In the Garden will feature six of seven cast bronze and hand painted benches created by the acclaimed artist Betty Woodman over the last seventeen years, sited amid Italianate garden terraces, ornamental trees and shrubs, and meandering moss-covered paths. As well as marking the largest showing in the U.S. of these bronze benches, the exhibition also includes a unique bronze table and two large decorated outdoor clay flowerpots.
“It is a special pleasure to see these formally inventive and colorful benches where the artist intended them to be—in a garden, not a gallery. Our visitors are invited to look, touch, sit and rest,” says Peter Blanchard, the founder and a trustee of Greenwood Gardens.
Betty Woodman is widely acknowledged as a pioneer of ceramic sculpture who has broadly expanded the use of clay as a medium for vanguard art. Since beginning as a production potter in 1950, through her teaching, solo exhibitions, and inclusion in over 50 museum collections, she has redefined the medium of clay and the possibilities of sculpture.
“This presentation is a unique opportunity for the public to experience a surprising new facet of Betty’s art making, installed to its best advantage,” says Patterson Sims, former director of the Montclair Art Museum and curator of In the Garden.
“For those who associate Betty’s work only with the medium of clay, the exhibition will be a revelation,” continues Sims. “The bronze benches reflect the colorful motifs and formal inventiveness of Woodman’s sculptures and multi-part wall and floor installations. After more than six decades of working primarily with the malleable but fragile medium of clay, bronze allows her to create unbreakable functional objects in the context of nature and architecture.”
“Bronze interested me because it is a material that always starts as something else, such as clay or wax. Clay into bronze seemed like a natural step for me to make as I needed something that could go outdoors,” says Betty Woodman.
Woodman’s benches cross-pollinate and deconstruct lyrical shapes and colors reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s late cutouts with vivid cartoon-like exaggeration and humor. The properties of bronze allow her to punch out holes in the back rests, consider the seats as canvas, and design support legs as if they were ceramic urns. Sinuous arm rests metamorphosize into vines, then cup handles, then back to vines as they lace through the back rests. Scrunched-up urns and pitchers are painted blue, yellow ochre, brick red, and verdigris green or pop up in the negative in the form of cutouts.
“Years ago, at Herculaneum, I saw a group of amphorae jars leaning casually on each other in the sun,” recalls Woodman. “The big bronze bench on view in this exhibition mimics this gesture and another memory of Etruscan tombs with reclining figures on their lids. A smaller one seems to derive from Roman furniture: its design alludes to an amphora resting on one elbow or handle and leaning on a Roman krater form.”
“I absolutely see my art as overtly useful and functional. This is particularly true with the bronze benches,” the artist notes.
“Betty has transformed clay into art objects of great ambition, erudition and wit. Here she transforms bronze—traditionally a medium of high art—into functional objects intended for use and delight,” says Sims.
“Spanning lengths as long as eight feet, the benches on view in In the Garden would be impossible to make in clay,” notes Sims. Based upon her hand-formed miniature models of bench forms in clay, Woodman’s bronze benches are scaled up with drawings and fashioned by sand-casting multiple sections that are welded together. Her drawings are then translated and marked in chalk onto an actual bench and a craftsman applies the patina, carefully following her drawing. The master craftsman Mario Belfiore and his associates at the now closed Fonderia Artistica Belfiore in Pietrasanta, Italy, collaborated with Woodman to realize her vision. Each bench is fabricated in an edition of six with two artist’s proofs.
“Bronze’s patina changes one’s sense of shapes and the patinas I was able to achieve at the foundry in Pietrasanta get quite close to the way I use color on the surface of my ceramics,” says the artist.
Woodman’s other works in bronze include two extensive wall installation commissions with fountains; one for a private sculpture garden in Perugia, Italy and the other completed as part of the 2016 Liverpool Biennial.
Click here to view a short video about the private fountain in Perugia.
Internationally recognized as one of today’s most important artists, Betty Woodman (b. 1930) began her career as a production potter and has since gone on to create a complex body of ceramic sculpture. Woodman studied ceramics at The School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University in Alfred, New York, from 1948-1950. She has received many honors including a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at the Bellagio Study Center, Bellagio, Italy, 1995; National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1980 and 1986; and a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship to Florence Italy, 1966. Recent honors include the Gold Medal for Consummate Craftsmanship from the American Craft Council, 2014; the National Artist Award from Anderson Ranch, 2010; the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Brooklyn Museum/Modernism Design Award, 2009; and honorary doctorates from Rhode Island School of Design in 2009, University of Colorado in 2007 and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2006. From 1979-1998, Woodman taught at the University of Colorado Boulder where she is now Professor Emeritus. She currently lives and works in New York City and Antella, Italy.
Over the course of her lengthy career, Betty Woodman has had numerous solo exhibitions at museums and galleries internationally as well as frequent group exhibitions. Since her retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, “The Art of Betty Woodman,” in 2006, these include: “Betty Woodman: Theatre of the Domestic,” Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 2016; “Betty Woodman,” Museo Marino Marini, Florence, 2015; “BIACI - 1st Bienial Internacional de Arte Contemporáneo Cartagena de Indias, Colombia,” Cartagena, 2014; “Alessandro’s Rooms,” Art Unlimited, Art Basel, Basel, 2013; “Playing House,” Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, 2012; “Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-1990,” Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2011; “Roman Fresco/Pleasures and Places,” American Academy in Rome, Rome, 2010; “L’allegra vitalità delle porcellane,” Museo Delle Porcellane, Palazzo Pitti, Giardino di Boboli, Florence, 2009; and many more. Woodman recently completed major commissions at the U.S. Courthouse in Jefferson City, Missouri through the General Services Administration, 2012, and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China for the State Department’s Art in Embassies program, 2008. Her work is included in more than fifty public collections including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York; Musée des Arts Decoratifs Paris, France; Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Lisbon, Portugal; Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York.
Woodman is represented by Salon 94, New York; David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin; and Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich.