Thirty Pieces/Thirty Years: Sculpture by Ann Sperry A retrospective exhibition

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum

One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer Street), Manhattan
February 20 - June 26, 2003
Opening Reception: February 20, 6-8 pm


Ann Sperry, Rites of Passage V, 1972-3 (photo: Don Hunstein)

Thirty Pieces/Thirty Years:

Sculpture by Ann Sperry, a major retrospective exhibition of works by sculptor Ann Sperry, will be on view at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum from February 20 through June 26, 2003. The presentation explores the relationship between the artist’s feminism, her innovative technique in welded steel, and her Jewish identity and heritage.

Beginning with work from her first one-person show in New York City in 1973, the exhibition continues with examples of each of her major series of the following thirty years. The themes that have occupied her interests range from abstract renderings of the exterior and interior of our bodies (Tender Flesh, Personal Interiors, Where is Your Heart) to interpretations of paradise and expulsion in In The Garden to a study of celestial harmony and discord in Out There. Her current series, My Piano, is informed by her unique view of autobiography, which is also the theme of Fertility Series, the first group in the exhibition.

Ann Sperry, My Piano 7, 2002 (photo: Arnold Helbling)

While examining such formal issues as the tensile strength of steel and the application of polychrome to metal, Sperry has consistently challenged preconceptions of welded steel sculpture. As curator David Floria has written: “Her consistent, courageous career has contributed a strong sense of heartfelt joy in the spirit of life to the stiff, serious, and macho tradition of welded steel modernist sculpture.”

Laura Kruger, Curator of the exhibition, stated:

“In the same way that a trained dancer relies on powerful muscles to achieve visions of delicacy and finesse, Ann Sperry creates a body of work that transcends gender identification and yet is imbued with womanly characteristics. Work from the Rites of Passage series is profoundly maternal. Rounded shapes with emerging baby forms were the focus of Sperry’s efforts during her childbearing years, and they are powerful, universal, elemental forms harking to Donatello bronzes.

“Sperry frequently returns to nature and gardens as thematic reference points. Beckoning flower shapes invite us to enter the hidden pleasures of lush nature. Graceful, generous and affectingly simple, the wallflowers emerge from space to waft in defiance of gravity.”

In addition to the welded and painted steel sculpture for which she is best known, Sperry has made artists’ books and furniture, designed opera and ballet sets and costumes for the Aspen Music Festival and the Chicago Lyric Opera Studio, and has created numerous public art commissions, including the 110-foot long Garden of Delights, an A.R.E.A commission which is now permanently installed at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the 334-foot long Seattle Garden, that was a competition winner of the Seattle Arts Commission Percent for Art Program. Her work is represented in numerous private and corporate collections as well as the Biobliotèque Nationale, the Getty, Neuberger, Everson, Skirball, and Tel Aviv Museums, and the Storm King Art Center.

The daughter of Polish, Yiddish-speaking immigrants, Sperry was born in the Bronx. She stated that her fascination with using scrap metal for sculpture is rooted in the excitement she and her mother felt when they would hunt for fabric remnants which her mother would later transform into clothing. Her poet father wrote for Yiddish newspapers. Sperry attended New York City’s High School of Music and Art, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was a student of Theodore Roszak and William Rubin. She lives and works in New York City.

A catalogue published by HUC-JIR, which explores Sperry’s art as an expression of her feminism and Jewish identity as well as her singular place in the contemporary American art world, complements the exhibition. The catalogue features essays by Pepe Karmel, Associate Professor, Department of Fine Arts, New York University, Dr. Norman Cohen, Professor of Midrash and Provost, HUC-JIR, and Laura Kruger, Curator, HUC-JIR Museum.

Hours: Mondays- Thursdays, 9 am - 5 pm; Fridays, 9 am - 3 pm
Selected Sundays, 10 am - 2 pm: March 2, 16; April 6, 27

Admission: Free. Photo ID required for entrance.

Curated tours for reporters/editors, group tours, and additional information:
(212) 824-2205.

Public Program:
March 25, 6-8 pm
“Changing Space: Contemporary Women Sculptors”
With Janet Echelman, Ann Sperry, and Barbara Zucker
For more information, please call (212) 824-2293.