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Artists Mark di Suvero

Mark di Suvero

American Sculptor

Movement: Modern Sculpture

Born: September 18, 1933 - Shanghai, China

Quotes

"I hope to make the space come alive. There's a time when a piece of sculpture stands up, becomes itself and there's no way to describe what I feel like - it's poetry."
Mark di Suvero
"I'm basically interested in something that Suzanne K. Langer pointed out - that human beings use symbols all the time. The words that we're using now are symbolic, and mathematics depends on the use of symbols. If you don't have icons, which are symbols, the computer doesn't work."
Mark di Suvero
"The idea of direct work has disappeared right now. It's computers. I'm so far linked to my hands."
Mark di Suvero
"I don't like the word responsibility, but if you're working a crane - I am a union crane operator - you know very well that your responsibility isn't just to the steel that you're lifting but to the lives of co-workers who depend on you doing the right thing."
Mark di Suvero
"I've been very fortunate in the last 30, 40 years because I've been allowed to work with the tools of my dreams."
Mark di Suvero
"I think the role of the artist remains in some way very necessary to a really living society and hopefully it is the unifying thing in terms of international culture."
Mark di Suvero

"I'm a constructivist... symbolical constructs - like language, like mathematics, like art - are the things that change people's minds. They are where we grow."

Synopsis

Mark di Suvero's work is the epitome of modern sculpture, which consists of unconventional materials, forms, and approaches. Assembling his works from wood and steel, he created what he referred to as "sculptural structuralism." These three-dimensional constructions were structures that consisted of angled beams intersecting others, sometimes with spiral elements. Such "gestures-in-space" were related to two-dimensional Abstract Expressionist gestural abstraction and action painting - a period of art-making that immediately preceded the artist's most creative period. As di Suvero's worked developed, it became more architectural and often became, or was commissioned as, public sculptures.

Key Ideas

Because di Suvero's works consist of built elements, they also incorporate "space" into the composition - that is, that the empty spaces that are formed by the elements of sculpture become a component of the sculpture itself. The space he creates, because it exists within architectural elements, maintains its human, true-to-life, relatable scale.
Di Suvero's works are important to the development of modern sculpture through his tendency to include kinetic - or moving - elements in them. The moving elements, while heavy because of their industrial materials, are meant to give the illusion of ease and suspending gravity.
Often visually off-balance and asymmetrical, Di Suvero's works lend themselves to the idea that they are "drawings in space" and related to the gestural abstraction that became prevalent during the mid-twentieth century.

Most Important Art

Untitled (1961-62)
Untitled consists of individual pieces that arise vertically from an irregularly shaped flat base. The wooden block at the left is set at an angle upon its corner and attached to a curved, unsteady-looking pedestal. Tipped to the left, it creates visual tension with the two bent and tilted vertical pieces of steel affixed to the right. While the sculpture looks physically off-balance, it is also visually off-balance and asymmetrical. It does not conform to the typical sculpture as a singular object, since at that the very bottom left of the composition, a winding snake of steel sits just off the edge of the base. At the time, di Suvero approached many of his works intuitively. As a result, the complex yet elegant assemblages often contain an improvisational quality. The precarious arrangement of the elements in Untitled, animates them with gesture, which harks back to the gestural abstraction of the Abstract Expressionist action painters that di Suvero was so fond of.

Because it is an early work, and perhaps because it was executed shortly after di Suvero experienced his nearly fatal elevator accident while working in construction, Untitled is compiled from scavenged objects and is smaller than his later, more monumental sculptures for which he became known. However, it contains important characteristics of modern sculpture because it includes the use of unconventional materials, is a built, rather than carved, object and it incorporates "space" into the composition as there are empty spaces within the sculpture itself, that become part of the piece.
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Mark di Suvero Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Formative Years

Marco Polo di Suvero was born on September 18, 1933 in Shanghai, China, one of four children of Matilde Millo and Vittorio di Suvero, an Italian naval attache. Although the family had been relocated to Tientsin in 1936, with the outbreak of World War II, they immigrated to the United States. By February 1941 they had settled in San Francisco where the artist grew up. Di Suvero attended San Francisco City College before transferring to the University of California, Santa Barbara (1954-55), and ultimately receiving a degree in philosophy from Berkeley.

Mature Period

Mark di Suvero Biography

Di Suvero was one of many young artists at the time that admired and became strongly influenced by the Abstract Expressionists, who had become a significant international art movement before di Suvero had completed his schooling. Di Suvero was attracted to their expressive freedom and wanted to follow suit. After graduating from Berkeley in 1957, he moved to New York City. Having avoided being drafted for the Korean War, di Suvero moved in with Bea Wheeler on St. Marks Place where Milton Resnick and Pat Pasloff were among his early and influential New York friends. The Abstract Expressionists and other young artists like himself became known as the New York School.

Despite showing his sculptures in the late 1950s, in New York, di Suvero labored in construction in order to support himself. His construction jobs often provided the raw materials for some of sculptures: the wood and metal he salvaged from demolition sites. While these construction locations provided inspiration, they were also perilous, and in March 1960, just shortly before his first solo exhibition at Green Gallery, di Suvero suffered a nearly fatal elevator accident while working at one. His back was broken and his spinal injuries were severe, so much so that he was uncertain whether he would ever be able to walk again. Even with such severe injuries, di Suvero was able to recover in only four years - walking without assistance by 1965.

