‘My Work Has the Potential for Evolution’: Watch Artist Martin Puryear Construct an Enormous Sculpture in a New York City Park

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Martin Puryear: 'Big Bling.'" © Art21, Inc. 2016.

To stand in the presence of one of American sculptor Martin Puryear‘s works is to be confronted with what artnet News critic Ben Davis describes as an “eloquent use of materials and elliptical gravitas.” This week, Puryear unveiled his latest work, in the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

The show, titled “Liberty/Libertà,” employs many of Puryear’s typically ambiguous, handsomely made biomorphic forms, in this case evoking machinery and historical artifacts.

Puryear, while a deft craftsman, has learned over the years to accept and embrace the assistance of fabricators and expert manufacturers (mechanics and engineers among them) to help him realize his work.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of their “Extended Play” series, viewers get a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like for Puryear and his team to create the 40-foot tall outdoor installation Big Bling, which was on view at Madison Square Park in 2017.

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Martin Puryear: 'Big Bling.'" © Art21, Inc. 2016.

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Martin Puryear: ‘Big Bling.'” © Art21, Inc. 2016.

In the case of Big Bling, massive amounts of wood were held together using glue, clamps, and high-frequency microwaves, fusing the pieces together like a massive jigsaw puzzle. Puryear highlights certain materials that he uses repeatedly, like wire fencing and wood, both of which comprise a large part of “Liberty/Libertà” in Venice.

“I’m interested in the way it both is creating and defining a volume… at the same time, it has a kind of transparency,” he tells Art21. “What I like is the dichotomy between those two experiences. My work has a potential for evolution, which for me, feels resonant with what it is to live a life.”

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Martin Puryear: “Liberty/Libertà” is on view at the Venice Biennale from May 11 through November 24, 2019. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.


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