Natural disasters inspire monumental sculptures at MWPAI

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Monumental sculptures representing natural disasters caused by human activity create a forceful presence in the exhibition, “Terrible Beauty: Richard Friedberg Sculpture,” on view Feb. 27 through May 30 in the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute Museum of Art in Utica.

“Terrible Beauty” serves as a showcase for Oneonta-based sculptor Richard Friedberg’s impressive body of work created during the past decade. Friedberg has been compelled by such horrific events as the BP Deepwater  Horizon wellhead blowout at Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident and tsunami.

These specific events, in Friedberg’s hands and imagination, are transformed into sublime works reminiscent of terrible explosions, tidal waves, and smoke. The sculptures, made with aluminum mesh screening, a material that proves appropriately malleable for his subject, are also graceful, at times even elegant, and are thoughtfully considered so as to be fully three-dimensional and demanding of attention and respect.

Munson-Williams Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Mary Murray said as a person moves around Friedberg’s sculpture, its component parts come together, then change shape.

“The pieces are specific objects, but they also have multiple points of view, and the screening that the artist uses for the sculptures works beautifully for this purpose. It is malleable, easily manipulated to suggest powerful but fleeting phenomena such as explosions or ocean waves that will transform again momentarily,” Murray said.

“Light filters through the various layers of screening and that flickering sensation contributes to the eye’s perception of changeability.”

Friedberg has had a distinguished career in contemporary sculpture. After receiving his master’s of fine arts degree from Yale University, he moved to New York City and was invited to exhibit his work at notable galleries including Tibor de Nagy, Fischbach, and OK Harris, as well as at the 1973 Whitney Biennial and the Storm King Art Center.

Friedberg was commissioned to create public sculptures for the Hartsfield International Airport, Atlanta, and Prudential in Jacksonville, and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Grant.

“Terrible Beauty” marks the most recent moment in a near-50-year history for Friedberg in Utica. In 1974, he was the first artist to be invited to Sculpture Space, Inc., a downtown artists’ residency program, before the studio had been formally founded.

From its inception, Sculpture Space has been linked with and has been an important partner to Munson-Williams. The museum has hosted three Sculpture Space anniversary exhibitions since 1986, and has provided the venue, informally, for numerous artists’ pop-up shows or performances. Terrible Beauty is another milestone in this visual arts partnership, which has served Central New York communities for 45 years.

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