Mark di Suvero Photo

Di Suvero had struggled his way through rehabilitation with the assistance of his brother Hank, and maintained his focus on his art by developing his steel-working skills, including welding, cutting, and cold-bending, which were the fundamentals of his labor-intensive technique. After recovery, di Suvero embraced the tools used in construction, such as a crane and cherry-picker, in order to further expand the possibilities of his work.

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Mark di Suvero Biography Continues

In 1971, di Suvero left the United States in protest of the Vietnam War; this self-imposed exile lasted four years. The artist settled in Chalon-sur-Saone, France (he maintained one of his studios on a barge until 1989) and continued to exhibit and teach. He believed that his work could act as an antidote to illogical behavior, political unrest, and overwrought human emotions by giving viewers an experiential encounter with his large constructions. It was important to him that visitors to his work felt the work physically, rather than simply viewed it - for that reason he always built his work with a scale in relation to the human figure, as if to substantiate these lofty objectives.

With the help of Marcel Evrard, his studio in Chalon-sur-Saone was repurposed in 1989 and called La Vie des Formes, serving as an experimental artist's space. In 2009 it was moved to Montceau-les-Mines and entitled Reve de signes, and has since found a new incarnation as an atelier for emerging artists.

Upon di Suvero's return to the United States in 1975, he first moved to Petaluma, California before settling back in New York City, where he brought together a team, which first included Lowell McKegney and later his nephews Enrico and Matteo Martignoni, to assemble his sculptures. In 1977, Di Suvero founded the Athena Foundation with Anita Contini to award grants to artists.

Late Period

He currently lives in Astoria, Queens with his second wife, Kate D. Levin. He has continued to make his large outdoor sculptures, many of which are installed in public spaces and parks, such as Storm King, a large outdoor sculpture park in New Windsor, New York. There he has had an ongoing partnership with his longtime art dealer and friend, Richard Bellamy, who devoted his last decade to the artist and his work.

Mark di Suvero Portrait

Di Suvero, is a lifelong activist whose disapproval of the Vietnam War developed into a constructivist approach to the link between humanity and art. He believed, "There's a question of what used to be called 'social consciousness', which is the kind of responsibility you feel toward other human beings. I think that there's a huge amount of current art that deals with the art market and that has absolutely no relation to social consciousness. I think that we are all related, all interconnected, if not by language certainly by some of our beliefs, whether religion or dreams or art or poetry and emotions, and that this is part of our responsibility." This belief and dedication has been the impetus for his involvement in large public projects.


Legacy

Di Suvero has diligently continued to pursue his monumental abstract style. Almost all outdoor public sculpture was influenced in some way by di Suvero because of the materials, forms, and construction techniques he pioneered. In order to create the works, di Suvero's process mimics that of construction, with the artist essentially acting as the architect, contractor, and builder - true to his background work history as a union crane operator. Using materials such as I-beams, which are the skeletal structures of architecture, his work has been embraced by builders and the public.

In conjunction with the Athena Foundation and with Enrico Martignoni, di Suvero also created the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, New York, an outdoor space where sculptors are invited to create and exhibit their work. A unique opportunity for large-scale and multi-media sculpture, di Suvero long recognized the need for a location for such endeavors as well as the benefits of having so many in one place so as to act in discourse with one another as well as a destination for public interaction with works of art. Originally a landfill and dumpsite, it also marks di Suvero's continuing involvement in repurposing the modern landscape for aesthetic purposes. This reflects his belief that the artist is crucial and should serve society.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Mark di Suvero
Interactive chart with Mark di Suvero's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

David Smith
Constantin Brancusi
Julio Gonzalez
Alberto Giacometti

Friends

Milton Resnick
Isamu Noguchi

Movements

Abstract Expressionism
Constructivism
Mark di Suvero
Mark di Suvero
Years Worked: 1950s - present

Artists

Robert Irwin
Bernar Venet
Barton Rubenstein

Friends

Philip Glass

Movements

Minimalism
Public Sculpture

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Useful Resources on Mark di Suvero

Books
Websites
Articles
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Richard Bellamy Mark Di Suvero: Storm King Art Center

By Barbara Rose, Peter H. Stern, David R. Collens, Barbara Flynn, Di Mark Suvero

Mark Di Suvero at Storm King Art Center

By Mark Di Suvero, Irving Sandler

artworks
Mark di Suvero Dreambook

By Mark di Suvero, François Barre, Mary Del Monico

Mark di Suvero

By David R. Collens, Nora Lawrence

Mark di Suvero - Official Site

Mark di Suvero: Retrospective 1959 - 1991

Musee d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Nice, France
1991

At 80, Sculptor Mark Di Suvero Is Still Mixing It Up in New York

By Jessica Daeson
The Wall Street Journal
September 2, 2014

To Make Meanings Real: A Conversation with Mark di Suvero

By Jan Garden Castro
Sculpture Magazine
June 2005

films
North Star: Mark di Suvero

Documentary
French
Produced by François De Menil and Barbara Rose, featuring music composed by Philip Glass
Released on DVD in 2012

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