Dictionary of Art and Artists



History of

Architecture and Sculpture


















SCULPTURE BETWEEN THE WARS - Part1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
SCULPTURE SINCE 1945 - Part1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15






Barnett Newman.

There is one dimension, however, that is missing in Oldenburg's monuments. They delight, astonish, amuse
but they do not move us. Wholly secular, wedded to the here and now, they fail to touch our deepest emotions. In our time, one of the rare monuments successful in this is Broken Obelisk (fig. 1153) by Barnett Newman (1905-1970). An artist inspired by profound religious and philosophical concerns which he struggled throughout his life to translate into visual form, Newman conceived Broken Obelisk in 1963 but could not have it executed until four years later, when he found the right steel fabricator. It consists of a square base plate beneath a four-sided pyramid whose tip meets and supports that of the upended broken obelisk.

Obelisks are slender, four-sided pillars of stone erected by the ancient Egyptians. The Romans brought many of them to Italy; one marks the center of the colonnaded piazza of St. Peter's (see fig. 754). These gave rise to a number of later monuments in Europe and America. The two tips in Newman's sculpture have exactly the same angle (53 degrees, borrowed from that of the Egyptian pyramids, which had long fascinated the artist) so that their juncture forms a perfect X. Why this monument has such power to stir our feelings is difficult to put into words. Is it the daring juxtaposition of two age-old shapes that have contrary meanings, the one symbolizing timeless stability, the other a thrust toward the heavens? Surely, but what if the obelisk were intact? Would that not reduce the whole to an improbable balancing feat? The brokenness of the obelisk, then, is essential to the pathos of the monument. It speaks to us of our unfulfilled spiritual yearnings, of a quest for the infinite and universal that persists today as it has for thousands of years.

1153. Barnett Newman. Broken Obelisk. 1963-67.
Steel, height 7.7 m. Rothko Chapel, Houston



Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman, original name Baruch Newman (born Jan. 29, 1905, New York, N.Y., U.S.—died July 3, 1970, New York City), American painter whose large, austerely reductionist canvases influenced the colour-field painters of the 1960s.

The son of Polish immigrants, Newman studied at New York City’s Art Students League (1922–26) and at the City College of New York, from which he graduated in 1927. He worked in his father’s clothing business in the 1930s and gradually began painting full-time. With the painters William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko, he cofounded the school called “Subject of the Artist” (1948), which held open sessions and lectures for other artists.

Newman evolved a style of mystical abstraction in the 1940s and achieved a breakthrough with the canvas “Onement I” (1948), in which a single stripe of orange vertically bisects a field of dark red. This austerely geometric style became his trademark. His paintings, many of which are quite large, typically consist of grand, empty fields of saturated colour inflected with one or more vertical stripes of other colours. Newman’s first one-man show, held in New York City in 1950, aroused hostility and incomprehension, but by the late 1950s and ’60s his work had influenced Ad Reinhardt, Clyfford Still, and such younger artists as Frank Stella and Larry Poons. Newman’s series of 14 paintings called “Stations of the Cross,” exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, in 1966, fully established his reputation.

Encyclopædia Britannica


Barnett Newman. Broken Obelisk.

Isamu Noguchi.

The search for meaning also preoccupied the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi
(1904-1988). Influenced early on by the Surrealists, as well as by Brancusi, he did not confront Oriental culture until a prolonged stay in Japan in 1952 that proved decisive to his formation. From then on, he developed into one of the most diverse sculptors of this century whose rich imagination fed on both heritages. His role in mediating between East and West was of incalculable importance. To the Japanese he introduced modern Western ideas of style; to Americans he rendered traditional Japanese concepts of art visually comprehensible at a time when there was a growing fascination with Zen Buddhism. We see this fusion in his fountain for the John Hancock Insurance Company in New Orleans (fig. 1154). Like much of Zen thought, it is an elegantly simple statement of a paradoxical idea. Atop a grooved column recalling the primitive Doric of ancient Greece, where the Western sculptural tradition of which Noguchi felt himself a part originated, sits a "capital" rather like the wood-beam supports in a Japanese temple. Except for the flat faces on either side of the capital, the finish has been left rough, out of the age-old Japanese respect for the natural and unadorned in the crafts. It gives the fountain a primeval look that emphasizes the stone's origin in the earth, for which Noguchi acquired an Oriental veneration. The contrast to the sleek modern lines of the Hancock building could hardly be greater. Yet the placement of the fountain shows not only a Japanese sensitivity to space but a fundamental understanding of the logic of modern architecture that Japanese critics recognized as distinctly Western.

