Lot 52
  • 52

Martin Puryear

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Martin Puryear
  • Untitled
  • poplar and painted pine


Donald Young Gallery, Chicago
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1986


Chicago, Donald Young Gallery, Installations and Sculpture, May 1986

Catalogue Note

Untitled, 1986, is a superb example of Martin Puryear’s fully mature work, embodying perfectly the artist’s prime creative intentions with exquisite economy and evincing those traits most lauded by critical appraisal of his oeuvre. Defined by the evocative ambiguity of Puryear’s greatest output, the present work exists at the boundary between the modern and the primitive. Untitled is anthropomorphically suggestive yet also comports an implied sense of utility. Fashioned from humble materials, with the artist’s signature formal qualities of the handmade, it is also imbued with great lyrical lightness. There is an inherent allusiveness to functionality, yet the sculpture remains mysterious in its simultaneous denial of such, occupying, as it does, a conventional space. The lucid articulation of form motivates a consideration of the work’s visible and obviously highly-worked surfaces and joins. Yet the work also coaxes the viewer to attend to the invisible surfaces and spaces too; including, but not limited to, the empty spaces enclosed by its circular forms. This space exists simultaneously as ‘wall’ (and as such ‘empty’) and as part of the very work itself as a space circumscribed by it. The work exudes a quiet poise and self-assured power, derived from the equivocation of expansion and containment, and from the continual blurring of natural and man-made forms.

As a young artist Puryear approached the making of art by addressing the most primal components of sculptural production, those of material and method. His favored material was wood, resistant and sturdy, yet more compliant than stone or metal. By the mid-1960s Puryear had learned joinery in Africa and fine woodworking in Sweden under the tutelage of a master ébéniste. However, despite his proficiency in joinery, his finest work, present example included, eschews overt technical prowess in favor of simplicity of conception and overall design. As a graduate student at Yale the Minimalist artists exerted a great deal of influence over Puryear and in the 1970s he began to create wall-mounted sculptures, known as the Ring series, and numbering some thirty works. Emblems of various degrees of enclosing, these works have long been considered amongst the artist’s finest achievements. However, for Puryear, they also represented the problems of a serial format with attendant concerns of potential repetition. Untitled can be viewed as a solution posited by Puryear to the problems inherent in serial production and a mature elucidation of the symbiotic relationship between minimalist logic and traditional craft as espoused by his finest works. It is an outstanding example of the artist’s evocative exploration of abstract form and of his work’s unerring ability to enigmatically retain vestigial elements of utility from everyday objects found in the world.