Nakian, American (1897 - 1986)
Born in College Point, New York,
he studied at the Robert Henri School with Homer Boss and A.S.
Baylinson. He also studied at the Art Students League and from
1917 to 1920, apprenticed to Paul Manship and Gaston Lachaise.
He was inspired by the myths of ancient Greece and Rome. He
taught sculpture at the Newark Fine Arts and Industrial Arts
College and at Pratt Institute in New York City.
Reuben Nakian was a giant of twentieth-century modernist American
sculpture. His art-historical stride extended from an apprenticeship
with Paul Manship and a studio assistantship with Gaston Lachaise,
to his role as a major participant in the discourse surrounding
Abstract Expressionism, particularly with Arshile Gorky and
Willem DeKooning. During his seventy-five year career as an
artist, he established a profound oeuvre based almost entirely
on energetic, daring, and often-erotic abstractions of the female
figure. A prolific sculptor in stone, terra cotta, plaster,
steel, and bronze, Nakian remained a vital creative force until
his death in 1986.
While Reuben Nakian's work has been shown in museums and galleries
around the world (the Reuben Nakian Centennial Retrospective
exhibition was on view at the Reading Public Museum in Reading,
Pennsylvania until January 10, 1998, and moved in early February
to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., for a two-month
stay), this exhibition was his first solo show in Boston.
The earliest work include animal studies from the 1920's, which
reveal Nakian's stylistic relationship to direct stone carving.
This popular style, which emerged from the more linear Art Deco
style, stressed mass and volume over line, but retained Art
Deco's stylized surfaces and suggestively abstracted forms.
Related works on paper reveal that the issue of drawing, however,
was always central to Nakian's aesthetic.
Nakian's freestanding figures and figurative groups represent
the work for which he is best known. These gestural, Abstract
Expressionist sculptures are based on the radical abstraction
of the female form as a way to transcend mere appearance to
address more primal, essential issues. They are often erotic,
sometimes tragic and always passionate engagements of deep emotional
and spiritual states. The titles, appropriately, refer to characters
and stories from classical mythology, which underscores the
deep psychological underpinnings of the work, and reveals Nakian's
undying allegiance to Mediterranean history and culture. These
sculptures also exhibit Nakian's consistent preoccupation with
drawing, through their insistent linear thrust into space.