An animal? A country landscape? Visitors have interpreted this work in many ways. American artist Dorothy Dehner (1902–1994) was a dancer, actress, and painter before she began sculpting at age 54. Throughout the next four decades, Dehner became an award-winning sculptor, producing abstract works in various media.
While it is essentially abstract, Looking North F is based on the view from Dorothy Dehner’s studio window at 41 Union Square in New York City. Like most of her sculptures, this bronze bas-relief emphasizes contours over mass. It is both flat and thin; seen from the side it looks like an irregular, vertical metal line.
Dehner made this sculpture using the lost wax technique, in which a mold is placed around shapes she fashioned out of wax. When the wax is heated, it melts and runs through holes that have been punched in the mold; it is then replaced by molten bronze. This process produces a unique solid bronze artwork, as the mold must be destroyed to retrieve the cast.
“I wanted to work in wax because I liked the idea of it; it’s so malleable and yet it isn’t messy like clay…,” said Dehner in a January 1979 interview.
The numerous small shapes that make up this sculpture recall urban buildings, the sun, and a sense of the movement and sounds endemic to a busy downtown neighborhood. However, it could also suggest a more rural sort of landscape or even a stylized animal. The deliberate irregularity of Dehner’s disks, ovals, and rectangles, their asymmetrically applied textures and rich, golden-coppery color give the sculpture a surprisingly warm, organic feeling.
–Anna Allegro is the Associate Educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.