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Harry Bertoia: Monotypes and Sculpture    Apr 5 - May 12, 2013


Adelson Galleries Boston is pleased to exhibit the monotypes and sculpture of Harry Bertoia (1915-1978): Opening Friday, April 5th through Sunday, May 12th, 2013.

The Italian-born artist moved to the United States at age 15 with his father, and enrolled in the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. By 1937, he was awarded a scholarship to the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, MI, where he studied under many famous artists and designers, such as Walter Gropius. The experience was a turning point in Bertoia’s life, and allowed him to experiment with new forms of artwork. He began producing a variety of sculpture as well as one-of-a-kind Monotypes (or monoprints), whereby he would ink glass, press rice paper onto it, and then etch designs with tools or his fingers on the backside of the paper. Each “print” is unique, and of the many that he made, no two are alike. In 1943, Bertoia exhibited 19 of these monotypes at the Guggenheim Museum of Non-Objective Art in a group show, alongside works by Moholy-Nagy and others. Bertoia continued making monotypes until the end of his life – he could produce them quickly and they were instrumental as preliminary drawings for all of his designs.

Harry Bertoia was an intuitive creator. In the 1950s, he became well known for his innovative chair designs at Knoll Furniture. Following his success in furniture design, architects all over the country commissioned large-scale sculpture by Bertoia, such as the altar in the MIT chapel. By the 1960s, he began pioneering “tonal,” or sound sculpture. Since his childhood, Harry was envious of his father and brother’s musical abilities, so he decided to create an instrument that anyone could play. These “tonal” sculptures, also known as Sonambients, produce a Zen-like, sometimes haunting, chime when touched. He fabricated gongs as well as “singing bars” – varying in size from six inches to twenty feet. None were cast in editions; thus, like his monotypes, each piece is unique. He created these sculptures to contribute his visions of the world to humanity; unfortunately, the creation of the sculptures came with a price.

The toxic fumes from welding the beryllium copper in his sculptures catalyzed his lung cancer and inevitably ended his life at 63 years old. Although he saw the end of his life come quickly, he accepted it gracefully, and remarked, “Man is not important. Humanity is what counts, to which, I feel, I have given my contribution” (October 9, 1978).

The monotypes in the exhibition are gathered from the estate of the artist and show the range of his creative process. The sculptures that we have on display are a small but exemplary sampling of his work. Our exhibition focuses on the relationships between his monotypes and sculpture. Since each monotype acted as a source of inspiration for his sculpture, the viewer has the opportunity to trace the mental process of the artist from initial design to final creation.

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