May 23, 1941 |
|Training||The Catholic University of America.
Martin Puryear was born in Washington, D.C., and he spent his youth studying practical crafts, learning how to build guitars and furniture. He received a B.A. from The Catholic University of America in 1963 and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone from 1964 to 1966. In the late 1960s, he studied printmaking in Sweden and assisted a master cabinet-maker. He entered the Yale University graduate sculpture program in 1968. In 1978, Puryear moved to Chicago, where he lived for 12 years. It was during this time that he gained international recognition.
His first solo exhibition was held in the late 1970s at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In the 1980s he participated in two Whitney Biennials and received a Guggenheim Fellowship. He received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1989.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art presented a 30-year survey of Puryear's work in 2008-2009. The presentation included "a special installation in the Haas Atrium including Ladder for Booker T. Washington (1996), made from a 36-foot-long split sapling, and Ad Astra (2007), a 63-foot-tall work that rises to the museum's fifth-floor bridge."
Martin Puryear’s work is the product of much thought, assembled in a minimalist, simple design. Two of his main works are Sanctuary and Box and Pole. The latter’s simplicity is evident just by analyzing its simple title. Box and Pole comprises a box on the ground with a hundred foot pole jutting upwards to the sky, therefore symbolizing our position on earth. We are superior to some things (the box), yet inferior to others (higher spiritual powers)[who?]. He is clearly a modern sculptor, but in works such as Sanctuary he uses primitive techniques to create his final work. Sanctuary is basically a stick connecting a box that anchors what is on the other end of the stick, a wheel. The wheel can move, but its movement is restricted, symbolic of human life. Puryear's employment of folk techniques is perhaps highly influenced by his time spent in Sierra Leone. His work contributes to society as a whole as it teaches us many moral lessons such as the two mentioned.
Puryear uses common materials such as wood, tar, wire and various metals to create forms that reference traditional crafts and building methods and, at the same time, formalist sculpture. Puryear’s work is often associated with Minimalism, although the artist himself rejects the minimalist ideal of complete objectivity and non-referentiality. Of minimalism he once said, “I looked at it, I tasted it, and I spat it out.”
His works are held in the collections of the Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, The National Gallery of Art, Walker Art Center, Art Institute of Chicago, Cleveland Museum of Art, and Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
Box and Pole 
Box and Pole is an abstract sculpture by American sculptor Martin Puryear. The wood that Box and Pole is made from is supposed to contrast with the abstractness of the sculpture's form. The box was made four feet tall so that the average person can look over it, making them feel superior. However, the 100 foot pole towering over the box gives off an unreachable feeling. This balances out the feeling of superiority. I wouldn’t say that there is movement, but rather that the audience is “stuck” in a parallel universe between that which he is better than (most of nature) and lesser than (higher powers)[who?]. When looking down on the box one gets a darker image that is less distorted than when you look up at the pole that is brighter due to the sun, yet more distorted due to its 100 ft distance. So in reality, the box is much clearer than the pole, as nature is much clearer to us than the spiritual God.
This wooden sculpture was made in 1982. It is mounted on the wall and was made from pine, maple, and cherry. It is an open box with two thick branches connected to it. The branches extend in a downward motion connecting to the axle of a wheel. Sanctuary relies on both the wall and the floor for support. It is because of this characteristic that the sculpture symbolizes stability and mobility[who?]. The box is solid and firmly on the wall, while the wheel is free to rotate on the floor. Yet the wheel cannot go very far because of the box that is securing it.
Puryear's minimalistic ideals come into play here as the wheel is made out of pure wood and the sticks connecting the box and the wheel are tree branches, not even cut. He used absolutely no technology in the creation of this work of art, so it is safe to say that cavemen thousands of years ago could have created this same work, just devoid of the same thought process. It is so primitive that he chooses to make the wheel completely solid, it lacks such basic parts as spokes. Puryear says that Sanctuary is like many of his other works, they deal with "mobility and a kind of escapism, of survival through flight."
- Karen O. Janovy, Janice Driesbach, Daniel A. Siedell, Norman A. Geske,David Cateforis, Sculpture from the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska Press, 2006, p239. ISBN 0-8032-7629-X
- Horst Woldemar Janson, Anthony F. Janson, History of Art: The Western Tradition, Prentice Hall, 2004, p882. ISBN 0-13-182895-9
- Levi-Strauss, David (November 2007). "Martin Puryear with David Levi Strauss". The Brooklyn Rail.
- New York Times. "Solo Museum Shows: Not the Usual Suspects" by Roberta Smith. September 9, 2007
- "Martin Puryear at SFMOMA
- Bui, Phong (June 2012). "Martin Puryear: New Sculpture". The Brooklyn Rail.
- Humanity’s Ascent, in Three Dimensions
Criticism, Catalogues, Monographs 
Danto, Arthur. "Martin Puryear, or the Quandaries of Craftsmanship" in Emobodied Meanings: Critical Essays and Aesthetic Meditations. New York: Farrar Strauss Grioux, 1994.
- Biography, interviews, essays, artwork images and video clips from PBS series Art:21 -- Art in the Twenty-First Century - Season 2 (2003).
- "Notable Former Volunteers / Arts and Literature". Peace Corps official site. Accessed 5 January 2007.
- David Levi-Strauss interview with Martin Puryear from Brooklyn Rail, November 2007
- Roberta Smith's article in the NYT, Nov. 2, 2007
- Tilted Ash, Article by Arthur C. Danto, December 2007
- Martin Puryear at McKee Gallery Martin Puryear at McKee Gallery, New York
- Martin Puryear retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2008–2009