One of the most renowned artists working today, Martin Puryear is celebrated for his elegant but playful sculpture and his devotion to craft. Lesser known is the extensive iterative process of drawing and printmaking that is essential to the artist’s studio practice. This exhibition is the first to draw back the curtain on that practice. Featuring over 100 drawings and prints as well as 12 sculptures—many borrowed directly from the artist and never displayed before—the presentation offers an unprecedented look into Puryear’s inspirations, methods, and transformative process.
Martin Puryear has had a long relationship with Chicago and the Art Institute. He lived in the city for 12 years, and the museum has long been supportive of his work—acquiring key pieces in the 1980s, organizing an extensive survey in 1991, and conserving many of his fire-damaged early prints and drawings after that show. Puryear has responded in kind, giving the museum a double-sided drawing for his sculpture Sanctuary and participating generously and closely in the development of this exhibition, including loaning many works that he has never shared publicly before.
Uniting these rarely seen drawings, several sculptures, and selections from his sketchbooks, Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions traces the artist’s career from his student days at Catholic University in the early 1960s through the present, with works created as recently as 2014. Critical to Puryear’s development were his formative years spent with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone (1964–1966), a period in which he was inspired by and gave expression to buildings, flora, insects, animals, and children—the entirety of his environment. Since then, Puryear has returned to many of these themes, experimenting with scale, materials, and varying levels of abstraction. In the exhibition, visitors can witness this evolution of thought—how a sketch of a house in Sierra Leone is transformed 10 years later into an abstracted proto-sculptural form, or how a head-like shape is reworked in bronze, wood, black Conté crayon, and graphite.
By bringing to life the artist’s uncanny ability to make forms that are suggestive, playful, and transformative, all while remaining anchored in the world, this display of Puryear’s explorations across visual ideas and media offers a 360-degree view of the creative process of a contemporary master.
Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago.
Support for the exhibition is provided by the Morton International Exhibition Fund and the Kemper Educational and Charitable Fund.
Annual support for Art Institute exhibitions is provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Kenneth Griffin, Robert M. and Diane v.S. Levy, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, Betsy Bergman Rosenfield and Andrew M. Rosenfield, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, and the Woman’s Board.
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