Chaim Gross Signed & Casting 1/6 Bronze Tumbler Sculpture on Stone Base
THROUGHOUT HIS LONG CAREER, Chaim Gross (1904-91) relentlessly forged new formal constructions within his framework of figurative sculpture. Reflecting upon how he accomplished this, Mimi Gross observed that her father expressed his persistent intellectual curiosity in the ingenious variations of his drawings and the endless variety of the materials of his sculptures.
She said that he approached every work with a freshness of spirit - as if it were the first sculpture he ever made. "The subject matter was not his primary interest, but was, of course, important," she added. Form, material, and content are the determinants of Chaim Gross' pictorial and sculptural works. In the 1970s, when Gross asked his daughter, "What is Art Deco?" she accurately replied, "You are Art Deco!" During the 1920s and 1930s, Gross' preferred technique of direct carving fostered Art Deco stylization based on frontality (emphasis on the block's four faces) and the flat, angular planes inherited from Cubist sculptures. He absorbed some of the sleek simplicity and curvilinear cubism of Elie Nadelman, his mentor and teacher during the early 1920s at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in New York. The aesthetics of direct carving are an important context for Chaim Gross' early sculptures. Like William Zorach (1889-1966) and Robert Laurent (1890-1970), who during the 1910s had introduced this modem approach to American sculptors, Gross loved to select unique blocks of wood or stone and, inspired by the range of colors and grains intrinsic to them "discover" subject and formal structures as he carved. Gross chose the technique because it fostered the formal qualities he liked. Conversely, abstraction was a direct result of the hardness of the woods he selected. During his first year of carving, 1926 to 1927, Gross saw exhibitions of the abstracted figurative sculptures of Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore. Like these European modem masters, Gross sought a synthesis of technique, form, and content infused with metaphysical vitality. Fascinated with reductive, geometric solids, they transformed them to recognizable organic beings. Although Gross celebrated spontaneous formal discoveries and the "happy accidents" inherent in the direct carving process, he also pre-determined the composition with preparatory drawings. He was a prolific draftsman and filled hundreds of sketch-books and thousands of separate sheets.
In 1926, when Gross cut his two first two sculptures, Girl with Animals and Mother and Child in Laurent's class at the Art Students League in New York, he chose tropical lignum vitae, the hardest wood known. Its dark core, which is surrounded by lighter outer rings, ages to a velvety black that he loved. Gross wrote in his book, The Technique of Wood Carving that "Lignum vitae is my first choice because its extreme density gives me the greatest carving satisfaction I have ever experienced" and equated its resistance with both endurance and eternal qualities.
During his first ten years as a carver, he used lignum vitae for almost half of the 100 wood sculptures he created. Its dense mass defines Vanity (a.k.a. Girl Combing her Hair) of 1941. Although he patterned and roughened the surfaces of the 1926 sculptures with gouges and a small curved chisel which he hit with a heavy mallet, he smoothed and polished Vanity with flatter chisels, a lighter mallet, files, and rasps. Gross described the girl combing her hair with full hips, a narrow waist, and robust curves which are signature for him. Zorach and Laurent had introduced Gross to the J. H. Monteath Co., "The first name for creative hardwoods since 1856,"* and, in turn, Gross introduced Alexander Calder (1898-1976) to this extraordinary Manhattan business which stocked exotic woods from Central and South America and the West Indies. Materials of Monteath's in the current exhibition include the varigated cocobolo wood of Baby Balancing on Feet (1950), the mahogany of Unicyclist (1955), and the ebony of Young Tumbler (1958). The re-introduction of wood as an important sculptor's medium is one of Gross' most significant contributions to the history of twentieth-century art. He simplified, exaggerated, and distorted human proportions for the sake of design, con-sciously constructing figures from formal elements, while retaining human personality and natural movement.
When Chaim Gross carved a few sculptures from stone, he exploited the unique colors and textures of each and let the soft forms melt imperceptibly into the next as he did with Loving Mother (pink alabaster) and Mother, Daughter, and Son (white alabaster). Although he scavenged sandstone, lime-stone, and marble from demolished buildings in the city, he did not walk along the seashore to search for granite stones as his friends Flannagan and Zorach did. He carved soft stones as a respite from the slow process of carving very hard woods. Gross' Mexican onyx of Sisters at Play (1942) is a jumble of legs with a grainy surface contrasting to smooth planes for feet and faces. The thick limbs of the upside-down child in the grey alabaster Small Tumbler (1975) have black markings. In both of these carvings, the sculptor hardly altered the contours of the soft stone to describe the little acrobats--the viewer sees the shapes become dynamic figures and then revert back to stone, a continuing cycle of metamorphosis between the stoniness of stone and the illusion of kinetic humanity. When one experiences the sensuous qualities of Gross' wood and stone carvings, one is acutely aware of the sculptor's undisguised love affair with seductive materials.
