Lot 13
  • 13

Wendell Castle

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Description

  • Wendell Castle
  • Big M
  • signed Castle and dated 71
  • gel-coated fibreglass, automobile paint, wire and steel tubing

Provenance

Marine Midland Bank, Rochester, New York 

Charles E. Burchfield Center, Buffalo, New York (acquired from the above) 

Collection of Wendell Castle & Nancy Jurs, New York (acquired from the above)

Exhibited

Ridgefield, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum & Savannah, Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, Wendell Castle: Wandering Forms—Works from 1959-1979, 2012–14

Chicago, Grant Park, Public Art 2016, 2016–17

Literature

The Marine Midland Messenger, July 1971

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (ed.), National Community Arts Program, 1972

Ron Netsky, 'Wendell Castle: Crossing the Line that Separated Craftwork from Artwork', in Upstate New York Sunday Magazine, Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, 6th July 1986

Emily Evans Eerdmans, Wendell Castle: A Catalogue Raisonné 1958-2012, New York, 2015, no. II.15, illustrated p. 66

Catalogue Note

Conceived on a large scale and brilliantly coloured, Big M strikes a careful balance between representation and abstraction, demonstrating the stylistic boldness that has characterised Wendell Castle’s career. It was originally made as a commission for the Marine Midland Bank in Buffalo, New York and is one of only four large-scale public sculptures made by the artist; the others include Twist which was given to the City of Rochester, Yellow Arch which was exhibited alongside Big M at Grant Park in Chicago, and another work that remains in the collection of the artist. It was displayed in the lobby of One Marine Midland Plaza in a space that the architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill had specifically designated for a large-scale sculpture. Following the installation of the piece, The Marine Midland Messenger published an article on the new acquisition, writing: ‘Staff members can “relate to it” and use their imagination through the senses of touch and sight to behold the sculpture as whatever they want it to be. There have been numerous imaginative descriptions of it already’ (The Marine Midland Messenger, July 1971). The article was accompanied by a photograph of a female member of staff sitting at the centre of the M.

Castle is primarily known for designing pieces of furniture that break down the barriers that have traditionally separated the worlds of design and fine art. It was whilst studying sculpture at the University of Kansas in the late 1950s that he made his first piece of furniture – a coffee table to furnish his student flat.  His art teacher at the time told him he was wasting his time with furniture but Castle, then only in his twenties, disagreed: ‘I thought why can’t furniture be as important as sculpture? Why can’t it be an art form?’

This incorporation of traditional sculptural influences into pieces of furniture would define the rest of his career; he became a sculptor working in the medium of furniture. Balancing often very modern technical processes with an emphasis on handcrafting that is the inheritance of his earliest pieces, Castle has developed a distinctive aesthetic that beautifully assimilates the functionality of furniture with sculptural forms. As he explained: 'I think that one of the things that is consistent is that when I stopped making sculpture and decided I would concentrate fully on furniture, it was because I felt it could be the same as sculpture. It had all those qualities. And that made it ok for me to do. Nowadays, sculpture can be almost anything, but I still like to think of it as having volumes and voids and all those things that are probably Brancusi-based thinking' (quoted in ibid., pp. 40-41).

This conflation of the traditional boundaries between sculpture and furniture has extended into his works for public spaces and is something he continues to the present day. Some forty years after making Big M, Castle installed Unicorn Family in the sculpture park of the University of Rochester. This piece – fundamentally a set of chairs with a table and a large standing lamp – encourages the public to interact with it in much the same way as Big M. Other works have been installed by the New York City Department of Transport and the Museums of Art and Design, New York. Much like Big M, they encapsulate Castle’s belief that form and function can be combined in works of real aesthetic beauty.

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