The Martin Puryear Retrospective is one of the most creatively assembled shows I have ever seen at NGA. For sculpture of such a subtle, yet monumental nature, "as tense and silent as a held breath," I thought it was a sensitive choice to exhibit the work around the entire institution. It was an allowance for surprise. It was also stunning how beautiful the work looked in the austerity of the West Building.
Instead of giving you a review, which would be beyond my literary gifts, I will instead focus on one of the reasons why I think Martin Puryear is a great sculptor. It is pretty simple. Craftsmanship and aesthetic choices are each a layer of meaning to the work that probably bears most of the conceptual weight, however, there is another dimension of complexity here in the assembly of forms.
Pictured below is a detail of the picture above. Note how each shape is a subdivision of a larger shape. Also notice how the fissures create new shapes around the turns of the form. I personally think that that is magic! It also refers to Being in a way, which is a favorite subject of mine. The reference being how Being is made up of facets, how each facet has a facet, and so on. So, everything is an assembly of minutiae. Now whether or not this assembled minutiae exist exterior to the viewer or is a matter of perception is another argument. What is reality anyway?
For that matter what is perception?
P.S. The only blemish in the Retrospective was how they chose to display Ladder for Booker T. Washington. The problem is that there is no advantageous way to view it. It is suspended in a really complicated space with four black marble columns surrounding it, and the vacuous space of the rotunda behind it. These spatial complexities also show off the hardware with which they hung the sculpture rather than the sculpture. Don't be fooled by publicity photos! It's really hard to see!