Two artists tackle the human form at Society for Contemporary Craft
Two sculptors address the human form in very different, but complementary, ways at the Society for Contemporary Craft. Each artist explores the figure in relation to its environment in concurrently running shows, ‘Leonard Urso: Contemporary Metal Sculpture’ and ‘Making Myth: Recent Works by Martha Posner.’
The larger exhibit is a major solo show with the work of Leonard Urso. A wide array of sculptural pieces are on display. They range from mid-size, wall-mounted pieces to large-scale, figurative works. In addition, several pieces of fine jewelry can be seen in the gallery store.
Urso’s current body of work explores the theme ‘Being Human Being.’ Figurative pieces made of copper eloquently depict the roles of prophets, guardians, ancestors, innocent women and simple men in the drama of birth, life and death.
Urso, a professor in the School for American Crafts at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, deftly coaxes thick sheets of copper into primal human forms. Monumental pieces are forged by pounding the sheets into troughs the artist has dug in the earth.
An excellent example of this technique is the large figurative piece called ‘Messenger.’ At 12_-feet long, it lies flat like an Egyptian coffin. Not only does this piece hearken to the primitive techniques that Urso employs, it also shows the artist’s skill in handling this material.
Perhaps the most dramatic pieces in the show are the grouping of heads, each titled ‘Ancestor.’ They are aptly placed near the center of the gallery, where one can walk around them as though walking through giant river stones. Each has a hole in it, and with some pieces, it is possible to see inside. This is where the beautiful texture and patina of the hammered copper can be seen and most appreciated.
For more insight on the artist’s process, look for the ‘Sources’ part of this exhibition – a large enclosure in the center of the gallery that contains smaller pieces and a few of Urso’s sketchbooks. The sketchbooks are dramatic in their own right, looking like something Leonardo Da Vinci might have toted.
Part of the exhibit was intended to be displayed at the society’s One Mellon Center satellite gallery, Downtown. But because of construction, the show has been rearranged.
In the lower lobby at One Mellon Center, the casual observer cannot help but notice the large site-specific figurative work ‘Sisters.’ Here, Urso reveals that scale is not an issue. At 9 feet tall, ‘Sisters’ is skillfully handled, and as fluidly styled as his intricate jewelry pieces.
The remaining pieces on view have been moved to the upper lobby. They are worth seeking out. ‘Queen,’ and the totem-like pieces that accompany it, are so exemplary of Urso’s work that it is surprising they were not relocated to the main gallery.
Martha Posner’s exhibit is titled ‘Making Myth.’ Much of her work explores unusual myths along with the artist’s view of the natural world. On display are six large-scale works from the artist’s ‘Garment Series.’ Except for one, they are all large, lumpy garments that offer no comfort to the invisible wearer.
Living on a remote farm in eastern Pennsylvania, Posner uses some of the detritus found in such an environment – feathers, twigs, rusty fence and barbed wire. Combined with cloth and beeswax, these materials are interlaced with the artist’s own spirituality and beliefs.
The first piece to confront the viewer is ‘The Miller’s Daughter,’ a wedding dress-like construction having light hair on the outside and dark hair inside. The contrast might be viewed as a prudish sneer at modern weddings. The dark hair on the inside of the dress alludes to impurity.
‘Boat for a Night’s Journey’ is an ominous piece that looks more like a cocoon than anything else.
But that is wholly appropriate given the artist’s intent to display the concept of transformation. Hair and wild rose canes around the only opening in this vessel resonate the idea of rebirth.
One of the best pieces in the exhibit seems inappropriately placed. In the back corner can be found ‘What Remains,’ the larger of the two dress constructions in this show. It is a piece that warrants viewing from all angles, but this is difficult given its placement in a corner. The piece is simpler and more elegant than the rest, being the only one that doesn’t incorporate hair.
At first glance, the hair that is used in almost all of Posner’s sculptures evokes an emotional response related to the sensory. It would seem that with all of that hair, human or otherwise, there would be an odor. It might be a relief for some viewers to realize that the hair is synthetic. Yes, real hair would further humanize the works. However, use of the artificial hair leaves only the pleasant smell of beeswax.