Progression of Art
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.
Wood, stainless steel and steel - Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
This large-scale work uses the same principles and elements of Di Suvero's other works of this era, and it also acts as a foundation for his later large-scale compositions. Made of pieces of wood and steel that are (remnants of) found objects, they are balanced and tilted in relation to each other, therefore combined to create an internal balance within the work. The central axis in Ladderpiece, is a strong diagonal, providing a distinct sense of dynamism and tension, with the movement is directed both upward and downward as the axis seems to simultaneously reach skyward and anchor the sculpture to the ground. The linear elements of the work act almost like three-dimensional drawings in space and the use of raw wood and old chains, as well as the construction, suggests ruins. As a junk sculpture, it is made of items that have had a utilitarian purpose or a history as part of other functioning objects.
It is an assemblage - a work that assembles objects into a composition--although with the tilted and unusable ladder fragment, it also crosses into what is known as "junk sculpture." The use of cast-off or broken utilitarian objects becomes prevalent in the sculpture of the 1960s and 1970s with other artists such as John Chamberlain (making sculptures with automobile shell parts), and Louise Nevelson (who uses wooden pieces, many of which are architectural elements such as chairs and bannisters).
Named after the most recognizable element of the composition, a ladder, Ladderpiece can be related to two of the most influential art movements of the first half of the 20th century: Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Similar to how the Surrealist "found object" sculptures put semi-recognizable but unrelated objects together - this work contains some semblances of the familiar, even if the objects are taken out of context and are not usable anymore (such as the portion of the ladder). And reminiscent of the Abstract Expressionists such as the strong slashing brushstrokes characteristic of Willem de Kooning and the oversized plank-like gestures in Franz Kline's paintings are echoed here by di Suvero in his three-dimensional gestures in space. Di Suvero liked to refer to such formations as "sculptural structuralism." Like architecture, and even including architectural elements, this is a "built" structure - but as an aesthetic object the piece remains a sculpture.
Wood and steel - Museum of Modern Art, New York
Poland is a good example of di Suvero's work from the 1960s in which he incorporated discarded industrial materials such as leftover lengths of I-beams and other found scrap steel. These types of materials become increasingly important to his work, especially as he expands the scale of his work to more monumental sizes. Despite the weight of its various elements, Poland has the capacity to become animated through motion, which is an innovation in modern sculpture, referred to as kinetic sculpture. The suspended ball, which can swing back and forth references wrecking balls used in construction. The abstract object attached to it prevents the work from mimicking the equipment exactly, even while suggesting its use on destroyed buildings. Such imagery derives di Suvero's own background. The base of the pendulum is certainly "crane-like" in form.
As is the case with di Suvero's sculptures, he creates angular compositions and counterpoints through diagonals. The hanging ball is held up by a diagonal pole, set upon a diagonal I-beam and stabilized by another rod on the ground that runs perpendicular to the whole composition. Contemplating its title, one might wonder whether di Suvero was paying homage to the countless Polish construction workers who helped to build many of America's industrial structures or whether he commented on the troubled history of a mid-sized European country, whose borders have often been violently challenged throughout its history.
Wire and Steel - Lynden Sculpture Garden
This composition is based on a multitude of parallel and perpendicular geometric planes, which interlock and overlap to create an almost labyrinthian conglomerate of shapes. The manmade quality of these elements is accentuated by di Suvero's use of his signature shade of bright red and black. As suggested by its title, this sculpture pays homage to so-called Gandy dancers; railroad workers who worked in groups and timed their rhythmic movements through musical chants. Meanwhile the "gandy" was the tool that was used as a lever to move the tracks. Di Suvero captures the sense of co-dependency inherent in this subject by counterbalancing distinct elements, such as the dominant red wheel shape and a thick black beam that serves as the work's stabilizing agent. In addition, he also allows for musical movement by introducing a kinetic element and allowing a part of the sculpture to rotate and sway.
Here we see the use of circular forms and moving parts, which are characteristic of his work of this era. The reference to actual persons/objects in its title, also harks back to Surrealism. The form of the sculpture is almost a "personage" or an abstracted form that somewhat looks recognizable, but does not really exist. The Surrealist Juan Miro was a master at creating figures that looked like living things, but were some other kind of hybrid or imagined organism. This strange pterodactyl-like form also may be influenced by contorted forms created by mid-career Pablo Picasso in both his paintings and sculptures.
Painted steel - J. Paul Getty Museum
Created when di Suvero was well-established, the foundations of his aesthetic are present but with additional flourishes. Here, I-beams create a stable structure made of two triangular steel foundations. These vertical peaks hold the edges of the work, while two other beams lean against it. He has added curved strips of steal that orbit around joints and on the end; he suspends an inverted triangle, therefore implying movement.
This work is an excellent example of di Suvero's interest in and employment of both industrial materials and methods since the 1960s. As a member of a crane operators' union he repeatedly expressed his admiration for the steel workers who helped to build and shape America's industrial landscape: "We have a great tradition of steel workers, going all the way back to the fabrication of the Brooklyn Bridge." Indeed, Mozart's Birthday translates as an homage to industrial steel because its supporting structure is made of hard-edged I-beams, evoking the skeleton of large industrial buildings in their raw power and geometric beauty. However, the work also embraces a lighthearted, playful quality by adding swirls of metal. Through their elegant curvilinear forms, these elements defy the physical limitations of their actual weight and the sense of gravity that usually comes with it.
In their fluid movement they seem far removed from any industrial context and are evocative of Henri Matisse's cutouts or musical movement rather than construction sites. In fact, this could be representation of a musical melody - only in the sky, not on a page. Paying homage to one of the most gifted classical composers in its title, Mozart's Birthday balances structure with creative impulse and succeeds in being both physically and emotionally accessible despite the size and the bulk of the industrial components involved.
Steel - Storm King Art Center, New York
Joie de Vivre
Located at Zuccotti Park in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, Joie de Vivre rises up no less than 70 feet off the ground. It is based on "open-ended tetrahedrons", which in geometry describe polyhedrons composed of four triangular faces, six straight edges, and four vertex corners. While reflecting di Suvero's keen interest in combining mathematics with expressive freedom, it also reveals an experienced engineer's focus on precision. The incredible weight of each section requires an utmost reliable and stable architecture to guarantee the overall balance of the work.
In the past, di Suvero has compared elements of his sculptures to the flying buttresses of medieval Gothic cathedrals, and this reference can easily be applied here as well. Painted in a vibrant shade of red that has become characteristic for the artist in recent years, Joie de Vivre evokes a monumental "x" shape, a cross. The title here is also significant and leads to the interpretation of a depiction of a person that has their hands up in a showing of jubilation.
So many of the artist's early works were untitled, and even those that were tended to be descriptive of the elements contained in them. In this work, however, di Suvero waxes metaphoric. While the work is a fairly rigid structure made of industrial material, it has inhabited four different locations, three of which were main thoroughfares. He titled it "Joy of Life" and colored it a bright orange-red, as if to remind passers-by of something beyond the daily grind, a purpose it still serves as it inhabits a park in one of the busiest and important financial districts in the world.
Steel - Zuccotti Park, New York City