Topics in American Art since 1945

By Lawrence Alloway | Go to book overview

GEORGE SEGAL

The sculptures of George Segal are not cast from life in the usual sense that the material takes the direct impression of head or body. On the other hand, these sculptures do depend on the real bodily presence of the sitters, whom Segal wraps in bandages soaked in wet plaster. The sitters are protected by a layer of burlap or plastic as the chill dead weight of the impregnated material presses on them, absorbing the contours and posture of the enwrapped figures. Each separate section is cut off when it has hardened and joined ultimately with others to form the lunar crust of Segal's plasters.

What you see when you look at a Segal, then, is not a life cast but a skin, bearing on its buried interior surface the negative impression from which a conventional life cast would have been made. The exterior surface flows continuously in a way that recalls his origins as a painter; the plaster is, so to say, like a curving, folded painting, with comparatively little opening up or penetrating of the solid volumes. Spatial drama, where it occurs, is achieved by the sudden lifting of the whole figure, on a scaffolding or a ladder, or dropping it to the floor, in sleep or stupor.

The work process, as it blunts specific detail and muffles individual personality, performs an essentializing function, converting the documentary human traces into resonant images of humanity. Segal is one of the few figurative artists of this time who can generalize without becoming sentimental or gross. His figures have an expressive clumsiness, a kind of dumb concreteness that is stressed by their build—thick rather than athletic—as well as by their Frankenstein's monster feet. (The monster, as defined in early movies, was touching in its approximation to human bearing.)

In the catalogue of the exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in April [1970], a work called The Artist in his Loft is described as consisting of "plaster, wood, glass, porcelain, metal." A plaster figure is shaving before a circular mirror framed by washbasin, cupboards, shelves and heater, simulating the corner of a room. There is a distinction here that

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SOURCE: From The Nation (June 8, 1970), 702 ff.

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Topics in American Art since 1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Topics in American Art Since 1945 *
  • Contents 7
  • List of Illustrations 9
  • Introduction 11
  • Acknowledgments 13
  • Abstract Expressionism 15
  • The Biomorphic '40s 17
  • Melpomene and Graffiti - Adolph Gottlieb's Early Work 25
  • The American Sublime 31
  • Barnett Newman - The Stations of the Cross and the Subjects of the Artist 42
  • Jackson Pollock's Black Paintings 52
  • Jackson Pollock's "Psychoanalytic Drawings" 58
  • Willem De Kooning 62
  • The Sixties, I - Hard Edge and Systems 65
  • Leon Polk Smith 67
  • Systemic Painting 76
  • Serial Forms 92
  • Sol Lewitt 96
  • Agnes Martin - (with an Appendix) 100
  • Gesture into Form - The Later Paintings of Norman Bluhm 111
  • The Sixties, II - Pop Art 117
  • Pop Art - The Words 119
  • Jim Dine 123
  • Rauschenberg's Graphics 125
  • Jasper Johns' Map 136
  • Marilyn as Subject Matter 140
  • Roy Lichtenstein's Period Style 145
  • The Reuben Gallery - A Chronology 151
  • In Place 155
  • The Sixties, III - Problems of Representation 161
  • Hi-Way Culture - (with Notes on Alan D'Arcangelo) 163
  • Art as Likeness - (with a Note on Post-Pop Art) 171
  • George Segal 182
  • Photo-Realism 185
  • Art and Interface 193
  • Allan Kaprow, Two Views 195
  • Artists and Photographs 201
  • The Expanding and Disappearing Work of Art 207
  • Stolen - (with Arakawa: an Interview) 213
  • Radio City Music Hall 218
  • Robert Smithson's Development 221
  • Art Criticism and Society 237
  • Notes on Op Art 239
  • The Public Sculpture Problem 245
  • The Uses and Limits of Art Criticism 251
  • Index 271
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