PWC_Day_Lot 832_Puryear
Martin Puryear (b. 1941)
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Martin Puryear (b. 1941)

Heaven Three Ways/Exquisite Corpse

Martin Puryear (b. 1941)
Heaven Three Ways/Exquisite Corpse
incised with the artist's signature, numbered and dated 'Puryear 2011 1/1' (lower edge)
white bronze
78 ¼ x 34 ½ x 18 ½ in. (188.6 x 87.6 x 47 cm.)
Executed in 2011. This work is unique.
McKee Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
K. Johnson, “Martin Puryear: ‘New Sculpture,’” The New York Times, June 2012, p. C26.
P. Bui, "MARTIN PURYEAR New Sculpture," The Brooklyn Rail, June 2012, p. 44 (illustrated).
D. Ebony, "Martin Puryear," Art in America, October 2012, p. 167.
K. Mulder, "Presence in a Space: The Flickering Contradictions of Martin Puryear," Image Journal, no. 91, 2017, n.p. (illustrated).
New York, McKee Gallery, Martin Puryear: New Sculpture, May-June 2012, pp. 36-37 and 44, no. 11 (illustrated).

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Alex Berggruen
Alex Berggruen

Lot Essay

"During Minimalism, I felt like a holdover from the craft tradition. […] When I first saw Donald Judd's work, it cleared the air for me to do whatever I wanted. And I wanted purity and simplicity. But I couldn't be as distant as Judd--the working process is essential to me" (M. Puryear, quoted in M. Auping & A. Karnes, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, London, 2006, p. 280).

Trained in a variety of traditional craft methods, Martin Puryear has always placed emphasis on the fine detail and finesse that handcrafting can instill. Having learned to make a range of implements in his youth, from guitars to furniture, Puryear continued to pursue craft in Sierra Leone when he spent two years there serving in the Peace Corps. Familiarizing himself with traditional woodworking techniques of the region, he expanded his artistic vocabulary before studying at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm and ultimately receiving his MFA in sculpture from Yale University in 1971. This diverse education shows itself in his work, whether that be references to West African carpentry or modern Scandinavian design.
Heaven Three Ways/Exquisite Corpse was shown in the artist’s critically acclaimed exhibition at McKee Gallery in May 2012, his first exhibition of new work following his 2007 retrospective organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and which travelled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Cast in silvery white bronze, Heaven Three Ways/ Exquisite Corpse is a delicate tribute to the titular surrealist game and is comprised of stages; a conical base with a ramp spiraling up and around, that segues into a vertical pole that bends into a horizontal spiral from which rises a miniature stairway that becomes smaller as it goes up, as if receding into the infinite, moving from earth to sky in one majestic sweep.
The saw-like form, or stairway, in Heaven Three Ways/Exquisite Corpse’s central element recalls the ladder form in a notched configuration or with rungs that has been central to Puryear’s work. First represented in Some Tales, 1975-78, where it was made from Southern Yellow Pine it resembles a saw with notches that shift from left to right along its length. Reoriented vertically, the saw form suggests a ladder; a handmade everyday object that Puryear observed often when he spent several months in Alexander Calder’s studio in Saché in the Loire Valley in 1992-93. The ladders he saw there were simple, made from saplings, which were split to form rails and then rungs were added.
Puryear was aware of research by Carl Schuster, an art historian and curator who, in 1935, attempted to deconstruct formal connections in traditional and tribal arts. Schuster explored the ladder structure as a common functional form across cultures. He identified “heavenly ladders” found in South American and Asian societies, whose notched steps were used to climb to an elevated house and symbolically rise to heaven. While on a visit to Rome in 1986, Puryear saw this pattern again in the coiled cupula that sits on top of dome of Francesco Borromini’s Sant’lvo ll Sapienza in Rome. This form would go on to inspire This Mortal Coil, 1998-99, a site-specific work temporarily built for the Chapelle Saint-Louis de la Salpêtrière in Paris, where the stairway motif corkscrews upward over eighty feet on a journey toward the heavens.
Roberta Smith, critic for The New York Times, wrote in reviewing his 2007 retrospective at the MoMA “Mr. Puryear is a formalist in a time when that is something of a dirty word, although his formalism, like most of the 1970s variety, is messed with, irreverent and personal. His formalism taps into a legacy even larger than race: the history of objects, both utilitarian and not, and their making. From this all else follows, namely human history, race included, along with issues of craft, ritual, approaches to nature and all kinds of ethnic traditions and identities. These references seep out of his highly allusive, often poetic forms in waves, evoking the earlier Modernism of Brâncusi, Arp, Noguchi and Duchamp, but also carpentry, basket weaving, African sculpture and the building of shelter and ships. His work slows you down and makes you consider its every detail as physical fact, artistic choice and purveyor of meaning” (R. Smith, “Humanity’s Descent, In Three Dimensions,” New York Times, November 2, 2007).

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