Martin Puryear American, b. 1941
Ampersand 1987-1988
Collection Walker Art Center
Gift of Margaret and Angus Wurtele, 1988

  African-American artist Martin Puryear creates sculpture influenced by his experiences traveling and living in Western Africa, Scandinavia, Asia, and the Arctic. Often inspired by traditional carving techniques and indigenous architectural archetypes, Puryear infuses his work with these qualities, using natural and organic materials such as wood, stone, rope, and rawhide. Relying on the intrinsic characteristics of these materials, he carefully manipulates their appearance through methods that simultaneously underscore and subvert their transformations.

Puryear created Ampersand as a gateway to the symmetrical Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which was designed by Edward Larabee Barnes. Like a pair of classical columns, the 14-foot-high forms were made from large blocks of granite quarried in Cold Spring, Minnesota. Puryear "shaved" the natural surface with a large lathe to create smooth conical shapes reminiscent of Minimal sculpture, leaving an elegant pattern of scalloped curves that reveal the original texture of the stone. By inverting one of the columns and "standing symmetry on its head," he challenges the formal purity of the Garden's design, prompting the viewer to consider which form is right side up.

© 1998 Walker Art Center

The Artwork of the Month is part of the Walker Art Center's "New Definitions/New Audiences" initiative. This museum-wide project to engage visitors in a reexamination of 20th-century art is made possible by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund.