Rochester sculptor Albert Paley has earned an international reputation for his ability to manipulate cold, hard metal into organic, seemingly impossible forms. Over a career spanning more than three decades, he has completed more than 60 monumental commissions for sites from Washington DC to Houston to Los Angeles. Now he is the subject of Albert Paley in the 21st Century, an exhibition that brings together 37 sculptures and models and 16 drawings produced between 2000 and 2010.
Highlights include a 15-foot-long model of the gates Paley designed for the St. Louis Zoo, populated by a steel rhino, giraffe, egrets, fish and a host of other animals; the bright red, 12-foot-tall model for a much larger outdoor sculpture in Charleston, West Virginia; and the magnificent design study for a gate at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Visitors will have the opportunity to watch a video on the making of RITs immense Sentinel sculpture and to explore through photographic documentation the aesthetic, engineering and logistical challenges of working on a very large scale.
The Memorial Art Gallery
is the only venue for the show, which remains on view through June 27.
Albert Paley is a Romantic, writes exhibition curator Marie Via, and by this I mean that nature and our relationship with it dominates his aesthetic. He is endlessly fascinated by plant life, sometimes interpreting its structures quite literally, and then again abstracting it to a suggestion of itself. At the intellectual core of his work is the belief that natural forms have the power to humanize the minimalist architecture of factories, apartment complexes and arts centers.
He understands that people who try to work, live, shop and relax behind brutal facades can find some sort of balance by walking through or passing by artworks that celebrate our connection with nature.
A graduate of Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, where he received his BFA and MFA, Paley began his career as a goldsmith, the maker of jewelry that might be described as futuristically Art Nouveau. A decade later, working in forged and fabricated steel, he came to national prominence with an exquisite set of portal gates for the Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
As the scale of his work grew, so did his reputation as an artist. He has earned the description of iconoclastic traditionalist for his ability to successfully integrate naturalism and abstraction in a personal and highly recognizable aesthetic. Albert Paleys work is assertively virile; huge bars of steel, twisted, hammered and welded as though in a giants smithy, writes art historian James Trilling. That it is also personal and graceful is the measure of his brilliance.
Today, Paleys work can be found in the permanent collections of such museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; and the Memorial Art Gallery.
Commissioned by both public institutions and private corporations, he has completed more than 60 sitespecific works. In addition to the Renwick gates, notable examples include entrance gates for the New York State Senate Chamber in Albany and the Naples (FL) Museum of Art; a sculpture and plaza designed for Adobe Systems in San Jose, CA; and a plaza sculpture for AT&T in Atlanta, GA.
Most recently, he has completed a sculptural relief for Wellington Place, Toronto; a pair of entrance sculptures for the Columbia (MO) Public Library; Threshold, an entryway sculpture for the headquarters of Klein Steel in Rochester; and two works explored in the current exhibitionthe 120-foot long entryway sculpture for the St. Louis Zoo and RITs The Sentinel.
The recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Rochester, SUNY Brockport and St. Lawrence University, Paley holds an endowed chair at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
In 1995 he became the first metal sculptor to receive the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute for Architects, the AIAs highest award to a non-architect.
In October 2009, a retrospective of Paleys work opened at Grounds for Sculpture, a 35-acre museum and sculpture park in Hamilton, NJ. Craftsmanship of the highest order characterizes every sculpture in this show, wrote reviewer Benjamin Genocchio in the New York Times (February 5, 2010). So smooth and fluid are the transitions that it is hard to believe these sculptures are made of metal.