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Title: Heterogeneous Objects: The Sculptures of Martin Puryear
Authors: Maxwell, Jessica Ann
Advisors: DeLue, Rachael Z
Foster, Harold F
Contributors: Art and Archaeology Department
Subjects: Art history
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Often described as a perplexing anomaly, originating - chronologically and aesthetically - in the murky interstice between minimal art of the 1960s and postmodern art of the 1980s, the crafted abstract sculpture of Martin Puryear (b. 1941) has long been considered remote from mainstream sculptural practices. Its joint appeals to such craft traditions as woodworking and rich allusions to the architectural schemes of non-Western cultures are often counted as the sources of its unique nature and appearance. Relying upon close formal analyses of Puryear's sculpture alongside critical analyses of the dominant trends in postwar sculpture, I argue, however, that it does indeed engage such developments of his time as minimalism's primary structure and commodity art's appeal to borrowed forms. Yet, as I argue further, Puryear's sculpture maintains its individuality on the basis that Puryear makes it with his own hands as opposed to relying upon processes of industrial fabrication. Using construction as his method, preindustrial materials such as wood, rawhide and sod for his materials and a mix of western and non-Western sources as references, Puryear makes single yet formally complex sculptures which double metaphorically as complex subjects. These subjects-- Puryear himself, mountaineer Jim Beckwourth, and Reconstruction era activist and educator Booker T. Washington-- are the specific persons to which my dissertation gives focus. I posit all three African American subjects as model makers who construct culturally hybrid or heterogeneous selves, variously demonstrating that the term "African American," as Puryear suggests, is not a biological marker of an essential sameness across persons. Registering the processes of their own making, Puryear's sculptures demand their viewers to trace out visually their constitutive elements, the close combination of which produces the construct of a formally and culturally hybrid self. Making visible the processes by which identities become visible as processes of manual construction, I demonstrate that sculptural making articulates processes of self-making with sculpture and subject alike constructed as layered, heterogeneous and complex configurations rather than monolithic solids. In the context in which artist and art alike assume the market strategies and material conditions of the culture industry, Puryear, as I argue, carves out an autonomous space for self and sculpture to produce meanings not delimited by consumer society. With his body of sculpture a complex puzzle to sort, Puryear has scarcely been a subject of dominant art-histories, past or contemporaneous, which all too often theorize intelligible group identities and their prevailing heroes. The first book-length study of Puryear's oeuvre, my dissertation seeks to remedy its occlusion from the literature on postwar art, sculpture in particular. It highlights Puryear's role as a maker in postwar America and the implications of his self-proclaimed status as one for his sculptures and their viewing audience from the 1970s to the 1990s; it analyzes the mainstream sculptural trends contemporaneous to his own sculptural production; and assesses his sculptural project of self-making in relation to the strategies of commodity art practiced by his immediate peers and distant predecessors.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Art and Archaeology

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