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Long Island City’s Noguchi Museum is an unsung hero in the landscape of modern and contemporary art spaces in New York. Created and designed in the 1980s by legendary artist Isamu Noguchi, the museum seamlessly transitions from indoor to outdoor exhibition space and is filled with the artist’s stone, brass, wood, and steel sculptures that span Noguchi’s 60-year career. An institution for scholarship and contemplation, the museum provides a glimpse into the artist’s perceptive approach towards his materials and celebrates the breadth of his accomplishments in the canon of sculpture in art history.
The second floor of this 1920s factory-turned-Museum, which is designated for temporary shows, currently hosts an historical exhibition of work by the Uruguayan sculptor, Gonzalo Fonseca (1922-97), the artist’s first museum survey in New York in nearly 50 years.
Fonseca, who began his career as a painter and at one point hoped to become an architect, was a prolific sculptor who studied with Joaquín Torres-García, a key figure in the development of modern art in Europe during the early 20th century. Fonseca created a wide variety of sculptures that explored ideas of perception, architectural classicism, city planning, and modernism through his incisive connection to his stone materials, and this exhibition celebrates and solidifies his accomplished career.
“The Sculpture of Gonzalo Fonseca” brings together more than 80 works made between the 1960s, when he was living and working in New York, and through to the 1990s, primarily focusing on the artist’s stonework. Fonseca’s sculptures are placed throughout the exhibition on a variety of divergent plinths, hung on walls and at times placed directly on the floor, forcing the viewer to approach each object through a unique point of entry.
Fonseca worked on many different scales, portraying his versatility and curiosity as a sculptor. Terrazzini (1984), for example, displays the artist’s interest in balance and form on a more intimate level, with the inclusion of simplistic architectural elements, such as the staircase, unmarked plinth and doorway leading to nowhere. This miniature landscape he presents is both disturbing and compelling; the viewer is left wondering what sort of lifeform could occupy this perplexing, forlorn and inaccessible space.
Whereas grander sculptures, such as Castalia (1980), demonstrate Fonseca’s aptitude for creating much more complex and ambitious works, filled with labyrinths and hidden passageways, severed body parts that both provide and abstract any sense of scale and circular patterns that look like sun dials, introducing the notion of passing time. The layered narratives and imaginary civilizations he creates transform these passive surfaces and materials into intricate surrealist landscapes that resemble the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico set in unidentifiable ruins.
There is a compelling universality to his work, without any connection to one particular geography, tangible landscape, or singular cultural influence. Fonseca traveled extensively before settling in New York in the 1960s, living in Greece, Rome, Madrid, Egypt, and Syria, adding to his arsenal of visual content that influenced his practice. While there are nodes to the architecture of these different locations, his work transcends a designated nationality or point of origin, and portrays his strong connections to the universal constructivist movement, a group he is typically associated alongside.
Not only does this exhibition bring together an impressive collection of Fonseca’s dense sculptural works, but it also highlights the artist’s drawings, sketchbooks, and source materials. These artifacts from the artist’s studio, including notebooks, postcards, and reproductions of other artworks, help shed light on his methodical approach for sourcing content that is presented and reoccurs throughout his work.
The exhibition also occupies the first room of the Museum’s main floor, juxtaposing Fonseca’s sculptures and massive freestanding structures alongside Noguchi’s work. Another compelling discovery in this exhibition, curated by Noguchi Museum Senior Curator Dakin Hart, is the deep friendship between Fonseca and Noguchi. Though it is unclear exactly when or where these two sculptors first met, as they both spent time in New York and Italy, this exhibition visually explores the many ways in which these artists shared ideas and techniques with one another. While Fonseca and Noguchi left behind entirely different bodies of work during their lifetimes, both artists had a similar intuitive connection to their mediums that brought new life to the materials they continued to return to.
The Sculpture of Gonzalo Fonseca, on view through March 11, 2018, is organized in partnership with the Estate of Gonzalo Fonseca and curated by Noguchi Museum Senior Curator Dakin Hart.