Ursula von Rydingsvard: Monumental Public Art

Ursula von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling presents the artist’s monumental cedar wood sculptures alongside newer works for the first time. The poetic and expressive works, which also use leather, linen, and other organic materials, reveal the process by which von Rydingsvard gives outward visual form to her innermost ideas and emotions.

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Ursula von Rydingsvard's SCIENTIA stands outside of a MIT building at twilight at 25-feet high; Its soaring bowl form features variegated coloring and a lace-like perforated segment at the top. A student places her hand on the sculpture.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, SCIENTIA, 2016; Bronze; A gift commissioned by Lore Harp McGovern for the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Public Art Collection of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Photo by Jerry L. Thompson

In addition to her works on view in museum galleries, Ursula von Rydingsvard has created large-scale sculptures that can be visited in public parks, plazas, and civic buildings across the country. Curious to discover more of her work? Here are five to see:

Ona (2013), Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York:

Just outside of the Barclays Center, Ona is more than 19 feet high and weighs nearly 12,000 pounds. To create the bronze sculpture, as she does for all of her monumental cast works, von Rydingsvard first constructed a scale model in cedar to get the details exactly right. The artist recognizes that the finish of the bronze will change color from being touched and rubbed by passersby. She is glad to see its patina evolve over time, a result of the work’s connection with the public.

Ocean Voices II (2013), San Francisco International Airport, California: 

The San Francisco Arts Commission emphasized public art in the airport’s Terminal 3. Standing more than ten feet high, von Rydingvard’s Ocean Voices II is made from  4-x-4 cedar beams, the artist’s signature material.

URODA (2015), Princeton University, New Jersey:

On Princeton’s campus, outside the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, von Rydingsvard installed URODA. Its surface is made of more than 3,000 pieces of copper, hammered by hand to conform to the curves of her textural cedar model. While it may seem familiar to fans of her work—the towering funnel shape marks it as one of von Rydingsvard’s “bowl” sculptures—its creation broke new ground as the artist’s first large-scale piece made primarily of copper.

SCIENTIA (2016), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge:

The 25-foot-high bronze SCIENTIA was commissioned for MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Its soaring bowl form features variegated coloring and a lace-like perforated segment at the top.

Ursula von Rydingsvard's Ocean Voices II stands on a white square platform in the San Francisco International Airport; the cedar wood structure is shaded with graphite and looks as if it is organically growing out of the platform from a smaller base that gradually widens larger at the top.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, Ocean Voices II, 2013; Cedar, graphite; Photo courtesy of the SFO Museum

katul katul (2002), Queens Family Courthouse, Jamaica, New York:

In the Queens Family Courthouse, von Rydingvard’s katul katul is made of molded plastic and aluminum, although it, too, was first created in cedar. It carries light downward through a skylight-illuminated atrium.

Still want to see more? Von Rydingsvard’s sculptures can also be found in museums’ sculpture gardens, with works on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana; the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Massachusetts; and The Contemporary Austin, Texas, among others.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

“The Past is Palpably Present” on New York Avenue

Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work is now on view in NMWA’s New York Avenue Sculpture Project!

At a celebration on September 30, curator and scholar Mary Jane Jacob, a renowned authority on the artist, gave a special lecture on Abakanowicz, including her body of work and her sculptures on view on New York Avenue. These pieces, including Walking Figures and abstracted birds in flight, represent some of the artist’s most iconic work.

Walking Figures (and detail), 2009; Bronze, dimensions variable (each figure approximately 106 1/4 x 35 3/8 x 55 3/8 in.); © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; Photos Laura Hoffman

Walking Figures (and detail), 2009; Bronze, dimensions variable (each figure approximately 106 1/4 x 35 3/8 x 55 3/8 in.); © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; Photos Laura Hoffman

During Jacob’s talk, she discussed Abakanowicz’s life story, particularly her youth and artistic training in Poland and her experiences during the Second World War. Jacob believes that “the past is palpably present” through the artist’s work. She talked about Agora, a large public installation in Chicago’s Grant Park that, like the Walking Figures on New York Avenue, features a group of larger-than-life, armless and headless human figures.

Mary Jane Jacob at NMWA; Photo Laura Hoffman

Mary Jane Jacob at NMWA; Photo Laura Hoffman

Through this motif in her work, Jacob said, Abakanowicz shows that “Art is able to be a means of building links between distant societies” despite differences, due to commonalities and collective memory.

Jacob also described the artist’s abiding interest in nature: “Restoring nature became a theme for Magdalena Abakanowicz. She grew up in nature, and she understood that in war we not only kill others, but we kill the earth. She’s always been drawn to nature.”

Stainless Bird on Pole II, 2009; Stainless steel, 144 1/8 x 106 1/4 x 57 1/8 in.; and Stainless Bird on Pole III, 2009; Stainless steel, 151 5/8 x 63 x 53 1/8 in.; © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; Photo Laura Hoffman

Stainless Bird on Pole II, 2009; Stainless steel, 144 1/8 x 106 1/4 x 57 1/8 in.; and Stainless Bird on Pole III, 2009; Stainless steel, 151 5/8 x 63 x 53 1/8 in.; © Magdalena Abakanowicz, Courtesy of Marlborough Gallery, New York; Photo Laura Hoffman

Abakanowicz is especially inspired by unrepeatability in nature—encountering a swarm of mosquitos, for example, the artist was fascinated by the conspicuous individual characteristics among them. Jacob said, “Among her most powerful works are her soaring birds, which take us back to nature, and to a way of thinking not just about how we exist within this natural form, but how natural form itself has amazing variety.”

These works will be on view through September 2015 outside the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Plan your visit soon to see work by this extraordinary artist both inside and outside the museum.

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.