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Beverly Pepper: Sculpture in Place

Overview

Two decades of Beverly Pepper's bold sculptural statements are presented here, from the highly polished stainless-steel works of the 1960s to the earthbound geometrics of the 1970s to the more recent monoliths. Pepper has figured centrally in such watershed modern movements as Constructivism, Assemblage, and Minimalism. Published in conjuction with a major Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition, this beautifully illustrated treatment of a contemporary master includes superb essays...
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Overview

Two decades of Beverly Pepper's bold sculptural statements are presented here, from the highly polished stainless-steel works of the 1960s to the earthbound geometrics of the 1970s to the more recent monoliths. Pepper has figured centrally in such watershed modern movements as Constructivism, Assemblage, and Minimalism. Published in conjuction with a major Albright-Knox Art Gallery exhibition, this beautifully illustrated treatment of a contemporary master includes superb essays by Douglas Schultz, and Rosalind Krauss.

Other Details: 149 illustrations, 63 in full color 176 pages 10 x 10" Published 1986

ceremony. Various elements work together, often in tripartite configurations, to emphasize the weight of each piece and its strong, even majestic physical presence. At the same time, the artist created works with long narrow slits and/or bored holes, compositions capable of dialogue among form, light, and the defined spaces. The artist's exquisite mastery of proportion and the interplay of forms resulted in vertical compositions of great grace and nobility.

In 1981, Pepper began working single columns into groupings, such as Ursalan Plaza, and she continued to make monolithic structures like Mute Metaphor. In a continuing refinement of this theme, her more recent works place grater emphasis on machine-tooled precise fabrication and on surface qualities. For example, Solitary Messenger (1982) manifests her affinity for industrial machinery, stemming from years spent in factories, fabricating her own sculpture. The use of patinated and expressionistic polychrome surfaces and the addition of carved and polished wood elements increased the primitive, exotic quality of works like Tranquil Messenger (1983), in which materials and shapes become more organic and suggestive of nature in a rooted abstract presence.

Pepper has most recently concentrated on a series of "urban altars," works composed of archetypal forms that extend, both literally and figuratively, the 1975 statement--quoted above--about monumental presence. Although she considers Ternana Wedge (1980) to be the first in this series, the basis of these new works was actually present in the small votive objects she made in 1977-78. A larger archetypal form, such as Janus Agri-Altar (1985-86), is evocative of a massive shovel form--its commanding presence created out of the simplicity of an ageless tool. This work is emblematic of Pepper's enduring ability to create a sense of monumentality through concept, as opposed to scale alone. As in her oeuvre of the past twenty years, Pepper creates a sense of archaeological minimalism through simple forms and surfaces.

Apart from those sources, conscious and unconscious, that are a part of every artist's development, Pepper has worked within the context of modernist sculptural development, drawing on such movements as Constructivism, Assemblage, and Minimalism. The Messenger (1982-83) and Santoni (1983-84) series have an affinity with the Assemblage movement: various hand-tooled elements, such as exotic woods, brass, and other metals, are fitted into a unified whole. Many of the forms are inspired by industrial products--ranging from a nineteenth-century Italian cast-iron lamppost to everyday machine tools. Yet, unlike Arman or Chamberlain, both of whom epitomize Assemblage by their use of the waste products or found objects of industrial society, Pepper transforms and recreates new forms from the old.

Her work has often been analyzed within the context of Constructivism, generally regarded as an aesthetic movement based on logic, structure, abstraction, geometry, and forms in which voids are vitally important. Superficially at least, all of these qualities are present in Pepper's sculpture, but her handling of surface--whether reflective, as in Zig Zag (1967), heavily textured, as in Dallas Pyramid (1971), or grooved and scored, as in Sentinel Marker (1981) and Coupled Column (1981)--is essentially expressionistic, the constant presence of the artist's hand having little in common with the precise, machinelike elements so closely associated with Constructivism.

The artist also has been identified with Minimalism occasionally. And here again, it is possible to isolate formal qualities of her work that conform to its aesthetics: simplicity, nonreferential forms, unitary modules, factory fabrication, Dunes (1971) and Exodus (1972) are suitable examples; however, even these sculptures, unlike the works of such leading exponents of Minimalism as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, are not entirely devoid of symbolic content.

Having lived for many years in Italy, a country rich in monumental historical and cultural references--Roman ruins, cathedrals, piazzas, medieval towers that preside over hill towns, and the austere ceremonial edifices of buildings from the Fascist era--Pepper is ever mindful of history. Almost without exception, her sculptures may be read as timeless references that nevertheless maintain a vital dialogue between past and present, between primary sculptural forms--whether geometric or organic--and the antecedents of ceremonial architecture. Like the builders of the pyramids, ancient temples, and other heroic monuments and memorials of the past, Pepper invests the pastoral and urban spaces of contemporary society with a ritual and spiritual aura.

