long and hard about why he is a super star and thats my best summary
he took Duchamps urinal and made a billion dollar business out of it!
re Clarity I guess we will talk a week from now!
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Jock, I always appreciate your (first, second and third) thoughts.
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I sent this email to my fellow discussants (a word as weird as these friends of mine) after our discussion, but before watching Maud’s edited video of the discussion. I have second (and third and fourth) thoughts every time I presume to open my mouth about sculpture.
Mon, Jan 25, 6:33 PM (3 days ago)
to Garth, Maud, Brandt, Choghakate, Rachael
I didn’t sleep well last night. All because of our Sculpture Forum about Martin Puryear’s work! I was drowning in all the issues the show brought up during the Forum. My head’s still not above water.
I got an email (about completely unrelated matters) from Bruce Gagnier the other day in which he said, they overreach and they don’t resolve. It seems to me that’s a good summary of what Garth was saying during the Forum: Puryear struggles, virtuously, to engage with all kinds of big issues (Garth refers to this struggle as a narrative (at least as I understand things)); and, understandably, Puryear can’t wrestle them all to the ground. A very sane point of view, a kind of lifeboat for me to reach for during the Forum—a lifeboat I hope will serve people who watch the Forum video too.
I still feel a need to clarify some things I said (and didn’t say) during the Forum.
I completely forgot to bring in that still from a Merce Cunningham dance (I think the dance was “Nearly Ninety”): Holly Farmer is struggling to stride forward but she’s tangled up by two other dancers. It’s complex MOVEMENT like that of the dancers that I see in Puryear’s “New Voortrekker” and “Askew, Aloft, Aloud.” It’s this MOVEMENT that I find refreshing, that sets these two pieces apart from the work in the rest of the show.
I also forgot to mention the Jimmie Durham piece, “The Cathedral of St. John,” that’s out on the second floor at MoMA now. It’s obviously related to Puryear’s “Hibernian Testosterone.” I think Durham’s piece is sharp, clear-headed—unclouded by the Trump stink that ruins “Hibernian Testosterone” for me. In the Forum I said “Hibernian Testosterone” is the worst sculpture ever made. Kind of a ridiculous thing to say—but thank you, Choghakate, for agreeing that “Hibernian Testosterone” is at least problematic: it was very comforting to hear you speak up: I was worried I was losing my mind.
I see “Hibernian Testosterone” as a hideous—and all the more hideous because everything Puryear touches is so beautifully proportioned, beautifully finished—a hideous mockery of what? America? Religion? Art/sculpture? Puryear himself? I doubt that’s what Puryear intended, but I wonder about his intentions. They seem confused—so open-ended/unresolved that they can’t help but be confused.
Many of the pieces in the Matthew Marks show were in Puryear’s “Liberty/Liberta” show at the Venice Biennale in 2019. I can’t help but admire Puryear for taking on the challenge of representing the United States in the time of Trump. I didn’t see the Venice show. I heard only good things about it—though I’m not in a position to hear a lot about it. Thing is: the work we saw at Matthew Marks raises Big Questions about the place of sculpture in the world today.
One question is: what counts as a sculpture? Is any one piece a sculpture or do the separate pieces depend on one another in such a way that only the whole show/installation can be considered the sculpture? This is an issue for a very well-know sculptor like Puryear and, maybe especially, for much less well-known, young sculptors like Lydia Gladkova. What’s a sculpture? What’s a show? What’s an installation?
Another question concerns the relationship between the separate pieces and the building housing them. I understand a lot of attention was devoted to the integration of Puryear’s sculpture with the architecture of the American pavilion in Venice. The Matthew Marks gallery on 22nd Street is a remarkable building (originally a garage for taxicabs, I think), but it wasn’t altered for the sake of the show we saw. I don’t think any of us saw the work Richard Deacon showed in two Mies van der Rohe houses in Germany in the early ‘90s—but I’ve been thinking about it in the context of Puryear’s “Liberty/Liberta”—Mies and Thomas Jefferson being two very different architects.
I think we all saw Bruce Gagnier’s show “Stance” at the Studio School in 2019—or was “Stance” Graham Nickson’s show? Graham arranged the figures in the gallery. If Graham were to do the show over again tomorrow, would he arrange the figures in the same way? (Paul Taylor uses the same music for the first and last sections of his dance “Arden Court”—but the choreography is completely different.) How would Bruce arrange things? These are questions I wouldn’t have thought I’d be asking 10 or 20 years ago.
It’s interesting to me that we all liked Puryear’s “Askew, Aloft, Aloud.” A beehive and a megaphone lifted “aloft”—not so much up onto four wobbly legs as into space—terrific the way the lift/the movement creates space: there’s created space inside what I’m calling a beehive and created space outside it too: at one end the space seems to be organized into a grid, at the other end the space is dispersed. Donald Trump/history does not make an appearance.
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