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Martin Puryear: Sculpture of the 1990

September 12 through January 13, 2002

Major exhibition of large-scale sculpture by Martin Puryear, recently nominated "America's Best Artist" by Robert Hughes in TIME magazine.

The first major U.S. museum exhibition of work by sculptor Martin Puryear since his mid-career retrospective in 1991-92 will be on view at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive beginning September 12.

Organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Martin Puryear: Sculpture of the 1990s presents ten sculptures representing the best of Puryear's creative achievement during the past decade.

"We are delighted to present this exceptional exhibition of work by one of America's most important living artists," says Kevin E. Consey, BAM/PFA Director. "This rare opportunity to see such a wide selection of Puryear's work is part of our continuing commitment to bringing the finest contemporary art to the Bay Area."

The exhibition features pieces drawn from prominent public and private collections, including recently completed works from the artist's studio that will be exhibited for the first time. Included are examples of Puryear's classic constructed-wood sculptures, his woven and "latticed" pieces, and a selection of wire-mesh and tar works.

Puryear is widely recognized as one of the foremost sculptors working in the United States today. His work is recognized especially for its meticulous craftsmanship in an era when such traditional skills are less commonly practiced by contemporary artists. Puryear's large-scale sculptures suggest a range of organic and animal forms, achieving exceptional beauty through abstract shapes and often simple design.

In its recent "America's Best" edition, TIME magazine acknowledged Puryear's consummate skill and purity of vision. Robert Hughes, TIME art critic, described Puryear as "a master of both modernism and traditional crafts." Hughes observed that beauty without cliché is a supreme goal for many contemporary artists, and "there is probably none around who exemplifies this … better than the sculptor Martin Puryear."

Born in 1941, Puryear graduated with a degree in painting from the Catholic University of America in Washington in 1963. He then served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, West Africa, studying carpentry and woodworking skills while working as a teacher. Subsequently he studied in Stockholm, where he pursued his interests in sculpture, Scandinavian wood design, cabinetry and furniture making. In the late 1960s, Puryear returned to the United States to study sculpture at Yale University, where he received an MFA degree in 1971.

Puryear's mature works date from the mid 1970s. In 1977 he had his first museum exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Throughout the 1980s Puryear's work gained increasing recognition. He was honored with a Guggenheim grant in 1982, and in 1989 he became the first African-American artist to represent the United States at the Sao Paolo Bienal in Brazil, where he received the grand prize.

Puryear received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1989. Shortly after, in 1991-1992, the Art Institute of Chicago organized a mid-career retrospective of his work that traveled nationally. By the 1990s Puryear's work had entered the collections of major museums nationwide. He began to receive increased international recognition, first through his participation in Documenta IX, in Kassel, Germany, in 1992, and then in 1997 in exhibition at the Academy of Rome and at the Caixa Foundation in Madrid, Spain. Puryear was based in Chicago from 1978 to 1990 and now lives in New York.

Following its presentation at the BAM/PFA, the exhibition will travel to the Des Moines Art Museum (February 2 -– April 14, 2002).

Catalogue
Martin Puryear by Margo A. Crutchfield ($24.95, paperback) is available in the Museum Store. To order, call (510) 642-1475.

Public Programs
Martin Puryear in Conversation with Constance Lewallen
Thursday, September 13, 7 p.m.
160 Kroeber Hall, on the UC Berkeley campus at Bancroft at College
Free admission
Martin Puryear will appear in conversation with Senior Curator for Exhibitions Constance Lewallen, providing a rare opportunity to hear the artist speak publicly about his work and its evolution over the past thirty years. Among the topics artist and curator will discuss will be Puryear's distinctive use of natural materials and handcraft, the relation of his work to architecture, and the early development and evolution of his aesthetic philosophy.

In 1985 Lewallen—then MATRIX curator—presented a group of Puryear's small sculptures titled Boy's Toys. Sixteen years later, the conversation occasioned by the retrospective of Puryear's recent artistic achievement promises thoughtful reflections and insights.