1154. Isamu Noguchi. Fountain tor the John Hancock
Insurance Company, New Orleans.
1961-62. Granite, 4.88 m



Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi, (born Nov. 17, 1904, Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.—died Dec. 30, 1988, New York, N.Y.), American sculptor and designer, one of the strongest advocates of the expressive power of organic abstract shapes in 20th-century American sculpture.

Noguchi spent his early years in Japan, and, after studying in New York City with Onorio Ruotolo in 1923, he became Constantin Brancusi’s assistant for two years in Paris. There he met Alberto Giacometti and Alexander Calder and became an enthusiast of abstract sculpture. He was also influenced by the Surrealist works of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Noguchi’s first exhibition was in New York City in 1929.

Much of his work, such as his “Bird C(MU)” (1952–58), consists of elegantly abstracted, rounded forms in highly polished stone. Such works as “Euripides” (1966) employ massive blocks of stone, brutally gouged and hammered. To his terra-cotta and stone sculptures Noguchi brought some of the spirit and mystery of early art, principally Japanese earthenware, which he studied under the Japanese potter Uno Jinmatsu on his first trip to Japan made in 1930–31.

Noguchi, who had premedical training at Columbia University, sensed the interrelatedness of bone and rock forms, the comparative anatomy of existence, as seen in his “Kouros” (1945). On another trip to Japan, in 1949, Noguchi experienced a turning point in his aesthetic development: he discovered “oneness with stone.” The importance to him of a closeness to nature was apparent in his roofless studio.

Recognizing the appropriateness of sculptural shapes for architecture, he created a work in low relief (1938) for the Associated Press Building in New York City and designed a fountain for the Ford Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair of 1939. He also made many important contributions toward the aesthetic reshaping of physical environment. His garden for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris (1958), his playground in Hawaii, his furniture designs, and his fountain for the Detroit Civic Center Plaza (1975) won international praise. Noguchi also designed sculptural gardens for the Chase Manhattan Bank and the John Hancock Building, both in New York City, and stage sets for Martha Graham, George Balanchine, and Merce Cunningham. In 1982 he was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal for outstanding lifelong contribution to the arts. In 1985 Noguchi opened the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Long Island City, N.Y. The museum and outdoor sculpture garden contain some 500 sculptures, models, and photographs.

Encyclopædia Britannica


Isamu Noguchi. Red Cube

Isamu Noguchi. Heimar, 1968, at the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden,
Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

Isamu Noguchi. The Cry, 1959.
 Kroller-Muller Museum Sculpture Park, Otterlo, Netherlands

Isamu Noguchi. Untitled.

Isamu Noguchi. Black Slide Mantra. 1986

Maya Lin.

Part of the problem confronting the monument maker in our era is that, unlike a century ago, there is so little worth commemorating in the first place
no event, no cause unites our fragmented world, despite the momentous changes going on everywhereand no artistic vocabulary that we readily agree on. It is all the more ironic that the memorial to American soldiers killed in Vietnam should turn out to be not an embarrassing reminder of one of the most bitterly divisive chapters in recent history, but eloquent testimony to the universal tragedy of war (fig. 1155). Designed by Maya Lin (born 1959), it casts a spell on all those who see it. What is its secret? The very simplicity of the architectural form and its setting are disarming. By comparison, all other war memorials of recent times seem trite and needlessly elaborate, especially those incorporating realistic figures. It evokes a solemn mood while precluding the inflated rhetoric that mars most memorials. The triangular shape, although embedded in tradition and fraught with historical connotations (compare fig. 915), permits viewers to form their own associations because of its abstractness. Moreover, the reflective quality of the polished granite draws the viewer into the work. Yet these attributes alone cannot account for the extraordinary impact. Like Labrouste before her, Lin seized on the simple but brilliant idea of inscribing namesthousands of themwhose cumulative effect is to bring home the full enormity of the tragedy with awesome power. This device does not tell the story either, since names inscribed on walls or tombs rarely move us, least of all those of people we never knew. In the end, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is that rare instance of perfect consonance between form and idea. So unique is this achievement that no artist has been able to duplicate its success.

