Reuben Nakian, American (1897 - 1986)

Born in College Point, New York, he studied at the Robert Henri School with Homer Boss and A.S. Baylinson. He also studied at the Art Students League and from 1917 to 1920, apprenticed to Paul Manship and Gaston Lachaise. He was inspired by the myths of ancient Greece and Rome. He taught sculpture at the Newark Fine Arts and Industrial Arts College and at Pratt Institute in New York City. 

Reuben Nakian was a giant of twentieth-century modernist American sculpture. His art-historical stride extended from an apprenticeship with Paul Manship and a studio assistantship with Gaston Lachaise, to his role as a major participant in the discourse surrounding Abstract Expressionism, particularly with Arshile Gorky and Willem DeKooning. During his seventy-five year career as an artist, he established a profound oeuvre based almost entirely on energetic, daring, and often-erotic abstractions of the female figure. A prolific sculptor in stone, terra cotta, plaster, steel, and bronze, Nakian remained a vital creative force until his death in 1986.

While Reuben Nakian's work has been shown in museums and galleries around the world (the Reuben Nakian Centennial Retrospective exhibition was on view at the Reading Public Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania until January 10, 1998, and moved in early February to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., for a two-month stay), this exhibition was his first solo show in Boston.

The earliest work include animal studies from the 1920's, which reveal Nakian's stylistic relationship to direct stone carving. This popular style, which emerged from the more linear Art Deco style, stressed mass and volume over line, but retained Art Deco's stylized surfaces and suggestively abstracted forms. Related works on paper reveal that the issue of drawing, however, was always central to Nakian's aesthetic.

Nakian's freestanding figures and figurative groups represent the work for which he is best known. These gestural, Abstract Expressionist sculptures are based on the radical abstraction of the female form as a way to transcend mere appearance to address more primal, essential issues. They are often erotic, sometimes tragic and always passionate engagements of deep emotional and spiritual states. The titles, appropriately, refer to characters and stories from classical mythology, which underscores the deep psychological underpinnings of the work, and reveals Nakian's undying allegiance to Mediterranean history and culture. These sculptures also exhibit Nakian's consistent preoccupation with drawing, through their insistent linear thrust into space.

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