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Martin Puryear

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Martin Puryear
Born (1941-05-23) May 23, 1941 (age 83)
EducationThe Catholic University of America
Yale University
Known forSculpture
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship
MacArthur Foundation Fellowship
Rome Prize
National Medal of Arts
J. Paul Getty Medal

Martin L. Puryear (born May 23, 1941) is an Afro-American artist known for his devotion to traditional craft. Working in a variety of media, but primarily wood, his reductive technique and meditative approach challenge the physical and poetic boundaries of his materials.[1]: 54–57  The artist's Liberty/Libertà exhibition represented the United States at the 2019 Venice Biennale.[2][3]


External videos
video icon “Big Bling” by artist Martin Puryear, Association for Public Art[4]

Born in 1941 in Washington, DC, Martin Puryear began exploring traditional craft methods in his youth, making tools, boats, musical instruments, and furniture.[5] After receiving a BA in Fine Art from the Catholic University of America in 1963, Puryear spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone.[6]: 168–197  From 1966–1968, he studied printmaking at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm, returning to the United States to enroll in the graduate program for sculpture at Yale University.[7]: 128–130  Although he discovered Minimalism at a formative period in his development, Puryear would ultimately reject its impersonality and formalism.

After earning his MFA from Yale, Puryear began teaching at Fisk University in Nashville and University of Maryland in College Park. In 1977, following a devastating fire in his Brooklyn studio, Puryear moved to Chicago and began teaching at the University of Illinois.[6]: 168–197 

In both 1979 and 1981, and again in 1989, his work was included in the Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. He travelled to Japan in 1982 through a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship where he investigated architecture and garden design.[7]: 128–130  In 1989, he was awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and represented the United States at the São Paulo Bienal, Brazil.[8][9] The Museum of Modern Art organized an exhibition in 2007 that traveled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA.[6] In 2012 President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts and 2019 he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale.[10][3]


Vessel (1997–2002), Smithsonian American Art Museum

The artwork of Martin Puryear is a product of visibly complex craft construction and manipulation of pure material; its forms are combinations of the organic and the geometric. His process can be described as reductive, seeking to bring work and material close to its original state and creating rationality in each work derived from the maker and act of making. This is what Puryear calls "inevitability", or a "fullness of being within limits" that defines function.[1]: 54–57 

Often associated with both Minimalism and Formalist sculpture, Puryear rejects that his work is ever non-referential or objective. The pure and direct imagistic forms born from his use of traditional craft are allusive and poetic, as well as deeply personal. Visually, they encounter the history of objects and the history of their making, suggesting public and private narratives including those of the artist, race, ritual, and identity.[11] His work is widely exhibited and collected both in the United States and internationally.

For close to fifty years, Puryear has created works that transpose his distinctive abstract sculptural language to a monumental scale. From his earliest outdoor work at Artpark, in Lewistown, New York, in 1977 to his newly inaugurated 2023 permanent commission for Storm King Art Center, Puryear’s public and site-specific sculptures originate with the artist’s hand, whether through drawings or with models that the artist carves or fashions from pieces of wood.[12]

Lookout (2023)


In 2023, Puryear completed Lookout, his first large-scale sculpture made of brick, at Storm King Art Center in New York's Hudson Valley.[13][14][15] The artwork is a compound-curved domed shell, pierced by 90 circular apertures of various sizes. Visitors can walk around and into the sculpture, enjoying the views of the surrounding area.[16]

This project had been a structural puzzle until a meeting in 2019 between the artist and MIT professor and structural engineer John Ochsendorf unlocked a solution. Ochesendorf has extensively researched ancient and traditional architectural technologies, particularly masonry vaults and domes. Their meeting resulted in a near-instantaneous collaborative scheme that incorporated the principle of Nubian vaulting, an ancient building method with which Ochsendorf and Puryear were both familiar. Engineering services were provided by Silman Associates, Structural Engineers.[13]

At Storm King the construction was led by Lara Davis (Limaçon Design), a vaulting specialist and practicing architect. After refining the material selection and detailing the construction method, Davis collaborated with the Puryear Studio to build the sculpture. The work was completed over a period of two summers.[13]

Puryear considers Lookout to be the most complex sculpture he has completed to date.[14]


  1. ^ a b Shearer, Linda. Young American Artists 1978 Exxon National Exhibition. New York: The Solomon Guggenheim Museum, 1978
  2. ^ "Editors: Confirmed: Martin Puryear Will Represent United States at 2019 Venice Biennale". ARTnews. 2018-08-15. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  3. ^ a b Cotter, Holland (3 May 2019). "Martin Puryear, Citizen-Sculptor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  4. ^ "Big Bling". Association for Public Art. Retrieved November 20, 2017.
  5. ^ Lewallen, Constance. Martin Puryear: Matrix/Berkeley 86. Berkeley, California: University Art Museum, 1985
  6. ^ a b c Elderfield, John, and Michael Auping, Martin Puryear. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007
  7. ^ a b Benezra, Newal and Robert Storr, eds. Martin Puryear. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1991
  8. ^ "Martin Puryear – MacArthur Foundation". www.macfound.org. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  9. ^ House, Richard (1989-10-19). "PURYEAR WINS GRAND PRIZE AT SAO PAULO". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2023-12-21.
  10. ^ "Remarks by the President at the 2011 National Medals of Arts and Humanities Ceremony". whitehouse.gov. 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2023-12-21.
  11. ^ Golden, Deven K., ed. Martin Puryear: Public and Personal. Chicago: Chicago Public Library Cultural Center, 1987.
  12. ^ "Storm King : Exhibition : Martin Puryear: Process and Scale [EXH.152]". collections.stormking.org. Retrieved 2023-12-21.
  13. ^ a b c Dizikes, Peter (27 October 2023). "A marvel in masonry shows the art of the possible". MIT News. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2023-11-05.
  14. ^ a b Valentine, Victoria L. (26 September 2023). "A Feat of Engineering and Craftsmanship, Martin Puryear's First Brick Sculpture Was a Decade in the Making: 'It's Been an Adventure and a Challenge'". Culture Type. Culture Type, LLC. Retrieved 2023-11-05.
  15. ^ Cortez, Benjamin (October 29, 2023). "Storm King Art Center Unveils "Lookout" Sculpture: A Fusion of Art and Engineering by Martin Puryear and MIT Collaborators". Hoodline. SFist LLC. Retrieved 2023-11-05.
  16. ^ Loos, Ted (2023-09-14). "Brick by Brick, a Sculpture at Storm King, by Way of Africa". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-12-21.