In her work of the past twenty years, it is clear that the artist--while conscious of aesthetic movements, particularly those of twentieth-century sculpture--has followed her own instincts. She has reflected on her technical and artistic achievements and created an abstract yet spiritual body of work that realizes the potential emotional power in three-dimensional form.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The highly polished stainless steel exteriors of Pepper's ``constructed boxes'' reflect their surrounding environment, yet their inner voids dominate. Her ``urban altars,'' totem-like statues, strive for archetypal significance. Amphisculpture, at AT & T headquarters in New Jersey, features concentric circles of concrete tunneling through the earth, topped by metallic wedges; its meaning is ambiguous. Pepper erects immense columns that resemble modern machine tools or quaint, old-fashioned Italian cast-iron lampposts. One such tower, shaped like a giant drill bit, rises over a piazza in Italy; her painted metal pyramids dot city sidewalks in the U.S. A sculptor with monumental aspirations, whose fashionable work falls into a too-easy symbolism, Pepper is the focus of an exhibit on national tour, of which this album is a tie-in. (November 7)
Library Journal
Pepper is a dynamic sculptor whose work has evolved significantly since the 1960s. Her works range from totemic to environmental pieces, influenced by natural and manmade monuments. This first-time monograph, based on an exhibition at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, displays Krauss's deep knowledge of the artist and her processes. Krauss is known for her challenging, complex writing which will be of most interest to modern art students and scholars. The book's plates, color or black-and-white, are first-rate. For art school and specialized art history collections. Paula A. Baxter, Museum of Modern Art Lib., New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780896596672
  • Publisher: Abbeville Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/1/1986
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 10.32 (w) x 12.24 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction

The abstract language of form that I have chosen has become a way to explore an interior life of feeling. . . . I wish to make an object that has a powerful presence, but is at the same time inwardly turned, seeming capable of intense self-absorption. Beverly Pepper

Although based on the artist's experiences over the years 1960-75, this statement actually declares the goals that Pepper is seeking in her work right up to the present.

In the late '50s, Pepper, who had been trained as a painter, began to experiment with sculpture, producing expressive wood carvings that embodied figurative connotations but were nevertheless abstract. The emotive power of sculpture became even more evident to the artist after a 1960 visit to Angkor Wat. Two years later, she was among the artists invited to create a sculpture for the Festival dei due mondi at Spoleto, an occasion that hastened her direct participation in factory production and also involved her with the work of fellow Festival artists David Smith and Alexander Calder. By the mid '60s, Pepper had evolved a sculptural vocabulary of strong geometric forms, was confident of the direction of her aesthetics, and had developed a good working relationship with the fabricators and the factories necessary to the realization of her sculpture. She experimented with many large-scale sculptures that engaged the space around them, and she continued to challenge herself by inventing new relationships within her vocabulary of form and by mastering new technologies with which to create the degree of monumentality and physical presence her psyche required.

By the late '60s, Pepper was using highly polished stainless-steel exteriorswith painted interior planes, so that the works reflected the surrounding environment, and their voids became an integral part of the composition. The reflective quality of the material permitted the sculpture to "dissolve," allowing the earth and sky around it to become an extension of the work's physical presence.

Pepper's drive toward monumentality, however, was limited by the scale of even these constructions. As a result, she vastly enlarged her works and their relationship to the environment in a series of earthbound geometric sculptures completed in the 1970s. And she explored other creative possibilities, using shifting planes to create effects of perspective that result in the apparent perception of constantly changing configurations of form. She also cantilevered her work into space: massive geometric shapes, primarily triangular, conduct the sculpture's dialogue with its surroundings.

A 1977 variation on earlier themes appeared in a series of weblike constructions in which the artist stripped bare the defining planes of the sculpture and exposed its vulnerable substructure--thus engaging the viewer in a work that initially seems unstable in relation to its static surroundings. This movement toward a more linear quality in her sculpture implied connection to the burgeoning compositions of the early '60s, mainly in bands of metal welded together. Later, linearity would be explored further in totemic sculptures composed of strong elemental shapes akin to her work of 1971 to 1975.

