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“Taking the World Apart is Easy, It is Getting it Back Together in an Acceptable Form That is Difficult”
Curated by Dan Nadel
September 16 - December 16, 2017
The Landing is pleased to present a Jeremy Anderson (1921-1982) retrospective exhibition. Arguably one of the two founding figures in Northern California sculpture, Anderson was the first sculptor in the region to seamlessly combine biomorphic abstraction, surrealist literary allusion and modernist wordplay in the form of meticulously crafted objects. He was, like his teacher, Clyfford Still, and students such as William T. Wiley and Robert Hudson, a one-man movement whose solitary work and aversion to groups has kept him from widespread recognition. His sculptures ranged from intimate erotic figures to epic totemic forms to wittily abstract landscape, all masterfully executed in, variously, magnesite, redwood, and polychrome. This exhibition, the largest survey of his work in over twenty years, presents sculptures and drawings made from 1950 to 1982.
Born and raised in Northern California, Anderson served in the US Navy from 1941 until the war’s end and then studied with Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, David Park, Clay Spohn and Robert Howard at the California School of Fine Arts. While receiving a heady indoctrination into Modernism, he also became fascinated with Surrealism as well as ancient weapons, Oceanic and African statuary, and ritual stone formations. By 1951 Anderson had a developed sense of his influences and interests: Surrealism, mythopoetic abstraction, wordplay, weaponry, worship objects, psychiatry, and sex. These interests fueled the creation of objects that have a profound sense of touch (whether his own or thousands of years of human contact), hold meaning within them, and suggest ideas to the viewer both functional and spiritual.
The earliest works in the present exhibition are plaster and magnesite, and in their globular and cage-like forms resemble Giacometti’s and Miro’s works. By the early 1950s, Anderson had settled on redwood—the most readily available material around his studio, but also one with a deep, ruddy coloration that became a hallmark of Anderson’s work. And these pieces, which were exhibited in Chicago and New York at Allan Frumkin and Stable Gallery, respectively, can be broken down into two categories: the horizontal planes, a la Noguchi and Giacometti, which nod at chess games, boats, and topographical maps of landscapes (which would become the artist’s primary mode of drawing in the 1960s), and complex vertical totems that twist, protrude bulbous masses, and house other boxes—these come very close to the worship objects Anderson loved.
The 1960s was perhaps Anderson’s most fertile decade. Anderson began a fruitful relationship with the Dilexi Gallery and was the subject of museum retrospectives in 1966-67 at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Pasadena Art Museum. In 1967, Peter Selz included Anderson in his Funk exhibition, where the artist was, like Peter Voulkos, viewed as an elder statesman. In works like Between, Source, and Altar, he finally combined horizontal and vertical, and made objects of profound strangeness. Between resembles the interior of a boat, with two levels. It holds forms inside it and is those forms. It manages to be object and container all at once. Source resembles an imagined worktable for the artist at work and at contemplation—if the table was also the work itself. And Altar is one of Anderson’s earliest nods at figuration. Upon two legs is a table and corresponding leaf.
As the decade wore on, he focused on color and figuration with a vengeance, making sculptures that synthesized the mystical vibes and formal mastery of his earlier sculptures with the bright Pop of that decade. Toys of a Prince, based on Giorgio De Chirico’s Playthings of a Prince, 1915, physically catalogs De Chirico’s “playthings” as though the painter had absurdly suggested they might need to exist one day as oversized polychrome objects set carefully on an enormous tabletop. Lotus Eaters is a hallucinatory symphony of sex-like forms—doing everything Anderson wanted to suggest about the pleasures of the flesh but not show. When Anderson was explicitly erotic, he made Belladonna Amaryllis, a life-sized female figure made of pine and posing atop a fake tiger skin surface. She might be related to Andersons’s miniature series, Mrs. Allfours—small bronzes of a woman in various poses and vignettes. These small works, along with Anderson’s much later Heart and Souls series, are among the artist’s most playful. This was a man, after all, whose favorite book was Finnegan’s Wake, and he reveled in ribald puns.
Anderson’s love of wordplay is very much on display in his drawings, which range from his map works, which identify places and ideas equally—from “A BEWILDERING VISIT TO THE SEASIDE” to “A NEW KIND OF LOVE” to “DOWN EAST.” The artist’s drawing activity included this and, of course, copious expressive drawings for sculptures—here Anderson seems to be finding form through lines, and often drawing the air around the form as well. The maps, and the drawings themselves, amply displayed here, are the surest way to track Anderson’s thoughts—as he might have put it, his entire artistic life was as a cartographer of the unconscious.