The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2012

All Issues
SEPT 2012 Issue

Some Shorter Lines for MARTIN PURYEAR

A few months ago, Martin Puryear asked me to write an essay for a catalogue to accompany an exhibition of his new work at McKee Gallery (May 3 - June 29, 2012). When I went to Martin’s studio to see the sculptures that would appear in the show, the wheels immediately began to turn, and I knew that I could write the essay. In the essay, titled “Looking Back to Move Forward,” there were certain things I felt I needed to do, and some things I could not do. The sculptures continued to work on me, and the wheels kept turning. So here are four further attempts at “language in the vicinity of what it’s talking about,” as Bill Berkson (quoting Carter Ratcliff paraphrasing Robert Smithson) defined criticism. The titles are Martin’s.

Martin Puryear, “The Rest,” 2009-10. Bronze. 47 x 35 x 20 inches. Edition of 2. © Martin Puryear. Courtesy McKee Gallery, New York.
Martin Puryear, “Black Cart,” 2008. Color aquatint etching with chine colle. 35 x 28. Edition of 50. © Martin Puryear. Courtesy McKee Gallery, New York.
Martin Puryear, “Scrolling,” 2011. Alaskan yellow cedar. 46 5/8 x 60 7/8 x 13”. © Martin Puryear. Courtesy McKee Gallery, New York.
Martin Puryear, “The Load,” 2012. Wood, steel, glass. 91 x 185 x 74”. © Martin Puryear. Courtesy McKee Gallery, New York.

The Rest

The rest might ask
What’s at stake
In rolling stock
From a stuck era?

Move on, they’ll say,
But their memories
Will not necessarily
Be loaded with bodies.

Here, the load
Is carefully concealed
In medium and scale,
But vivid, in the making.
The cart rocks back
To lift its tongue
In praise, insubordination,
And hope.

The Rest is history.

Black Cart

A shadow swells
On a scumbled ground,
Civil distortion,
Coming round and around.

A constellation cart
In a darkening sky,
Like a Big Dipper asterism
To the naked eye.

What’s rising
In this form,
In the back of a child’s head,
Heading into a storm?


Light on its feet,
Like a sign.
Only line,
With a little depth,
Suspended in mind,
Over the possibility
Of flight.

The Load

Carrus in a cortege,
Carrying the Angel of History
Forward, looking back,
A perfectly public sphere
Concealing a concave mirror
In which we see ourselves
Reflected, Etant donnés,
Back into our own
Implicated eyes.


David Levi Strauss

DAVID LEVI STRAUSS is the author of Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow (Aperture, 2014), From Head to Hand: Art and the Manual (Oxford University Press, 2010), Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics, with an introduction by John Berger (Aperture 2003, and in a new edition, 2012), and Between Dog & Wolf: Essays on Art and Politics (Autonomedia 1999, and a new edition, 2010). He is Chair of the graduate program in Art Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and he is on the faculty of the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2012

All Issues