Over the last thirty years, Martin Puryear has created a body of work that defies categorization, creating sculpture and works on paper that examines identity, culture, and history. Puryear’s sculpture combines modernist abstraction with traditions of crafts and woodworking, in shapes informed by the natural world and by ordinary objects and made with materials such as wood, stone, tar, bronze, and wire. As a student, the artist studied ornithology, falconry, and archery, and in the 1960s he volunteered with the Peace Corps in West Africa, where he schooled himself in the region’s indigenous crafts; these are only a few of the influences that have embedded themselves in his work. “I think there are a number of levels at which my work can be dealt with and appreciated,” Puryear has said. “It gives me pleasure to feel there’s a level that doesn’t require knowledge of or immersion in the aesthetic of a given time or place.”
Martin Puryear was born in 1941 in Washington, D.C., and was educated at Catholic University, the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm, and Yale University. His first one-person exhibition opened in 1968, and since that time he has exhibited his work through out the world, with public commissions in Europe, Asia, and the United States. He represented the United States at the 1989 Bienal de São Paulo, where he was awarded the festival’s Grand Prize, and his work was included in the 1992 Documenta. In 2007 The Museum of Modern Art, New York, organized a retrospective exhibition of his work which traveled to the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. In 2015 the Art Institute of Chicago organized an exhibition of his works on paper, the first to explore this aspect of the artist's oeuvre, which will open at the Morgan Library & Museum and travel to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Puryear received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1982, a MacArthur Foundation award in 1989, the Gold Medal in Sculpture by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2007, and the National Medal of Arts in 2011.