Damiano Wedge (1978) and Goliath Wedge (1978) are small and intimate. Composed of primal forms, made of forged steel, their shape and surface finish seem to have been inspired by ancient artifacts. Their proportions possess a votive quality reminiscent of ceremonial and ritual objects, and they foreshadow the powerful contemplative quality of the large-scale columns she would create over the next two years. Pepper redefined these forms, creating taller, slimmer, more elongated columns and, later, monolithic "urban altars." As with the statuary and edifices she saw at Angkor Wat, her sculptures invested their surroundings with a sacred aura. Made of cast iron and rising up to ten feet, such works as Claudio Column (1979-80) and Normanno Column (1979-80) function as markers or sentinels, evoking sacred powers and a sense of ceremony. Various elements work together, often in tripartite configurations, to emphasize the weight of each piece and its strong, even majestic physical presence. At the same time, the artist created works with long narrow slits and/or bored holes, compositions capable of dialogue among form, light, and the defined spaces. The artist's exquisite mastery of proportion and the interplay of forms resulted in vertical compositions of great grace and nobility.

In 1981, Pepper began working single columns into groupings, such as Ursalan Plaza, and she continued to make monolithic structures like Mute Metaphor. In a continuing refinement of this theme, her more recent works place grater emphasis on machine-tooled precise fabrication and on surface qualities. For example, Solitary Messenger (1982) manifests her affinity for industrial machinery, stemming from years spent in factories, fabricating her own sculpture. The use of patinated and expressionistic polychrome surfaces and the addition of carved and polished wood elements increased the primitive, exotic quality of works like Tranquil Messenger (1983), in which materials and shapes become more organic and suggestive of nature in a rooted abstract presence.

Pepper has most recently concentrated on a series of "urban altars," works composed of archetypal forms that extend, both literally and figuratively, the 1975 statement--quoted above--about monumental presence. Although she considers Ternana Wedge (1980) to be the first in this series, the basis of these new works was actually present in the small votive objects she made in 1977-78. A larger archetypal form, such as Janus Agri-Altar (1985-86), is evocative of a massive shovel form--its commanding presence created out of the simplicity of an ageless tool. This work is emblematic of Pepper's enduring ability to create a sense of monumentality through concept, as opposed to scale alone. As in her oeuvre of the past twenty years, Pepper creates a sense of archaeological minimalism through simple forms and surfaces.

Apart from those sources, conscious and unconscious, that are a part of every artist's development, Pepper has worked within the context of modernist sculptural development, drawing on such movements as Constructivism, Assemblage, and Minimalism. The Messenger (1982-83) and Santoni (1983-84) series have an affinity with the Assemblage movement: various hand-tooled elements, such as exotic woods, brass, and other metals, are fitted into a unified whole. Many of the forms are inspired by industrial products--ranging from a nineteenth-century Italian cast-iron lamppost to everyday machine tools. Yet, unlike Arman or Chamberlain, both of whom epitomize Assemblage by their use of the waste products or found objects of industrial society, Pepper transforms and recreates new forms from the old.

Her work has often been analyzed within the context of Constructivism, generally regarded as an aesthetic movement based on logic, structure, abstraction, geometry, and forms in which voids are vitally important. Superficially at least, all of these qualities are present in Pepper's sculpture, but her handling of surface--whether reflective, as in Zig Zag (1967), heavily textured, as in Dallas Pyramid (1971), or grooved and scored, as in Sentinel Marker (1981) and Coupled Column (1981)--is essentially expressionistic, the constant presence of the artist's hand having little in common with the precise, machinelike elements so closely associated with Constructivism.

The artist also has been identified with Minimalism occasionally. And here again, it is possible to isolate formal qualities of her work that conform to its aesthetics: simplicity, nonreferential forms, unitary modules, factory fabrication, Dunes (1971) and Exodus (1972) are suitable examples; however, even these sculptures, unlike the works of such leading exponents of Minimalism as Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, are not entirely devoid of symbolic content.

Having lived for many years in Italy, a country rich in monumental historical and cultural references--Roman ruins, cathedrals, piazzas, medieval towers that preside over hill towns, and the austere ceremonial edifices of buildings from the Fascist era--Pepper is ever mindful of history. Almost without exception, her sculptures may be read as timeless references that nevertheless maintain a vital dialogue between past and present, between primary sculptural forms--whether geometric or organic--and the antecedents of ceremonial architecture. Like the builders of the pyramids, ancient temples, and other heroic monuments and memorials of the past, Pepper invests the pastoral and urban spaces of contemporary society with a ritual and spiritual aura.

In her work of the past twenty years, it is clear that the artist--while conscious of aesthetic movements, particularly those of twentieth-century sculpture--has followed her own instincts. She has reflected on her technical and artistic achievements and created an abstract yet spiritual body of work that realizes the potential emotional power in three-dimensional form.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Preface

Introduction

Beverly Pepper in Sun and Shade

Chronology, Exhibitions, Awards, Grants, Commissions, Installations, and Collections

Bibliography

Acknowledgments

List of Works Illustrated

Index

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