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Martin Puryear (1941-)






Wood, wire mesh and tar


Overall: 75 3/8 × 102 9/16 × 89 9/16 in. (191.5 × 260.5 × 227.5 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee

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Object Label

Martin Puryear’s Sanctum, just over 6 feet tall, narrow in the neck and broad in the beam, is made with shipbuilding techniques: a wooden armature is sheathed in wire mesh and then covered with tar. As befits a structure offering sanctuary, it has a generous, embracing appearance, but it also suggests the ungainly bulk and implicit grace of a big boat in dry dock, or of a large sea mammal out of water. In one way or another, all of Puryear’s sculpture integrates exacting forms of traditional handcraft—especially various methods of woodworking—with vanguard sculptural strategies, including the reductive abstraction of Minimalism. But, he explains, “I was never interested in making cool, distilled, pure objects. Associations with recognizable subject matter are inevitable human reactions.”

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