Richard Nonas, whose hand-made sculptures helped define post-minimalism, has died at 85
Anthropologist turned post-minimalist sculptor Richard nonas died in New York on May 11.
Born in New York, Nonas was born in 1936 and studied literature and social anthropology at university. He then worked as an anthropologist, conducting fieldwork on Native Americans for a decade. His travels across North America took him to Mexico, Canada, and the American Southwest, but it wasn’t until his return to New York City in the mid-1960s that he began to making art, almost by accident.
While working as an anthropology professor at Queens College, Nonas began picking up pieces of wood he found while walking his dog.
âI started to bring the wood home and move it around. The idea of ââart never occurred to me, âNonas told the Brooklyn train in 2013. âA few months later, a friend came to my apartment and said, ‘Idiot, it’s called art. This is called sculpture.
In no time, Nonas became part of a community of young artists in New Yorkâthe legend has it that on his first visit to the famous art bar Max’s Kansas City, Nonas met Richard Serra and Carl AndrÃ© and immediately visited their studios.
It was a time of transformation for the city’s art scene, with the emergence of Soho and the rise of alternative art spaces such as artist gallery 112 Greene Street, where Nonas exhibited alongside Serra, co-founder of the gallery Gordon Matta-Clark, and performance artist Vito Acconci.
Nonas’ work was also included in “Under the Brooklyn Bridge,” the 1971 exhibition curated by Matta-Clark and Alanna Heiss, founder of PS1 in Queens. The show brought avant-garde assemblages and performances by people like Sol LeWitt, Keith Sonnier, and Dennis Oppenheim at the foot of the titular bridge.
For Nonas, sculpture was a deeply emotional and philosophical quest. “It’s the way the room feels that matters – the way it changes that piece of space you both find yourself in, thickens it and makes it vibrate – like nouns that turn into verbs.” , he wrote in a 1985 notebook.
Using wood, stone and industrial materials, Nonas aimed to interrupt the surrounding environment with his work, which featured repeated geometric shapes.
âAs an artist (and friend), Richard Nonas’ cheerful, scholarly and contrarian vision makes the straightforward definition of his work a challenge. He wouldn’t have done it any other way, âFergus McCaffrey’s partner Allyson Spellacy told Artnet News in an email. âThe testimonies of Nonas’ uninterrupted investigations – objects, installations, drawings, books, scribbled notes – will continue to inspire and support us. “
âI am wary of sculpture which emphasizes process, duration or growth. I trust the sculpture whose making and being are finished immediatelyâ¦ â, wrote Nonas in Bomb in 1989. âI trust the sculpture which does not grow, but which simply appears – shivering, like a knife stuck in wood. “
Institutions that have collected Nonas’ work include the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The artist also has permanent installations at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
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