Monthly Archives: August 2009

Illuminating Saint-Gaudens

Peter Schjeldahl  recently published in the New Yorker an insightful article on Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and by extension 19th-century American figurative sculpture:

Marjorie Daingerfield

M_DaingerfieldMarjorie Jay Daingerfield (1900-1977) learned about art from her father, Elliot Daingerfield, a well known painter and illustrator. He cast one of the clay figures she modeled in bronze when she was only twelve years old and continued to support her sculpting career until his death in 1932. As a student of Solon Borglum’s School of American Sculpture and the Grand Central School of Art, and traveler throughout Europe among prominent artistic circles, Daingerfield’s life was filled with art.

By 1930, the art world had recognized Daingerfield’s extraordinary talent for modeling portrait busts, heads, and small figures. She received many commissions from society leaders, businessmen, educators, and actors, although her more well-known pieces were representations of stage and opera performers. A bronze figure of the innovative dancer and choreographer Martha Graham won the Ann Hyatt Huntington Award of the Pen and Brush Club in 1956. Daingerfield was also the designer of the bronze statuette for the National Girl Scout emblem.

Daingerfield was noted for her passion for art and lively personality. During a trip to the Southwest in 1953, she convinced Hosteen Wanika, a Navajo Indian from Blue Canyon, Arizona, to sit for his portrait despite its violations of Navajo cultural beliefs. Lacking the proper tools, Daingerfield modeled the sculpture using clay dug from a nearby riverbed and chiseled it with a nail file and hairpins. Another anecdote involves Daingerfield inviting a streetwalker who approached her for money up to her studio to earn money as a model.

Daingerfield divided her time between New York and Blowing Rock, North Carolina, where her father had built a home and studio in the scenic Appalachian Mountains. Also an excellent teacher and gifted lecturer, Daingerfield taught at the School of American Sculpture and the Grand Central School of Art and lectured at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, at Duke University, and the North Carolina Art Association. She also contributed to journals and wrote the book Fun and Fundamentals of Sculpture (Scribner, 1963).

pictured: bust of a young girl, marble, lifesize, 1933.

Kiki Smith at MacDowell Colony

LilithOn an overcast August 9th in southern New Hampshire, Kiki Smith was awarded the 50th Edward MacDowell Medal. In her brief acceptance speech, Smith talked about a recent printmaking stint in New Mexico, and urged the MacDowell committee to make future awards to non-white artists.

Called a “leading figure among artists addressing the philosophical, social, and spiritual aspects of human nature,” Kiki Smith’s career has incorporated sculpture, printmaking, installation, and drawing. Primarily a figurative artist, Smith’s work explores the frailty and abjection of the physical body, and conversely, a spiritual existence predicated on mythological systems that include religion, astrology, and fairy tales. Smith is widely credited for treating the female form with extraordinary honesty and vulnerability.

The daughter of sculptor Tony Smith, Kiki Smith was born in 1954 in Nuremburg, Germany, and grew up in New Jersey. In 1976, she moved to New York and supported herself as a cook, an electrician, and a factory air-brusher before joining Collaborative Projects (Colab), a cooperative artist group that worked outside the commercial gallery system. Colab launched a new aesthetic, one poised against the abstract art of the 1970s, marking a return to representation while aiming for an approach to art-making that emphasized accessibility to a wide public and artistic collaboration. It was during this period, which lasted until the late 1980s, that Smith developed her versatility and groundbreaking themes related to feminism, spirituality, and such issues as child abuse. “Valorizing the physical body as our primary means of experiencing the world, Smith sought to unravel its functions, marvel at its mysteries, and acknowledged its place within the wider environment,” wrote Wendy Weitman for the Museum of Modern Art in 2003.

Exhibiting with Pace Wildenstein Gallery since 1994, Smith’s work has been shown in 150 solo exhibitions, at such venues as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Smithsonian, the Walker Art Center, and the Whitney. In 2005, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters; most recently, the Rhode Island School of Design honored her for excellence in printmaking.

Pictured above: Lilith, bronze, lifesize, collection Metropolitan Museum of Art

Below: Kiki Smith delivering her address (left); the author with sculptor Eleonora Lecei (in foreground) on Medal Day. Thanks to Evan Halstead for the photographs.

Kiki Smith