Martin Puryear

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

On view through May 18, 2008
by Stefanie Ball Piwetz

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      Martin Puryear, Ladder for Booker T. Washington, 1996
      Ash and maple, 36’ x 22 ¾” x 3” width narrows to 1 ¼” at the top
      Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Gift of Ruth Carter Stevenson, by exchange
      © 2007 Martin Puryear. Photo by David Wharton

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      A level of ambiguity is inherent in Martin Puryear’s sculptures currently on view at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Many of the objects convey a sense of  familiarity—they allude to recognizable shapes or representational objects, but don’t quite reveal an identity. Viewers will come to his retrospective thinking that he engaged and expanded upon principles of Minimalism; yet most of the artist’s works are not observably geometric shapes, like Judd’s wall stacks or floor boxes. Rather, Puryear’s primarily wooden sculptures bring to mind familiar forms or contours without overtly asserting their referents.

      Unlike Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996), owned by The Modern in Fort Worth, the majority of the works in Puryear’s current retrospective (organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York) are not noticeably representational. Lever#3 (1989), for example, is not a recognizable lever. The carved and painted wood (ponderosa pine) is difficult to describe, but recalls the long trunk and body, or head, of an elephant. Visual allusions to representations like this one separate Puryear’s work most clearly from Judd’s Minimalism and its legacy. However Puryear cannot be completely severed from Minimalism. His works “are what they are;” but they are also something more. Moreover, they perpetuate an apparently Minimalist interest in the relation of one’s body to the work at hand. One’s immediate comprehension of the object’s spatial presence is particularly engaging and this facet of Puryear’s work makes the well-installed and well-crafted objects in this exhibition particularly captivating.


      Stefanie Ball Piwetz is an art historian and freelance writer in Fort Worth.