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Collections Without Words

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Image
Courtesy Walker Art Center
Rights
Copyright retained by the artist

Copyright

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Title
Without Words
Artist
Judith Shea
Date
1988
Dimensions
overall 78 × 80 × 118 inches
Materials
bronze, marble, limestone
Location
On view at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Object Details

Type
Sculpture
Accession Number
1988.391
Credit Line
Gift of Jeanne and Richard Levitt, 1988

artwork entry Judith Shea, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 1998

Throughout her work, Judith Shea has used clothing to explore the nature and history of sculpture. Trained as a fashion designer, she soon found that field too restrictive and abandoned it in favor of sculpture, using clothes at first as abstract forms and, later, as surrogates for the human presence itself. By the mid-1980s, she began to place her figures into groups, suggesting psychological relationships among them and the possibility of a story. The three symbolic presences of Without Words are a rumpled raincoat, a spare and elegant dress, and the fragment of a classically molded head. This haunting trio seems to be carrying on a dialogue about modern life and antiquity. The head was based on an Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty sculpture of Queen Tiye; the dress is reminiscent both of archaic Greek statuary and the sleek couture of the 1950s; the coat is modern, yet recalls the flowing drapery of classical sculpture.

Jenkins, Janet, ed. Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 1998, no. 39.

© 1998 Walker Art Center

curriculum resource Judith Shea, Without Words (1988) Walker Art Center, 1998

The elegant figures in American artist Judith Shea’s work reflect her background as a fashion designer. The cast bronze dress and overcoat in Without Words are so lifelike in form that they actually serve as surrogates (substitutes) for human figures. The two bronze forms and the fragment of what appears to be an ancient marble head together reveal Shea’s fascination with contemporary life and ancient cultures. The seemingly unrelated figures, the puzzling title, and the ambiguous meaning of this work suggest that the artist’s intention is not to provide definite answers, but to imply the possibility of a story and provoke the viewer’s imagination.

Text for Judith Shea, Without Words (1988), from the curriculum guide The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: A Garden for All Seasons, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1998.

Copyright 1998 Walker Art Center