Spotlight on Ecology: Ursula von Rydingsvard

Ursula von Rydingsvard, <i>Czara z babelkami</i>, 2006. Cedar, 16′10″ x 10′5″ x 6′2″. Installation at Madison Square Park, New York, May 12, 2006–February 28, 2007.

Ursula von Rydingsvard was born in Deensen, Germany in 1942. She received a BA and an MA from the University of Miami, Coral Gables (1965), an MFA from Columbia University (1975), and an honorary doctorate from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore (1991). Von Rydingsvard’s massive sculptures reveal the trace of the human hand and resemble wooden bowls, tools, and walls that seem to echo the artist’s family heritage in pre-industrial Poland before World War II. Having spent her childhood in Nazi slave labor and post-war refugee camps, the artist’s earliest recollections of displacement and subsistence through humble means infuses her work with emotional potency. Von Rydingsvard builds towering cedar structures, creating an intricate network of individual beams, shaped by sharp and lyrical cuts and glued together to form sensuous, puzzle-like surfaces. While abstract at its core, Von Rydingsvard’s work takes visual cues from the landscape, the human body, and utilitarian objects‚Äîsuch as the artist’s collection of household vessels‚Äîand demonstrates an interest in the point where the man-made meets nature. Von Rydingsvard has received many awards, including a Joan Mitchell Award (1997); an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1994); fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (1983) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1979, 1986); and exhibition prizes from the International Association of Art Critics (1992, 2000). Major exhibitions include Madison Square Park, New York (2006); the Neuberger Museum, SUNY Purchase, New York (2002); and Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York (1992). Von Rydingsvard lives and works in New York.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, <i>katul katul</i>, 1999-2002. Plastic, aluminum, 52 x 40 feet (15.8 x 12.2 meters). Permanent sculpture for the Queens Family Courthouse, Jamaica, New York.

Watch a clip from von Rydingsvard’s Art:21 segment:

About her work, von Rydingsvard says,

“I’m not even sure that it’s sculpture that I drink the most from to reap imagery for my work. I think it’s vernacular architecture -everyday kinds of objects like bowls and cups- that enables me to springboard. And that gives me a lot of room and a lot of leeway because none of it has been so explicitly defined. Usually the utilitarian object is just that; it’s made to be used…If I were to say how it is that I break the convention of sculpture (and I’m not sure that’s what I do or even if that’s what I want to do) it would be by climbing into the work in a way that’s highly personal, that I can claim as being mine. I have this feeling that the more mine it is, the more I’m able to break the convention.”

(taken from the companion book Art in the Twenty-First Century 4, pp. 106-7).

Ursula von Rydingsvard, <i>Wall Pocket</i>, 2003–04. Cedar and graphite, 162 x 72 x 65 inches. Photo by Michael Bodycomb. © Ursula von Rydingsvard, courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

Read more about her work and watch additional clips on her Art:21 webpage here.

Have you experienced von Rydingsvard’s work in person, or did you have an opportunity to view her in one of the hundreds of Art21 Access ’07 events that have been taking place all month? Share your thoughts on Ursula von Rydingsvard by leaving a comment below.


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