By Chris Bergeron/Daily News staff www.metrowestdailynews.com GHS Posted Oct 12, 2008 @ 02:00 PM BOSTON —
Albert Wein created some of the most heroic and sensual sculptures you’ve probably never seen.
But if you saw his frankly erotic nude “Phryne Before the Judges” or the monumental granite goliath “Unity” spanning the Columbia River, you’d never forget his name.
In the first retrospective of his work, “Albert Wein: American Modernist,” more than 50 of his classic sculptures, paintings and medals are now displayed at the Boston Athenaeum.
The exhibit also showcases 13 of Wein’s vivid, often haunting Modernist paintings that reveal his craft and distinctive response to different 20th century movements.
Visitors will discover a singular artist who glorified the human figure in bold, beautiful sculptures that combined classical forms with 20th century dynamism. They will also see a multitalented artist whose painting styles ranged from Cubist to abstract and prophetically symbolic.
Now mostly ignored or forgotten, Wein’s work in this exhibit should reintroduce an American original who deserves to be reassessed as a first-rate sculptor who captured the energy and ideas of his times without compromise or capitulating to public sentiment.
Displayed in the Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery, the show runs through Nov. 29.
The stately Athenaeum, rising above Beacon Hill, provides the perfect setting for Wein’s art.
The sculptures, paintings and medals seem at home in the nation’s largest subscription library, which claims as members national luminaries including John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Herman Melville.
Born in 1915, Wein was a prodigy who studied several artistic disciplines to become a nationally recognized sculptor whose fame was eclipsed after his death in 1991 by the rise of abstract and conceptual art.
The majestic sculptures on display seem as if they belong in the Athens of Pericles or the Coliseum of Rome.
As if forged in the Earth’s molten guts, Wein’s muscular granite “Adam” gazes skyward as though to challenge the heavens. His “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” gallop atop a jagged bronze mushroom cloud like wraiths from hell.
Ecstatically arching her back, the bronze “Eve With Snake” reaches up to cup the serpent’s jaws like a mother comforting a child.
Welcome to Wein’s vanishing world.
In an age dominated by self-referential conceptual and abstract art, Wein emerges as a sculptor whose bold works express the grand impulses and dynamic energy of a long-gone Heroic Age.
The exhibit was organized by David Dearinger, the Athenaeum’s curator of painting and sculpture, who knew the late sculptor and remains an expert on his work.
Following the artist’s death, his widow, Deyna Wein, called Dearinger and asked, “How do we keep his flame alive?” This exhibit provides a major step.
Dearinger praised Wein for creating his signature look by fusing classic and modernist elements that made his sculptures both timeless and contemporary.
He hopes the exhibit prompts both a critical re-evaluation and popular interest in Wein and artists of his times who revered the human figure. He said critics and the art market are just “rediscovering those American sculptors who came of age during the 1930s and ’40s.”
“Many of these men and women were trained in the traditional aesthetics of Classicism. They initially worked in the Art Deco movement, gained experience through WPA (Work Projects Administration) projects and ultimately helped bring Modernism to America. Albert Wein was one of those artists and it’s exciting for us to collaborate with the artist’s estate in presenting this, the first major exhibition of his work,” he said.
Dearinger believes Wein’s style resulted from a combination of influences including an early interest in art and the classical nude, a passion for music and theater inherited from his mother, and study at the National Academy of Design in New York and Beaux-Arts Institute of Fine Arts in Manhattan, which employed a European curriculum focused on the training of architects.
Wein’s subjects ranged from mythological and religious figures, larger-than-life humans, sculpted tributes to musicians such as Pablo Casals and even Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan atop the mound.
Albert Wein at Boston Anthenaeum
While Wein’s sculptures are often described as “classical,” many embody a primitive element of exaggerated features and musculature that conveys a seeming superhuman power.
Rather than mimic Classical examples, Dearinger emphasized that Wein “idealized” his figures to convey their beauty or moral purpose. And he observed that Wein imbued his figures with the energy and grace he also admired in classical music and dance.
In early sculptures like “Harvest” and “Man With Plow,” Wein’s powerful male figures never display the stolidity of later Soviet-era statuary but retain their athletic grace.
As organized by Dearinger, the exhibit flushes out the breadth of Wein’s achievement from his sculpture to his detailed medals, from prophetic paintings like his “Atom Bomb” series to designing sets for television including “The Ernie Kovacs Show.”
While many might regard the 30-foot-tall relief of the figure “Unity” he designed for the Libby Dam in Montana as his crowning achievement, several works of a more intimate scale reveal Wein’s visionary breadth.
His 14-inch bronze “Sermon On The Mount” rises from a small pedestal as if preparing for his Ascension. Though made to serve as a logo for a television show, Wein’s angular 1959 “Don Quixote” atop his beloved steed “Rocinante” conveys the farcical idealism of the Spanish knight errant.
And perhaps more than any single work, his powerful “Four Horseman,” finished five years before his death, combines classical and abstract elements to convey Wein’s deep fears about the atomic arms race.
While this is the first major retrospective of Wein’s work, it should not be the last but, rather, open the door for an undervalued treasure.
The Boston Athenaeum is located at 10-1/2 Beacon St., Boston, just a short walk from the State House.
Admission to the gallery is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are: Monday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The exhibit is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated hardcover catalog, “Albert Wein: American Modernist,” written by David Dearinger. It costs $55. For more information call 617-227-0270 or visit www.bostonathenaeum.org.