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Points of Entry.

Points of Entry: The Drawings of Albert Paley, Kimberly Venardos & Company, New York, New York, 2003

Those familiar with Albert Paley's massive works knew what to expect from an exhibition of the artist's drawings; for others, such an exhibition may have come as a surprise. Since the mid 1970s Albert Paley has made a name for himself, nationally and internationally, as a sculptor producing monumental lyrical public sculptures that grace many American cities including several in the Southeast region. Points of Entry: The Drawings of Albert Paley is a retrospective of the artist's drawings, sketches, and maquettes that illuminate the development of the artist's work from concept through design development, critical stages that lead to the successful completion of projects that define the cultural landscape.


An active artist for over thirty years, Paley began his career with an M.F.A. from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia where his work focused on jewelry. Working as a goldsmith in the mid 1960s, his proposal for a pair of gates submitted to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in the early 1970s propelled his career into an architectural direction. That piece, Portal Gates installed in the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, would serve as a point of departure for the artist's future work. Moreover, Portal Gates created an immediate and irreversible impact on the field of architectural metalsmithing as well, inspiring young artists to look anew at traditional techniques for use in making contemporary works. Since the 1970s the ranks of American metalsmithing have swelled, resulting in a growing and vibrant field.


In Points of Entry, Albert Paley's facility as a draftsman allows the viewer to witness the development of his ideas as they evolve from concept to three-dimensional form. Fluid and gestural in initial sketches, the graphite images become more controlled, eventually taking the form of completed presentation drawings. Thus, Points of Entry illuminates the creative process, allowing the viewer to understand more fully the progressive steps and creative thought that will lead to a finished work in steel and nonferrous metals. Like the architectural process that yields the built environment, pragmatic drawings allow the artist and his assistants to work out details significant to engineering concerns. In Points of Entry, the viewer is not privy to such schematic details, but witnesses the creative process at its most fluid moment.

In viewing the artist's oeuvre through the medium of drawing, Paley's hallmark ribbon-like forms appear during a period of intense production, sandwiched between the artist's earlier gate/screen works of the 1970s and his later more mass-like forms. The earliest of his works--and the drawings on view--include Study for the Portal Gates for the Renwick Gallery (1972); Working Sketch for the Hunter Museum Fence, Chattanooga, Tennessee (1974); and Proposal Drawing for the Smithson Crypt Gate. In these earlier works, the artist depends more upon an Art Nouveau-like rendering and its attendant organic linear forms. Horizontal and intertwining, asymmetrical drawn elements appear as vines sketched from nature.

Proposal for Synergy, an Archway Sculpture for Museum Towers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1986) begins to move in a more upward direction. Here Paley has rendered a pair of twenty-five foot high, painted steel sculptures, installed in Philadelphia that same year. Paired and drawn side-by-side, two tree-like forms frame the negative space of the entry. Extending branch-like from their trunks, large ribbons cantilever outward in a graceful cascade of implied movement. Proposal for Confluence, Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama (1989) is similar in its use of ribbons flowing and/or floating into space. But Confluence departs from the somewhat earlier pieces in that its horizontal elements emanate from a denser vertical core, more firmly rooting the sculpture as an earth-bound object. Both Proposal for Synergy and Proposal for Confluence include horizontal and vertical interwoven elements that combine to define the architecture of the public landscape.

Proposal for a Sculpture for the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts in Houston, Texas (1985) is a work that was realized in 1987. Eight painted steel pylons were installed in the Houston opera house lobby, four on each side of the building's "grand escalator," a 20th century version of a classical grand staircase. Classical and grand it is, with horizontal steel ribbons looping outward like free-floating Beaux Arts decorative swags beneath the Wortham Center's vaulted ceiling. Installed in such monumental public buildings, Paley's work helps re-define contemporary public space while holding onto references to a cultured past.


A very few of Paley's sculptures or drawings are polychromed; most rely on the subtle coloration of the metallic palette and the gradations of graphite on paper. Beginning in the 1990s, however, the artist experimented with color, producing Olympia (1990) in Atlanta, Oblique (2002) in Beverly Hills, and Cypher (2002) in Columbia, Missouri. In a series of drawn studies for Olympia, the artist inserts a number of horizontal elements that appear to cascade downward along a vertical core. Like Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, Paley relies on a repetition of form to carry one's eye along a downward diagonal trajectory. While such implied weightlessness is easy to accept on paper, it is a difficult challenge for the artist to convey a fluidity of movement in a sculpture that is rigidly fixed in place by its mass and weight.


During the past decade, Paley's work has become more geometric. His proposals and studies for Olympia reveal a tendency toward the totemic rather than the organic. His multiple proposals for Centennial Gate, Arizona State University, Phoenix (1991) reveal a denser construct formed by flattened shapes that have replaced the earlier fluid line. Likewise, study for a Clock for the Grand Hall, Orlando Airport, Florida (1992) employs a jagged line, reinforcing the biting edge of time pressed too thin by airport itineraries. Metaphorically, Albert Paley's sculptures define public space. With grand gestures, the artist marks the parameters of public discourse. On paper, those same defining elements begin to create a repertoire of architectural forms. Some--like gates, screens, and fences--limit movement. Others--in particular contemporary totemic forms--lead the way to a more civilizing society.

Anna Fariello

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

An earlier version of this review was partially printed in the previous issue of the SECAC Review. The complete review is printed in this issue.
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Author:Fariello, Anna
Publication:Southeastern College Art Conference Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Previous Article:Convergence.
Next Article:SECAC/Tri State Sculptors Members Juried Exhibition October 22-December 17, 2003: The Gallery of Art & Design North Carolina State University,...

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