Art & Culture

A Feat of Engineering and Craftsmanship, Martin Puryear’s First Brick Sculpture Was a Decade in the Making: ‘It’s Been an Adventure and a Challenge’



MARTIN PURYEAR, Installation view of “Lookout,” 2023. Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, N.Y. | © Martin Puryear, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Jeffrey Jenkins

 

A CURIOUS LOOKING, CURVED FORM sits on a high overlook in the North Woods of Storm King Art Center. A miracle of construction with no underlying framework, the brick sculpture provides awe-inspiring views from within. A masonry arched entry frames glorious landscapes with Schunnemunk Mountain visible in the distance. Ninety circular openings distributed along the walls and ceiling create focused glimpses of the sky, tree canopy, and natural surroundings.

“Lookout,” a permanent, site-specific commission by Martin Puryear debuted Saturday at Storm King, the 500-acre outdoor museum and sculpture park in Mountainville, N.Y.

“What distinguishes Martin Puryear as an artist is the way he finds forms and materials that feel familiar but create a world of their own. With Lookout, Puryear has created a tapestry in brick, using small individual elements to create something majestic on a grand scale,” Storm King Artistic Director and Chief Curator Nora Lawrence said in a statement.

“It’s been an honor to watch him think about masonry as something elevated, technical, and specific and to create something that many said would not be possible. He took the time to envision the perfect work for Storm King. Lookout joins a tradition of our site-specific commissions that wouldn’t be right anywhere else: it is for this landscape; it is for this hill. Not only is Lookout a gorgeous work of art, but it is a feat of engineering and craftsmanship that reflects so much of Puryear’s thinking throughout his career.”

“Not only is Lookout a gorgeous work of art, but it is a feat of engineering and craftsmanship that reflects so much of Puryear’s thinking throughout his career.”
— Storm King Artistic Director and Chief Curator Nora Lawrence

 


MARTIN PURYEAR, Detail of “Lookout,” 2023 (brick, concrete, cobblestone, 20 x 16 feet). Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, N.Y. | © Martin Puryear, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Jeffrey Jenkins

 

Puryear, 82, has developed a singular practice over past 50 years, working by hand with wood, bronze, and stone, producing technically rigorous abstract sculptures with thought-provoking historical and cultural references. A highly regardied artist, he represented the United States at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. Born in Washington, D.C., Puryear lives and works in Upstate New York, about an hour from Storm King. As is his practice with large-scale sculptures, to realize “Lookout,” Puryear worked with experts who brought specific knowledge to the project.

“Creating a new work for Storm King has been an adventure and a challenge. Lookout, my first sculpture in brick, is an effort to celebrate a special spot in Storm King’s extraordinary landscape,” Puryear said in a statement.

“From the beginning, the project was a series of puzzles to be solved, a collective effort between engineers, brick and cement technologists, and the highly skilled team of masons who constructed the work onsite over a period of two summers, (after more than ten years of planning). Throughout the entire process, Storm King was a tenacious source of encouragement and support. My gratitude is vast for such a faithful realization of my vision.”

“Creating a new work for Storm King has been an adventure and a challenge. Lookout, my first sculpture in brick, is an effort to celebrate a special spot in Storm King’s extraordinary landscape. From the beginning, the project was a series of puzzles to be solved…” — Martin Puryear

Puryear told the New York Times, the sculpture is his most complicated work to date. He researched all manner of masonry methods practiced in England, Rome, and on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In Mali, he witnessed a Nubian vault-building technique developed thousands of years ago that was critical to his vision. “I love that it comes from Africa,” Puryear said. CT

 

Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023: Storm King Art Center is hosting a public talk with Martin Puryear and Storm King Artistic Director and Chief Curator Nora Lawrence. Registration is required

The debut of “Lookout” is accompanied by “Martin Puryear: Process and Scale,” an exhibition showcasing Puryear’s development process on “Lookout,” and other projects over the years, via models and drawings (Sept. 23-Dec. 17, 2023)

 


MARTIN PURYEAR, Installation view of “Lookout,” 2023. Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, N.Y. | © Martin Puryear, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Jeffrey Jenkins

 


MARTIN PURYEAR, Installation view of “Lookout,” 2023. Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, N.Y. | © Martin Puryear, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Jeffrey Jenkins


MARTIN PURYEAR, Installation view of “Lookout,” 2023. Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, N.Y. | © Martin Puryear, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery. Photo by Jeffrey Jenkins



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