March 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Sierra Leone: Art: Sculpture: The Mercury News : Sierra Leone RPCV Martin Puryear's Sculptures draw on diverse world cultures

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Sierra Leone RPCV Martin Puryear's Sculptures draw on diverse world cultures

Sierra Leone RPCV Martin Puryear's Sculptures draw on diverse world cultures

Sierra Leone RPCV Martin Puryear's Sculptures draw on diverse world cultures

Sculptor's simple forms draw on diverse world cultures

By Jack Fischer
The Mercury News
San Jose, Calif.
March 23, 2005

One of the pleasures of living in the Bay Area is that so many first-rate collections of art also call it home. Their proximity means that great work can pop up almost unheralded, tucked into the corners of museums like spring flowers.

A current case in point is at the San Jose Museum of Art, where three signature sculptures by Martin Puryear are on view on the second floor landing to the upstairs galleries. The works are from the renowned private collection of Peninsula residents Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson and have been loaned in recognition of Black History Month.

Any excuse that puts Puryear's work on display is a good one, even if the occasion here may have the unintended effect of potentially diminishing the allusive power of these pieces. It's rather like trotting out a red steel sculpture by Mark di Suvero for Columbus Day.

To be sure, Puryear's brilliantly conceived and crafted sculpture evokes traditional African art, but no more than it does Scandinavian, Japanese, American Indian, even Arctic influences. And it is bound by none of them, retaining an essential mystery that keeps us coming back to experience his pieces freshly every time.

Puryear, 63, has said he made things with his hands from an early age, and it's clear that he absorbed a wide range of experiences, from a stint in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone where he worked with craftsmen to apprenticing in Stockholm with a master furniture maker.

When he arrived at Yale to study art in the early 1970s, it was minimalism, with its machined edges and lack of human touch, that held sway. But Puryear soon found ways to incorporate minimalism's simple forms with his love of craftsmanship and personal experience and he emerged as one of the country's finest living sculptors.

The three pieces at the San Jose Museum have been plunked down without preamble. The absence even of wall text about them may be a good thing, giving a visitor no recourse but to engage the work itself. (The museum Web site says a brochure is in the offing.) Three pieces may not seem like a lot, but that's a good thing, too. There's really time to look. No need to hurry to catch it all.

Puryear's sculptures can seem like artifacts from an unknown culture, perhaps enlarged for study, or like funny riffs on principles of math and science, depending on what you bring to them.

It's tough to pick a favorite, but ''Dumb Luck'' from 1990 is a contender. Puryear doesn't really sculpt. He builds. Here he has used wood and wire mesh covered with tar to create a vessel of unknown purpose. A large bulbous shape flattened at one end, and with a ''handle,'' it's like a teapot with no openings. The wire-and-mesh combination makes the sculpture at once dense and forbidding and almost airily translucent; even its approximate weight is a mystery.

''Lever (#4),'' from 1989, a lovingly crafted, massive elbow of red cedar painted black, uses a different strategy to suggest motion and mystery. The sculpture rests implausibly at the extreme end of the base of the lever, a lozenge shape flattened at its end, creating anticipation in the viewer that it could rock forward at any moment to find its center of gravity. Its shape is both familiar and inexplicable.

Finally, there's ''Sharp and Flat'' from 1987. Crafted of exposed pine planking and nails, it looks at first like an abstract hobby horse. But closer scrutiny reveals some of Puryear's seemingly inexhaustible invention in dealing with surface and mass in three dimensions.

The trio of sculptures, show-stealers if there ever were any, makes for a fine spring treat, testimony that not only nature but aksi human ingenuity has endless potential to be born anew.

When this story was posted in March 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Mercury News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Sierra Leone; Art; Sculpture



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