Lot 34
  • 34

Martin Puryear

200,000 - 300,000 USD
286,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Martin Puryear
  • His Eminence
  • red cedar and pine
  • 98 by 97 by 44 in. 248.9 by 246.4 by 111.8 cm.
  • Executed in 1993-1995.


McKee Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, McKee Gallery, Martin Puryear: New Sculpture, March - April 1995

Catalogue Note

The simplicity and understated sophistication of Martin Puryear’s His Eminence (1993-1995) captures the artist’s modest oeuvre that reflects his foundation inEastern philosophy and adoration of the art of craftsmanship.  After graduating from Catholic University in 1963, where he studied art and biology, Puryear’s existential curiosity led him to join the Peace Corps where he was placed in Sierra Leone for two years. While there, Puryear became enthralled with the local, non-Western culture of craftsmen who were responsible for constructing the physical body of the community without the assistance of electricity.  With the absence of modern technology, Puryear found himself immersed in an artistic circle that was inherently anti-egotistical and wholly founded on constantly learning elementary skills from one another.  With a mastery of traditional woodworking, Puryear traveled to Sweden where he became an assistant to cabinetmaker James Krenov who possessed a unique talent of working with, rather than dominating, his materials. Krenov served as a role model to Puryear, describing that he “opened my eyes to an entirely new degree of commitment and sensitivity to materials.” (Puryear in Exh. Cat., Art Institute of Chicago, Martin Puryear, Chicago, 1991, p.17)

With these experiences behind him, Puryear’s return to America in 1969 as a student at Yale University led him to New York’s likeminded circle of Minimalists including sculptors Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Dan Flavin. It was during this time that Puryear fully matured as an artist, applying the minimalist’s rejection of embellishment in order to craft sculptures with an aesthetic reliant on simple geometric forms. In this way, His Eminence, reflects both the traditional modesty from his early international influences and the effortless sophistication of American modernity. Upon close observation, the viewer can appreciate the skill Puryear employed when carving the red cedar, leaving a smoothly rounded, tactile surface. In Puryear’s later works such as this, he wanted his sculptures to reflect things found in nature, relating back to his background in biology. As such, Puryear’s personifying and provocative title imbues this work with an anatomical undertone as “eminence,” a reference to the extension from the circular base, might allude to an elevation or projection on a bone, for example.  In this way, it is clear that while superficially simple, His Eminence represents the artist’s diverse experiences and worldly intelligence.