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Retrospective survey of work by Albert Paley opens at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design
Albert Paley, Epoch, 2004. Formed and fabricated mild steel with polychrome finish. 24' × 12' × 10.58'. Commissioned by the DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities, Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Paley Studios.

WASHINGTON, DC.- This summer, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design presents American Metal: The Art of Albert Paley, a retrospective survey of work by one of the world’s most distinguished metalsmiths. Spanning his remarkable 50-year career, the exhibition traces Paley’s work as a jeweler and forger of metal, and progresses through his recent, large-scale sculptural projects to reveal the artist’s unique place in American art. Eric Turner, Curator of Metalwork, Silver, and Jewelry at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, curated the exhibition for the Corcoran.

American Metal includes approximately 75 objects in a variety of media, including paper, cardboard, wood, steel, bronze, and glass. Paley began his career as a jeweler and goldsmith before turning his full attention to blacksmithing in the early 1970s. The first of six galleries introduces Paley’s innovative style with his Portal Gates, commissioned for the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in 1974. The rest of this gallery is devoted to jewelry, furniture, and domestic metalwork, followed by a gallery featuring gates and doors. Two galleries focus on naturalistic works, and a fifth gallery shows photographs, drawings on paper, and various models that provide insight into the artist’s working process and design techniques. The final gallery is devoted to steel maquettes and photographs of the artist’s more recent, site-specific works. A 12-feet-high maquette for Hallelujah, a sculpture commissioned for the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia in Charleston, West Virginia, is being displayed outside the galleries. These objects encompass a full view of Paley’s innovative aesthetic and technical virtuosity.

Paley’s site-specific outdoor sculptures—called “architectural jewelry” by the artist—are individually distinctive and integrated into urban and suburban environments. From his jewelry and domestically-scaled works to his monumental outdoor sculptures, such as Rochester Institute of Technology’s Sentinel, 2003, made from COR-TEN steel, stainless steel, and bronze, Paley continually pushed the boundaries of making art with iron and steel.

“Albert Paley, in every step of his career, has challenged, upended, and redefined the role of craft, ornament, and fine art in modern, urban life,” said curator Eric Turner. “He not only established a valid, contemporary ironwork aesthetic, but with his more recent site-specific sculptures, has humanized the harshness of urban environments.”

American Metal serves as a homecoming of sorts for the artist, who, in 1972, won a competition to create a pair of gates for the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.—the original home for the Corcoran Gallery of Art before its present location on Seventeenth Street NW. The resulting commission for Portal Gates, 1974, was a pivotal moment in the artist’s career, setting him on a course for many other large-scale commissions and decades of focus. Paley’s work can be seen throughout the region; among others, Epoch, 2004, stands at the corner of Ninth and G Streets NW, Washington National Cathedral Gate, 2007, can be seen at the National Cathedral, and The Beckoning, a massive sculpture for the National Harbor in Fort Washington, Maryland, was completed in 2009.

“Albert Paley has over many years developed a strong relationship with Washington, D.C., and the Corcoran Gallery of Art,” says Peggy Loar, interim director and president, “From the Renwick’s Portal Gates, to the colorful outdoor sculpture Epoch, completed in 2004, to the gates he created for the Washington National Cathedral’s Good Shepherd Chapel in 2007, Paley’s art enlivens the capital city as we move through its public and private spaces.”

Paley is the first and remains the only metalsmith to be awarded the coveted Institute Honors, 1995, from the American Institute of Architects, the AIA’s highest award to a non-architect.

Work by Albert Paley can be found in the collections of more than 40 major museums including the Corcoran Gallery of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the British Museum, London; and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. To date he has had 37 solo exhibitions and has contributed to many group projects, several of which traveled internationally. One of the most significant of these foreign exhibitions was the ground-breaking project, Towards a New Iron Age, held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 1982, which helped to establish a contemporary aesthetic for ironwork. A distinguished professor, Paley holds an Endowed Chair position at the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology.

Paley received both his BFA and MFA degrees from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Rochester (1989), the State University of New York in Brockport (1996), St. Lawrence University (1997), and the University of Gothenberg in Sweden (2012).

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