Over the last five decades Martin Puryear has created a body of work based on abstract organic forms rich with psychological, cultural, and historical references. His labor-intensive sculptures are made by hand at his studio in upstate New York. They combine practices adapted from many different traditions, including wood carving, joinery, and boat building, as well as more recent technology. As a student, Puryear studied ornithology, falconry, and archery, and in the 1960s he volunteered with the Peace Corps in west Africa, where he educated himself in the region’s indigenous crafts. Since then he has continued to travel extensively, observing a range of cultures and their unique approaches to object making. “I think there are a number of levels at which my work can be dealt with and appreciated,” he has said. “It gives me pleasure to feel there’s a level that doesn’t require knowledge of or immersion in the aesthetic of a given time or place.”
Martin Puryear (b. 1941) was born in Washington, DC. His first one-person exhibition was in 1968, and since then he has exhibited throughout the world, including public commissions in Europe, Asia, and the United States. His work was featured in Documenta 9, and in 1989 he represented the United States at the São Paulo Bienal, where he was awarded the festival’s Grand Prize. In 2007 the Museum of Modern Art in New York organized a survey of his work, which traveled to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. In 2015 the Art Institute of Chicago organized an exhibition of fifty years of his works on paper, which traveled to the Morgan Library and Museum in New York and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. Puryear received a MacArthur Foundation award in 1989 and a National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2011. In 2019 he represented the United States at the 58th Venice Biennale.