At the age of 90, Mark di Suvero has had a distinguished career, with exhibitions and commissions around the world. Yet, to date, no monograph has been published on his entire career, exploring his first shows and his subsequent hit show with Richard Bellamy at his Green Gallery in 1960—a great success for the young sculptor who worked only with found wood, which was what he could afford in those early years. Di Suvero was one of many post-war artists in New York redefining art. Bellamy was the visionary who foresaw the future, presenting shows with artists such as Robert Morris, George Segal, and Alfred Leslie. Reviewing di Suvero’s very first exhibition for Arts Magazine in 1960, Donald Judd described the size and force of di Suvero’s sculptures as “thunderous,” an adjective that is equally applicable to the new work di Suvero continues to produce today.
Di Suvero, in many ways, represented the sculptural transmission of Abstract Expressionist feeling; the strength and power of a gestural brushstroke translated into a diagonal scrap of wood or a metal bar across another field. ‘Eurydice,’ created in 1959, is one such example. Di Suvero saw vitality in these fragments of form in the same way de Kooning found resonance in the broad single stroke of a brush across a canvas. Both efforts delivered power and meaning. Di Suvero sculpted in three-dimensional space, forcing the viewer to engage in the 360-degree escapade of wood and, later, metals. If di Suvero was translating his more visceral reactions into physically articulated grand and monumental gestures, ‘Sooner or Later,’ created in 2023, is a remarkable accumulation of curves, shapes, and angles, forming a testament to the transformation of humble industrial steel into art.
At Paula Cooper, a long-time advocate of di Suvero’s work, both home-scale and public-scale works are on display. When he works outdoors and builds on a monumental scale, he commands the same presence as architecture. Here again, I-beams are translated into grand gestures. In 2015 at Crissy Field, sponsored by SFMOMA, he was invited to present several outdoor works in the Bay Area. Here, he positioned a beautiful medley of abstract forms against the sky and sea. One critic pointed out that when you are close to di Suvero’s larger works, standing near, under, or within them, they envelop you. From afar, you appreciate the drawing, the architecture, and surprisingly, the lightness and delicate touch. The sculptures don’t appear heavy or straining; they sit gently on the land.
Another key factor is di Suvero’s inherent sense of balance; equipoise, as if he instructed the metal how to stand, how to bend, and how to present themselves as individually framed creatures. He is both a craftsman and a choreographer. Few sculptors can control scale so patiently, so carefully, so that whether big or small, there is a sense of achievement, ultimately a sense of harmony. The individual parts are clearly defined but also work in conjunction with their reflective counterparts.
Back at Paula Cooper Gallery, the character of the three scales presented is evident: big, medium, small, all distinguished by their scale and individual look. Notice one work dates from the 60s, while the other two are from the 21st century. However, between those many years, di Suvero has maintained an ambitious vision and talent, imbuing these works with a life all their own. They form a handsome trio in this handsome space, being just right in their juxtaposition. This group rewards the viewer with all the qualities that make di Suvero a master of his art and someone who should be given the stage to allow us to see, learn, and enjoy six decades of his art.