New Windsor, New York
To celebrate the recent unveiling of Lookout, Martin Puryear’s newest public sculpture and the latest permanent work to enter the grounds of Storm King, an exhibition of never-before-shown maquettes and drawings from the artist’s archives is currently on view (through December 17, 2023) inside the art center. “Process and Scale” examines over four decades of Puryear’s practice and includes several studies for the commission—completed last month, but in the making for decades.
As the show’s title suggests, the 33 featured works explore the process behind Puryear’s production of large-scale installations. These works are “mini versions of what ends up being presented outdoors, but [they are] small works of art in their own regard,” says Nora Lawrence, the artistic director and chief curator of Storm King. “It’s exciting to see how all these works relate to one another, and how he chose different methods of construction for each of them.”
Among the highlights of the exhibition is the earliest maquette that Puryear completed for Lookout; dating to 2016, the model is rendered in wood, the medium of his best-known public works. Two other maquettes from 2018 and 2023 show the work closer to its final form—a curved, dome-like brick structure (this is Puryear’s first work using brick) standing 20 feet tall, with 90 circular openings in the walls that create the “lookout” of the title. Related drawings illustrate the architectural complexity of the piece, presenting the various segments in which the bricks would need to be laid to create the curvilinear shape. The work was inspired by Nubian vaulting, an ancient masonry technique originating in Upper Egypt that employs mudbricks without the need for timber formwork. As the exhibition notes, the commission was meticulously completed in collaboration with a team of architects and engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Martin is always concerned with finding the appropriate team to work on his projects and has always been interested in partnering with those who are experts in the materials that he is not,” Lawrence says. “We were able to work through the engineering of the project with masons, engineers, and architects to streamline [it] as much as possible, and I think it was an intellectual feat for him to learn from his team after several other people he had consulted told him this work would be impossible.”
“Process and Scale” also explores resonances between Lookout and other outdoor works from throughout Puryear’s career, including the towering Big Bling (2016)—his last major public artwork before he was announced as the U.S. representative to the 2019 Venice Biennale. The 40-foot-tall sculpture, which debuted at Madison Square Park and subsequently traveled to other locations, is another elaborate work, made this time from multi-tiered plywood fencing with a 22-carat gold-leaf shackle anchored near the highest peak. Shackled (2013), Big Bling’s mini-predecessor, is installed on a pedestal outside of the gallery. Taken together, they demonstrate not only Puryear’s committed craftsmanship, but also his rare consistency and patience, which are necessary to the realization of his distinctive forms.
Site-specific permanent commissions seldom appear at Storm King, which is currently undergoing a $45-million redesign that will add a significant amount of potential exhibition space to its 500 acres. (Before Lookout, the last permanent work to join the collection was Sarah Sze’s Fallen Sky . Prior to that, the center had not installed a permanent work since Maya Lin’s Wavefield .) Although concrete plans for Lookout materialized in 2010, the intention was set in the 1970s, when David Collens, Storm King’s former director and chief curator, approached Puryear to participate in a temporary exhibition. According to Lawrence, Puryear said that he would rather wait until there was a chance to do something permanent—a gamble that has clearly paid off.