Martin Puryear’s universe
By Melissa Stern
Martin Puryear is a man on the move. In his current exhibition at McKee Gallery, almost all of the pieces refer in one way or another to an act of movement, whether literal, as in the pieces “The Rest” and “The Load,” which are on wheels, or metaphoric, like the stunning piece “Heaven Three Ways/ Exquisite Corpse ‘Heaven.’” Cast in white bronze, it’s an elegant triad of gestures that moves from earth to sky in one majestic sweep.
This is Puryear’s first exhibition since his huge, traveling retrospective, which hit MoMA in 2007. It reflects both a great evolution in Puryear’s work and the continuing dedication to material, form and fabrication that makes it some of the most powerful contemporary art in America.
For Puryear, everything is in flux; everything moves. From pieces on wheels to pieces on giant rolling timbers, the entire show exudes a sense of physical potential. There are sculptural carts on wagon wheels, sculptures that are paper-thin sheets of Alaskan cedar curving along the walls and a huge field of willow branches that seem to blow in an invisible wind. Without the faintest hint of cliché, these all evoke a feeling of exploration, new lands and new lives. It is a show that to me expresses a great optimism.
As always with Puyear’s work, there is a tie to our cultural past, our history of making objects by hand. This is a critical element, I think, in keeping Puryear’s work so consistently potent, ethereal yet accessible. Beyond its beauty, there is always a connection to the hand that made it, and by extension to the viewer who imagines in him or herself the potential to be the makers of such things.
It’s a show that offers no easy interpretations, no comtempo art-world irony or bratty high concept. The show quietly and powerfully draws you into Puryear’s exquisite universe and leaves you feeling somehow better for the experience.
Martin Puryear: New Sculpture
Through June 29, McKee Gallery, 745 5th Ave., 212-688-5951, mckeegallery.com.
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