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George Segal (1924-2000)
George Segal (1924-2000)


George Segal (1924-2000)
plaster, plastic and metal
85½ x 97¼ x 43¼ in. (217 x 247 x 110 cm.)
Executed in 1966-1967.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1971
W. C. Seitz, Segal, Stuttgart, 1972. J. van der Marck, George Segal, New York, 1975, pl. 79 (illustrated in color)
S. Hunter and D. Hawthorne, George Segal, New York, 1984, p. 365, no. 58 (illustrated in color, p. 176, pl. 175)
B. Kerber, Bestände Onnasch, Berlin, 1992, p. 89 (illustrated in color)
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, George Segal, 1967, p. 8 (illustrated)
Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, 1968, p. 56 (illustrated)
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, George Segal, 1969, p. 1 (illustrated)
Cologne and Berlin, Onnasch Galerie, 20 Deutsche: Ausstellung der Onnasch-Galerie, 1971 (illustrated, n. p.)
Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Aspekte der 60er Jahre, 1978, p. 138 (illustrated)
Duisberg, Wilhem-Lehmbruck-Museum, Das Bild der Frau in der Plastik des 20. Jahrhunderts, May-June 1986, p. 186, no. 42.
Antwerp, Galerie Ronny van de Velde, About Collecting, For Collectors, Four Spaces, April-June 1991
Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona and Museu de Art Contemporanea de Serralves, Onnasch: Aspects of Contemporary Art, November 2001-June 2002, p. 111 (illustrated in color)

Lot Essay

"I try to apprehend two realities: one high, quasi-religious, and the other low, made up of the banal and the unpretentious. I want to incorporate in my sculpture an intensification of my experience with my inner world and with the tangible world around me. But I don't want to be explicit; I want to evoke emotions. My ultimate objectives are a feeling of revelation and of psychological truth." (cited in George Segal Environments, exh. cat., Baltimore Museum of Art, 1976, p. 8.)

Laundromat is a moving evocation of modern living. Utilising the enduring stillness of his plaster cast figures, Segal presents in this work a stark exposition of humanity set against the synthetic and mechanical environment of twentieth century life.

Exploiting the contrast between the animate and the inanimate, much of Segal's work explores the way in which the depths of human emotion are expressed through the nuances of a person's body language. Like Francis Bacon or Lucian Freud, Segal repeatedly turns to the same friends and relatives for his models, as he has found that his work is wholly "dependant on the sensitivity and response of the person posing". The casting of a human figure in plaster has revealed to him "a mystery" concerning the encapsulation of a moment of life which Segal has found perpetually mesmerising. "I discovered," he once commented, "that ordinary human beings with no great pretensions of being handsome were somehow singing and beautiful in their rhythms. The people that I prefer to use again and again are friends (and relatives) with a very lively mental life. I discovered that I had to totally respect the entity of a specific human being, and its whole other set of insights, a whole other set of attitudes. It's a different idea of beauty and it has to do with the gift of life, the gift of consciousness, the gift of a mental life." (quoted in P. Tuchman, George Segal, New York, 1983, p. 109)

In Laundromat, these idiosyncrasies of humanity and of life are emphasized by their being shown in direct frontal contrast with a variety of objects from a modern launderette. In this way a horizontal parade of form is established contrasting the harsh angularity and cold hard surfaces of the metal and plastic furnishings with the seemingly soft and intensely detailed animate form of a woman reading. As Segal has observed, this deliberate contrasting of the forms of his figures and the smooth-surfaced forms of modern technology lies at the heart of his work. "I happen to need, I think, my own peculiar combination of hard, harsh, austere architecture, plus some kind of softness, gentleness, roundness or voluptuousness," he has said. "Its my own kind of balance." (cited in George Segal: Sculptures, exh. cat., Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1979, p. 68).

The balance that Segal establishes in Laundromat is primarily achieved through the direct frontality of the work which in turn emphasises the figure's isolation. In this respect Laundromat recalls the work of Edward Hopper, an artist whose work formed an important influence on Segal precisely because it managed to express the inner emotions of a person through a careful scrutiny of their exterior form and its interaction with their environment. "The reason I admire (Hopper) so much," Segal has commented, "is that he never stopped looking at the real world - with all the danger of being a naturalistic illustrator. Now, there's a difference being an illustrator (and he made his living that way and it must have caused him untold private agony). But for him to use the real stuff of the world and somehow - not suddenly but painstakingly, painfully, slowly - figure out how to stack the elements into a heap that began talking very tellingly of his own deepest inner feelings, he had to make some kind of marriage between what he could see outside with his eyes, touch with his hands, and the feelings that were going on inside. Now I think that's as simply as I can say what I think art is about." (cited in Tuchman, op. cit., p. 64).

Fig. 1 Edward Hopper, Automat, 1927, oil on canvas, Des Moines Art Center, James D. Edmundson Fund


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