Leather Master Nancy Grossman, Before the Heads

Artsy Editorial
May 29, 2014 3:28PM

Lifesize human heads hewn from rich leather, laces, chains, and buckles, have largely driven the recent resurgence of artist Nancy Grossman. Seventy-five of these sculptural heads exist today, created between 1968 and 1990; they have been featured in major exhibitions over the past decade—Ugo Rondinone’s “The Third Mind” at Palais de Tokyo in 2008, “Heads” at MoMA PS1 in 2011, and Grossman’s retrospective at The Tang Museum in 2012—and figure prominently in public and private collections. While the heads have become synonymous with the artist herself, they prompt further exploration into the artist’s career, which makes Michael Rosenfeld Gallery’s current exhibition, “Nancy Grossman: The Edge of Always, Constructions from the 1960s,” an enticing show. Gallery director Halley K Harrisburg told Artsy, “What makes this exhibition important is that it lays a foundation and it helps to contextualize the heads, and to show the consistency in her use of materials and these aggressive statements from found objects.”

Aggressive is an apt word to describe the 40 assertive, labor-intensive works that form the exhibition; created between 1964 and 1967, this selection demonstrates what Harrisburg describes as the artist’s “first mature work.” The artist’s maturity and immediacy are readily affirmed upon experiencing the monumental assemblages, massive compilations of leather and found materials that hang as though they are weightless, and complementary ink drawings, fantastic feats of draftsmanship. Color and material underpin the exhibition, and serve as testament to Grossman’s young, formative years spent on a farm and working with horses. Used leather is a constant in the artist’s practice, into the present, as she employs jackets, pants, boots, and farm equipment, deconstructed and repurposed. Undulating layers and folds of leather take on new life in Grossman’s hands, sewn together amidst pipes and crushed swatches of metal, welded into place, forming deep umber dialogues on materiality.

Nancy Grossman: The Edge of Always, Constructions from the 1960s,” is on view at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, May 9th–July 3rd, 2014.

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Artsy Editorial