Drawing a tension

Dec 28, 2005 at 12:00 am

Artist Mark di Suvero, now in his 70s, is one of America’s most important living sculptors, and he’s been getting a lot of attention lately. Storm King Art Center, the nation’s premier outdoor sculpture park, located up the Hudson River 60 miles north of New York City, currently has a major exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the artist’s relationship with dealer Richard Bellamy. This past September, Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills permanently installed the monumental steel-girder-with-swing sculpture “For Mother Teresa” on the lawn outside the art museum.

Through the end of January, a more intimate view of the artist — who is known for constructing industrial-looking sculptures the size of small buildings — can be had at Hill Gallery in downtown Birmingham. The show’s title, Inside/Outside, is a reference to where the work is exhibited: Drawings and tabletop and floor sculptures are inside the gallery and two larger works are outdoors in front. But the title also describes the generation of di Suvero’s ideas and their manifestation in material form.

Di Suvero starts with drawings, which, for the most part, are studies for sculptures. Most of the sketches go unfinished, but they are no less compelling for it. For example, two studies for the sculpture “Huru” show similar supporting struts with twisting forms on top. But neither rendering illustrates “Huru” as much as evokes it, giving a sense of the tension and weight of the finished piece. Meanwhile, the tabletop sculptures — like many of di Suvero’s sculptures both big and small — balance masses of welded metal. Found objects or pieces of cut steel rest on slender upright shafts, playing with gravity and also stylistically referring to one of di Suvero’s forebears, Alexander Calder.

The show is worth seeing just for the piece “Untitled (Musician),” made this year. Constructed of large sheets of steel plate, cut and bent to form an organic shape reminiscent again of Calder or perhaps Matisse (both of whom did numerous works inspired by music), the massive upright section balances precariously on a single lower-left point, where a small welded armature only about 8 inches long is bolted to the base. Four disks, varying in diameter, face the viewer. They could be cymbals in a drum kit, and, indeed, they make different sounds when whacked with a wooden mallet (there’s one at the gallery’s front desk). The piece also undulates as sound waves ripple through the metal. It’s proof that the artist hasn’t lost his touch.


Through Jan. 31, at Hill Gallery, 407 W. Brown St., Birmingham; 248-540-9288.

Vince Caducci writes about art for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]