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"You get the best of both worlds—you get to have the conversation of the time period show but also the depth of a retrospective."
































































"Sculpture can be really hard just by its nature of being three dimensional and in the middle of the gallery. It competes with us for space in a way that painting, which is typically against a wall, doesn’t."

Grant Spotlight: A New American Sculpture: 1914-1945 at the Portland Museum of Art


In 2017, through a grant from the American Art Program, the Portland Museum of Art launched A New American Sculpture, 1914-1945: Gaston Lachaise, Robert Laurent, Elie Nadelman, and William Zorach. Co-organized by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the exhibition showcased the work of four European-born artists who each immigrated to the United States and emerged as one of America’s preeminent modernist sculptors. The project stood out to Terry Carbone, the Foundation’s Program Director for American Art, for the museums’ willingness to tackle exceptional work in an underrepresented medium. “The logistics of organizing a sculpture-centered exhibition can be incredibly complicated, especially for loan exhibitions,” shared Carbone. “Given that the show additionally proposed a deep-dive into pre-contemporary artists, the director and curators showed a lot of daring in their choices, which we wanted to encourage.”

After it’s run at the Portland Museum of Art, the show travels to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Tennessee followed by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Texas. During the show’s final weeks in Portland, we spoke with curator Andrew Eschelbacher to discuss the inspiration, challenges, and legacy of A New American Sculpture.

Q: What led to this exhibition?

AE: During the summer of 2015, the Portland Museum of Art was the venue for an exhibition of the Maine Art Museum Trail. Each of the eight museums on the trail came together to tell the history of art in Maine and the way that that was connected to the history of American Art.

There was a certain angle when you stood in the exhibition where you saw a work by Robert Laurent, a work by Gaston Lachaise, and a work by William Zorach. They were very different sculptures, made of different materials—one was stone, one was bronze, one was wood—but there was something about the union between them that suggested a formal connection bristling underneath the surface. We were toying with that idea, trying to figure out what we needed to turn that into a show because it was really clear.

I got on the phone with my colleague Shirley Reece-Hughes from the Amon Carter Museum who had previously done some work on several of these artists and their connection to American folk art. She quickly said, “What if we add Nadelman to the mix?” and all of a sudden, everything fell into place.

Q: Why focus on these specific artists?

AE: By choosing four artists and this discrete period, 1914-1945, we really got to dive deeply into all of them, to understand the changes and evolutions of their careers as individual artists and to see them in conversation with the changes and evolutions of their peers. You get the best of both worlds—you get to have the conversation of the time period show but also the depth of a retrospective.

All four of them were born in Europe, spent important time in Paris between 1900 and 1914, but then truly assimilated to become American artists. Whether it’s the dancers, the acrobats, the burlesque performers or the idea of family or folk, they captured the energy and spirit of modern life in America during this interbellum period.

These four were also at the center of a change in sculpture, a period when artists were looking for new styles and new forms. While that led many to move towards more abstraction and cubism, these artists maintained the integrity of the human form but with the same Modernist sensibilities that are about the union of line, curve, and volume.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in designing and mounting a primarily sculptural exhibition?

AE: Some of the works are really heavy! I am amazingly in debt to our prep staff who built full-scale cardboards of 65-70% of the objects in the show. We basically installed the show in cardboard first to figure out if the pedestals were in the right place and what types of angles we wanted because when we were working with very large, very heavy sculptures, we wanted to move them as few times as possible.

The other thing we really cared about was making sure that you had 360-degree access to as many of the works as possible. We had to think about the space and how people would walk around because that’s one of the real beauties of sculpture, to be able to see it from different angles. So much of the sculpture that we have in the show really begs you to walk around it in a circle.

The last thing that I thought was important in terms of the installation was that we didn’t want to do four individual shows with each artist following the next. We wanted themes that captured what we meant by “A New American Sculpture,” so we chose the ideas of a new past, a new movement, a new technique, and a new America. As you move through the space, the different themes constantly show up and speak back to one another. You see examples of what you learned in the previous section and can apply that to the next.

Q: What have been people’s reactions to the show?

AE: I think what’s been most surprising has been people’s embrace and thirst for sculpture and these sculptural projects. Sculpture can be really hard just by its nature of being three dimensional and in the middle of the gallery. It competes with us for space in a way that painting, which is typically against a wall, doesn’t. People have really embraced that and looked closely and thoughtfully at the art. As someone who really cares about materiality, process, and technique, it’s awesome to see people look closely and ask questions: How is this made? How did he do this? How come it balances that way? These questions show a real engagement and curiosity.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from this exhibition and think about further?

AE: I think—and hope—that A New American Sculpture will help accelerate our consideration of the richness of transnational exchange, especially in sculpture. Lachaise, Laurent, Nadelman, and Zorach were all part of a broad European-American network where ideas circulated and moved between regions, countries, and continents. And these artists are just one expression of that wide-ranging cultural interchange. They are part of a broader story about American sculpture, European sculpture, and the rich exchanges between the two.


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“The director and curators showed a lot of daring in their choices, which we wanted to encourage."

—Terry Carbone, Program Director for American Art















































"We had to think about the space and how people would walk around because that’s one of the real beauties of sculpture, to be able to see it from different angles."