1155. Maya Lin. Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 1982. Black granite, length 152 m. The Mall, Washington. D.C.


Maya Lin

Maya Lin, (born Oct. 5, 1959, Athens, Ohio, U.S.), American architect and sculptor concerned with environmental themes who is best known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The daughter of intellectuals who had fled China in 1948, Lin received a bachelor’s degree in 1981 from Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where she studied architecture and sculpture. During her senior year she entered a nationwide competition sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to create a design for a monument honouring those who had served and died in that war. Lin’s award-winning design consisted of a polished black granite V-shaped wall inscribed with the names of the approximately 58,000 men and women who were killed or missing in action. This minimal plan was in sharp contrast to the traditional format for a memorial, which usually included figurative, heroic sculpture. The design aroused a great deal of controversy, reflecting the lack of resolution of the national conflicts over the war, as well as the lack of consensus over what constituted an appropriate memorial at the end of the 20th century. Eventually, a compromise was reached with the commissioning of a traditional statue depicting three servicemen with a flag to stand at the entrance to the memorial. After Lin’s monument was dedicated on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Veterans Day in 1982, however, it became a popular and affecting tourist attraction. In 2005 the American Institute of Architects conferred upon the monument its 25-Year Award, given to a structure that has proved its worth over time.

Lin sought anonymity by returning to academia, beginning graduate studies in architecture at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. In early 1983 she left Harvard to work for a Boston architect, and in 1986 she completed a master’s degree in architecture at Yale. In 1988 Lin agreed to design a monument for the civil rights movement on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Her design consisted of two elements: a curved black granite wall inscribed with a quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr., and a 12-foot- (3.7-metre-) diameter disk bearing the dates of the major events of the civil rights era and the names of 40 people who were martyrs to the cause. Water flows gently over both parts of the memorial. The Civil Rights Memorial was dedicated in Montgomery, Ala., in November 1989.

In an attempt to avoid being typecast as a builder of memorials, Lin in the 1990s shifted her attention to other forms of art and architecture. Many of her artworks, from small sculptures displayed in galleries to large environmental installations, took their inspiration from the natural features and landscape of the Earth. In a series of “wave fields” (The Wave Field [1995] in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Flutter [2005] in Miami; and Storm King Wavefield [2009] in Mountainville, N.Y.), for instance, she reshaped grass-covered terrain to resemble undulating ocean waves. In 2000 Lin was commissioned to create a series of seven art installations along the Columbia River to honour the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. These pieces—which ranged in size and scale from a fish-cleaning table inscribed with the Chinook origin story to a pedestrian bridge spanning a state highway—examined the historical impact of the expedition on the native peoples and on the land of the Pacific Northwest. Lin’s interest in environmentalism reached its apotheosis with the multimedia project What Is Missing? (begun 2009), an exploration of the growing threats to biodiversity that she referred to as her “final memorial.”

Among Lin’s other large-scale works are Topo (1991), a topiary park in Charlotte, N.C., created in collaboration with landscape architect Henry F. Arnold; The Women’s Table (1993), a sculpture commemorating the coeducation of women at Yale; and Groundswell (1993), an installation of 43 tons of glass pebbles at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. Her architectural achievements, which were noted for their emphasis on sustainability, include designs for the Langston Hughes Library (1999), a converted barn in Clinton, Tenn., and for the Museum of Chinese in America (2009) in New York City. In 1995 the feature-length film Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (1994), written and directed by Freida Lee Mock, won the Oscar for best documentary. Lin was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2009.

Encyclopædia Britannica


Maya Lin. The Wave Field. 1995

Maya Lin.
Ariel view of the circle of stones that forms part of the Peace Chapel

Maya Lin
. Systematic Landscape
Henry Art Gallery Seattle, Washington

Maya Lin. Systematic Landscape
Henry Art Gallery Seattle, Washington

Maya Lin. Systematic Landscape
Henry Art Gallery Seattle, Washington


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