During the 1920s Gross exhibited in large unjuried exhibitions in New York and beginning in 1931, the annual exhibitions of the new Whitney Museum of American Art. He was the first president of the Sculptors Guild, founded in 1937, and remained active in the organization for decades. He was one of the sculptors whom Edith Halpert in 1927 invited to show at the Downtown Gallery. Gross' first one-person exhibition was held in March 1932. William Zorach wrote in the introduction for the exhibition catalogue that Gross has an inherent and natural feeling for carving directly in his material, which releases the possibilities of individual expression as no amount of modeling can. His direction of art purpose, his sense of sculptural form and his imaginative grasp of life, place him in the first group of the younger sculptors.
Enthusiastic reviewers in the New York Times and Creative Art noted, respectively, that his mastery of recalcitrant woods commands respect and that his primitive, sometimes colossal figures "all have a solid sense of sculptural form" articulated with "earthy humor." For weeks at the New York Worlds Fair of 1939, Gross carved a six-foot log of exotic Imbuya wood in front of 1000s of visitors to the fair.
The curators of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art continued to collect and exhibit direct carvings on a regular basis through the 195Os. In 1959, John Baur and Lloyd Goodrich selected Chaim Gross as one of four figurative expressionists for a special exhibition at the Whitney and noted that these artists used "distortions freely to impart their own emotional response to experience," and that their art was "high in intensity of feeling, an essentially romantic and intuitive form of expression."
Gross loved to depict the shared enjoyment of mothers with their children, acrobatic groups, and dancers. All three subjects combined two or more figures, offering to the artist infinite possibilities for design. Joshua Taylor described the expression of joy in Gross' work as the "unqualified, exuberant enjoyment of life of Gross' curvaceous unicycle riders, unlikely pyramids of acrobats, and domestic figures who float happily in space as if they belonged to a baroque decoration!"** Also Baroque is the sculptor's ability to capture the moment of change, the instant of metamorphosis.
As artists, teachers, and writers, Zorach, Laurent, Flannagan, and Gross were influential in making American sculpture modern. Their works and their words were sufficiently compelling that many artists adopted styles similar to theirs. Gross taught sculpture at the Educational Alliance for fifty years beginning in 1927, Zorach taught sculpture at the Art Students League from 1929 to 1960, and Laurent taught in Ogunquit, Maine, New York, and the University of Indiana for over fifty years.
After thirty years of creating form by removing material from resistant wood solids, in 1957, Gross reversed to an additive process and began to create space-filled compositions directly in plaster, a technique also exploited by Alberto Giacometti from 1940 to 1966. These works, which eventually were sand cast in bronze, are lighter, and airier forms than his carvings. He did not model clay maquettes. Instead, Gross mixed small batches of soupy plaster, and, constrained by the short time plaster takes to solidify. slapped the warm curing medium onto an armature. Gross told me, "In bronze, I opened up the spaces and discovered beautiful new lines. I felt the freedom of it. I work with the mass and the abstract design of the sculpture in and of itself." Consistent throughout his career is the power of his methods and materials to determine unusual formal structures and his pre-occupation with re-inventing form with every new composition. In stone or wood he could not have cantilevered an acrobat from a one-hand support as he did in his bronze Handstand (1962).
The subjects of these space drawings, many intended for monumental scale and public sites, affirm the life-giving forces of our deepest and most constructive personal relationships. Although figures appear to move with abandon, many have the disciplined, trained bodies of dancers and acrobats. Many of his carvings contain a dynamic spiraling motion, but the bronze figures in works like Flying Trapeze on Ice (1958) are thrust with centrifugal force into three-dimensional, rhythmic motion. Created in the times of abrasive, deadly international events, Chaim Gross' players are free of world angst. And if these did not sufficiently communicate his passionate pacificism, he offers Wings of Peace (1959), a memorial for the six million.
Throughout his life Gross celebrated the joy of humanity in his pictorial and sculptural works of art. Instead of satire or caricature to communicate modern dilemmas, Gross created symbols of positive optimism so critical to the continuation of our shared and humane culture.
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Good. Excellent Condition. .
13 in.Hx9 in.Wx10 in.D
33 cmHx23 cmWx25 cmD
New York, NY
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