Sculpture Highlights from the National Academy 

National Academy of Design

The National Academy’s permanent collection includes more than 300 sculptures spanning a period of time from the early 19th century through today.  This selection of highlights reveals the strengths of this aspect of the Academy’s collection through a variety of styles and media. 

Frazee was the only sculptor to be a charter member of the National Academy, and for many historians, the history of American sculpture begins with him.

Scholar Frederick Voss has suggested that his use of the herm form was inspired by a cast of a bust of Alexander the Great that was in the collection of the American Academy of Fine Arts in the 1820s.

A herm is a statue in the form of a square stone pillar surmounted by a bust or head, especially of Hermes, the ancient Greek god of fertility.

The inscription has never been fully interpreted. However, the Roman numerals are accepted as signifying the 52nd year of the United States’ existence as a nation, that is, 1827.

Inspired by Abraham Lincoln's issue of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, Ward completed the model in that same month and exhibited it at the National Academy's annual exhibition.

The dark patination of the bronze deliberately complements the subject's race, and the figure's broken manacle symbolizes his liberation.

He conveys the figure's strength with his musculature, which concerned some contemporary critics who felt that the ideal freedman should be portrayed as a patient martyr, not as a powerful Adonis.

The figure and symbolism of the emancipated slave was a highly controversial subject in America, and Ward's Freedman was an important early model in its development.

Diana was the first independent work that MacMonnies created in Paris, where he studied under the sculptor Jean-Alexandre-Joseph Falguiére at the École des Beaux-Arts.

A life size plaster of the piece was exhibited at the 1889 Paris Salon. The following year he executed the sculpture in bronze, and it achieved immediate commercial success.

The work depicts Diana, the goddess of the hunt and of the moon (indicated by her attribute, the crescent). The design is indebted to Falguiére's Diana (1882) and A Hunting Nymph (1884).

The Academy's cast is the only silvered version known to exist.

Over the course of her career Vonnoh created a series of mother and child sculptures in bronze as well as plaster. The Young Mother was her first such genre group.

The piece was modeled in 1896, and the first casts were made in 1899. It was incredibly popular, and received several awards, including a bronze medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900.

According to the sculptor, thirty examples of the piece were cast. Her friend and former classmate at the Art Institute of Chicago, Margaret Gerow Proctor, served as the model for the mother.

This figure of Victory is a replica of the plaster model for Longman's Victory, which was designed in 1903 for the St. Louis World's Fair of the following year.

Contemporary critics noted the unusual use of a male model to represent an allegory that was traditionally shown in the female form.

In 1912, Longman reasoned, "Men [...] have occasionally had something to do with victories. Why should not at least one statue of a victory be a male figure?”

Frishmuth created two versions of this work. The 61-inch high version was created in 1917, and the smaller 44-inch version here dates from three years later. The artist preferred the 1920 version.

She found that in the reduced size the rhythm and the spirit of the design were better expressed by her favorite model Desha’s body type (Janet Ransome served as the model for the 1917 version).

Frishmuth related that her “figures express motion, and [Desha] is wonderful. She can do anything I tell her. Some of the poses can only be held for a moment but she can reproduce them exactly.”

In 1922, shortly after this life-size figure was modeled, it won the Academy's Saltus Medal for Merit and was exhibited in that year's annual.

A replica originally stood in a dining-room niche in the Huntington home on Fifth Avenue, which they donated to The National Academy in the early 1940s and where the institution still resides today.

Diana is balanced on an orb, probably a symbolic representation of her other manifestation as goddess of the Moon.

San Diego sculptor Donal Hord was fascinated by indigenous traditions throughout the Americas and in East Asia, which he had studied since childhood.

Hord worked in a variety of materials inspired by local cultures, including the dense lignum vitae of Desert Sand Wind, which was used by Mesoamerican craftsmen.

Hord was one of a number of American figurative sculptors during the 1920s-30s who borrowed from diverse cultural traditions in order to endow their works with a sense of exoticism and sensuality.

"Art is about life and that about sums it up," Louise Bourgeois said. In this work the cluster of organic forms seems to sprout out of the bronze, suggesting growth and regeneration.

The rounded shape of the lower part of the sculpture, which evokes a cell, a cocoon or a nest, also emphasizes the ideas of germination.

Bourgeois’ art was indebted to Surrealism, which inspired her to explore her interior world and the subconscious in extremely inventive and fascinating ways.

Over the course of her career, Donna Dennis has been drawn to vernacular architecture and the way what happens to a building over time can come to tell a story.

She creates sculpture inspired by places of transit such as hotels, subways stations, roller coasters and tourist cabins. For her, these places represent stopping places on the journey through life.

These works were inspired by summer trips in her childhood. This type of tourist cabin is reminiscent of a time when middle class American families traveled but could not afford to stay in hotels.

Early in her career, Apfelbaum began experimenting with various applications of dye and different organizing systems of color, challenging the conventional boundaries between painting and sculpture.

Her choice of velvet opened the work up to an array of associations from clothing and craft to gender and class.

The velvet strips have no fixed configuration and are reorganized each time they are installed, resulting in work that resists permanence and instead embraces a sense of immediacy and possibility.

By 1964, Antonakos was working almost exclusively with neon to create works that defy conventional definitions of sculpture.

Like all of Antonakos's neon panels,The Light floats on a wall over a neon light, in this case white light, that emanates from behind.

The intrinsic allaying and ethereal qualities in Antonakos's panels have been linked to Greek icons, while his integration of light has been interpreted as halo like.

The Light relates to a specific architectural setting and activates both the surrounding physical space and suggests a psychological space of quietude and self-reflection.

Woodman is recognized as one of the most important ceramic artists working today. She employs many forms, from fragmented vases to benches to pitchers, presenting diverse influences and traditions.

She has traveled extensively, finding inspiration in cultures around the world. Pine Islands were inspired by travels to the Pityusic Islands of Ibiza in the Mediterranean Sea.

As Woodman states, “The centrality of the vase in my work is certainly a reference to a global perspective on art history and production. The container is a universal symbol [...]"

Born in 1934 in the UK, Garth Evans has produced an extensive body of work on both sides of the Atlantic over an active career beginning in the early 1960s.

Working mostly with abstract compositions, Evans is always interested in new materials and breaching new horizons with them. He creates work from such diverse materials as ceramics and fiberglass.

His work is at once textural and emotive. Evans states that many of his works even when most abstract, are "triggers for and containers of particular identifiable memories.”

Von Rydingsvard is known for her large-scale sculpture made from cedar beams which she cuts, assembles, and on which she then rubs powdered graphite into the work’s textured, faceted surfaces.

Her signature abstract shapes refer to things in the real world, each revealing the mark of the human hand while also summoning natural forms and forces.

Many of her works suggest simple vessels, bowls or tools, or allude to primitive dwellings, geological formations, landscape or the human body.

Born in 1942 in Nazi Germany to Polish and Ukrainian parents, she spent her formative years in refugee camps. These painful memories led her to respect organic materials and the dignity of labor.

Credits: Story

Curator - Diana Thompson

Communications Associate - Harineta Rigatos

Special thanks to our intern Amy King

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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