Is, Was (Deep)

Christopher Wilmarth1975/1976

Chrysler Museum of Art

Chrysler Museum of Art
Norfolk, United States

During the 1960s, Christopher Wilmarth was a student at Cooper Union School of Art in New York and a studio assistant to sculptor Tony Smith. At that time, Minimalism was the dominant mode of avant-garde sculpture; the objects exhibited by Carl André and Donald Judd were industrially fabricated and, according to the artists, completely impersonal. Wilmarth, who was fond of Brancusi and attuned to French Symbolist poetry, developed a personally expressive form of geometric abstraction that maintained some of Minimalism's visual characteristics but rejected its ideology of stern rationalism. The humane and poetic character of his simple steel-and-glass structures struck his contemporaries with great force; at his death in 1987 he was described as one of the most accomplished sculptors of his generation. Wilmarth made plywood mock-ups of his sculpture in his studio, according to curator John Beardsley, then took them to a factory, where, in collaboration with metalworkers, he fabricated the steel or bronze components and worked their surfaces to achieve the desired color and texture. In the Chrysler's piece, roughcast steel with a dark, earthy patina was cut and bent to form a low platform with standing elements at each end. A thick panel of pale-green translucent glass intersects the vertical plane of the steel. Wilmarth etched the glass by hand, applying acid with a brush to achieve an intriguing surface texture and different degrees of transparency. When exhibited, the work's steel and glass sections dilute light and cast oblique shadows. Art historian Dore Ashton has described Wilmarth's art as a direct response to the natural and man-made environment of lower Manhattan-land, sea, light, metal, water, and glass. However, Wilmarth purposely scaled his works to the human figure. "For years I have been concerned with the complex problems of implying the human presence in a non-objective art," Wilmarth wrote in 1974. "The configuration, scale and proportion of place can evoke human presence. . . . [M]y sculptures are places to generate experience. The feeling is intimate. You are acknowledged." Wilmarth was preoccupied with the quality of light; recalling particular light effects from important moments in his life, he sought similar effects in his sculpture. Is, Was (Deep) and related works are concerned with such memories, their gradual effacement, and the passage of time.



  • Title: Is, Was (Deep)
  • Creator: Christopher Wilmarth
  • Date: 1975/1976
  • Location Created: New York City, NY, United States
  • Provenance: The artist (1943-1987); the Artist's Estate; Sidney Janis Gallery; Chrysler Museum of Art Purchase, 1995.
  • Physical Dimensions: 48 x 72 x 48 in. (121.9 x 182.9 x 121.9 cm)
  • Credit Line: Museum Purchase
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Rights: © Christopher Wilmarth, courtesy Robert Miller Gallery
  • Medium: Etched plate glass and steel

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