Raw Grace: Ursula von Rydingsvard's Monumental Cedar Sculptures

Sep 13, 2016 6:28PM

Von Rydingsvard's powerful wall relief "Burnt Honey" (2011–2014) will be a centerpiece of SculptureCenter's presentation at EXPO Chicago 2016.

Burnt Honey, 2011-2014

Ursula von Rydingsvard is best known for creating large-scale, often monumental sculpture from cedar beams, which she painstakingly cuts, assembles, glues, clamps, and laminates. Towards the end of her process, von Rydingsvard rubs powdered graphite into the work’s textured, faceted surfaces, which gives her sculptures a sense of enormous grandeur and stirring intimacy. Built slowly and incrementally from thousands of small cedar blocks, each work reveals the mark of the artist’s hand, her respect for physical labor, and her deep trust of intuitive processes. In sculptures filled with contradiction, the artist succeeds in expressing something raw and elemental with remarkable sophistication and grace. 

Her signature shapes are abstract, with references to things in the real world. Each work reveals the mark of the human hand, while also summoning natural forms and forces. For example, von Rydingsvard’s recent wall sculptures can be likened to wall drawings, but also suggest necklaces, lace, or other adornments. Executed on a large scale, their knobby, cupped forms and graceful lines can evoke landscapes. Von Rydingsvard, whose Bronze Bowl with Lace was recently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago, consistently endows each sculpture with tremendous dignity. In her hands, familiar forms become archetypal objects. 

Installation view, Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture 1991-2009, SculptureCenter, 2011. Photo: Jason Mandella

The artist draws on her personal history to create a body of sculpture that is often somber and restrained, yet charged with concentrated energy and emotion. She has said, “My love for wood is part of my history. I come from a long line of Polish peasant farmers, and they were surrounded with wood—wooden homes, wooden fences, domestic implements, wooden tools to work the land.” Her early years were directly affected by the upheaval of World War II. Born in Germany in 1942, von Rydingsvard and her family were among the dispossessed that were forced to move from one refugee camp to another for years after the country’s defeat, eventually settling in the United States in 1950. The artist’s respect for organic materials and the dignity of labor—and the sense of loss, pain, and persistent memories that inform her work—may be traced back to these formative experiences.  

Installation view, Building SculptureCenter Benefit Exhibition, Maccarone Gallery, 2014. Photo: Jeffrey Sturges

Von Rydingsvard's wall sculpture Burnt Honey (2011–2014) will be a centerpiece of SculptureCenter's presentation at EXPO Chicago, on view September 22–25, 2016. New York City's only museum of contemporary art dedicated to sculpture, SculptureCenter organized a major retrospective of von Rydingsvard's work in 2011. This traveling exhibition included a selection of the artist's most significant sculptures, including wall reliefs and monumental cedar works created from 1991 to 2009. 

Also featured on SculptureCenter's booth at EXPO Chicago will be limited editions by Anthea Hamilton—who is nominated for this year's Turner Prize for her recent SculptureCenter exhibition, Lichen! Libido! Chastity!—as well as Mika Tajima and Leslie Hewitt, whose solo SculptureCenter projects recently closed. 

Installation view, Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture 1991-2009, SculptureCenter, 2011. Photo: Jason Mandella

The proceeds of all sales will benefit the institution’s ambitious program. For more information, please contact Ben Whine, Associate Director, at [email protected].

Ursula von Rydingsvard's first solo exhibition was presented in New York in 1975 and she has been exhibiting her work in museums and galleries internationally ever since. Her sculpture is included in the permanent collections of over thirty museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and Detroit Institute of Arts. Major permanent commissions of her work are view at the Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Washington; the Bloomberg Building, New York; the Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York; and the Queens Family Courthouse, New York.