Abstraction in Sculpture

John Goodyear: Four Negatives, 1978
Sep 01, 2011 - Dec 31, 2015
American Art Gallery

In the twentieth century, sculptors explored many options offered by abstract or nonrepresentational styles. The range of these styles is vast, from the severity of Louise Nevelson’s black modular wall relief to the organicism of Martha Walker’s tendril-like composition poetically titled Aphrodite. The expressive potential of sculptural abstraction is also seen in Herbert Ferber’s large cage-like structure, in which the implied movement of its twisting calligraphic beams contrasts with the rigor of the geometric framework.

The two- and three-dimensional hybrids of Jesús Rafael Soto and John Goodyear demonstrate the visual dynamics of Op Art. Both artists use solid, but essentially linear, elements moving in front of painted geometric patterns to create eye-teasing optical illusions. Abstracted reality finds an oblique presence in a few works, including Dorothy Dehner’s vertical wood structure, which alludes to a landscape viewed through a window. Mel Edwards arranges metallic planar forms to suggest a book on a lectern; this piece is a maquette for a large outdoor sculpture on the Livingston Campus of Rutgers.

Perhaps the most extreme technique for sculptural composition on view here involves the use of chance. Jean Arp was a major figure of Dada and Surrealism, early twentieth-century styles that encouraged semicontrolled techniques such as doodling, random placement, and acceptance of accidental effects. Alan Saret was associated with the “antiform” and “process art” styles that emerged in the 1960s. His Arc Fountain allows looped wire, a material of inherently chaotic structure, to seek its own arrangement with minimal intervention from the artist.

John Goodyear

Four Negatives, 1978

Acrylic on canvas and wood

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

Gift of Lionel and Ruth Goodman

Photo Peter Jacobs