Albert Wein

Review from Sept 2008

Four horsemen, wretched and desiccated, cloaked and flying blindly, gallop out of the eye of a bronze cylinder in the shape of a mushroom cloud. They represent the biblical horsemen of the Apocalypse—Conquest, War, Famine and Death—that sculptor Albert Wein thought nuclear weapons would unleash on the earth.

Wein, though not a household name, was a highly decorated sculptor. His career began in the ’30s and ended with his death in 1991. “He was one of that generation that has just now been rediscovered,” David Dearinger, curator and art historian, says. “The group that kept ‘the figure’ alive in art.”

The first major retrospective of Wein’s work is showing in Boston. Curated by Dearinger, the show is timed to coincide with the publication of the first major monograph of Wein’s life and work.

The collection begins with a piece Wein crafted when he was 19. “Idealized Head” is a granite sculpture that, while crude in design, exhibits the style that Wein used throughout his life. The head’s features are simplified and angular but its basic shape is not abstracted. Over time, Wein would be known for a classical appreciation of the human figure, informed by his appreciation for abstraction. Wein himself once said that his goal was “to modernize and stylize the classical tradition.”

As he was coming into his own as an artist, the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and Wein, like many artists, worked for the federal works project, the Works Projects Administration. Much of his work from this WPA period depicts what were considered “American themes” by the WPA laborers and working-class families. Wein’s figures look like they were lifted from a Diego Rivera mural and given an extra dimension. The strength of their hands, forearms and chests are exaggeratedly strong and prominent, and their strength and pose seemingly extol the virtue of labor.

The formative years of Wein’s life were lived between the great wars, and though he was too young to fight in World War I and too old to fight in World War II, spending his life in the shadow of conflict affected him deeply. He became a committed pacifist and some of the most powerful work in the show reflects his contempt for the human cost of war.

In addition to the four horsemen, Wein painted a series of watercolors for display in the Jewish Museum in New York. The two examples displayed at the retrospective hold the greatest currency in the show, given our ongoing twin wars. In “Two Figures” the outlines of a pair of human figures stand before a wrecked wall and a crumbling wrought iron gate. One has a hand outstretched, palm toward the sky, the other hunkers beneath the first, nearly unidentifiable as a human being. They are standing on a desolate landscape, what was a city.

This entry was posted in Media. Bookmark the permalink.