El Paso, TX
Modern Stone Totems is a new exhibition of abstract yet figuratively suggestive sculptures installed in early December in the recently named Mac Rogers Fine Arts Gallery. Variously composed of different types of granite, limestone, marble, and onyx, and dating from 1971 to 1990, the four totem-like modernist stone sculptures entered the EPMA collection as gifts or purchases from 1971 to 2011. The unique surfaces and forms of each piece invite individual study, while their installation together in the space of the Mac Rogers Fine Arts Gallery proposes a dialogue between the works’ muted colors and between their evocative silhouettes.
The first of these sculptures to enter the collection was The Eagle, carved in 1971 by the Mexican painter and sculptor Leonardo Nierman (born 1932), and gifted by the artist the same year. At first glance the work might suggest the extremely simplified profile of a standing human figure, but then we can observe the sidewise soaring eagle indicated by the title. The sleek and waxy surfaces of this delicately and naturally fissured piece might recall the purified natural forms and contours in the work of Romanian-born French modernist sculptor Brancusi, while its fragile white onyx material transmits light in subtle ways when struck by the sun’s rays through the lobby windows. The other three sculptures in this elegant ensemble were created by American sculptors with strong Texas connections: Song Bird (1963) by Ben Woitena (born 1942); Guardian (1988) by Jill Sablosky (born 1954); and Ellipse (1990) by Jesús Moroles (born 1950). Song Bird was the latest addition to the collection, gifted in 2011 by the previous EPMA director, Becky Duval Reese, and her husband. Fashioned from Georgia gray marble, Song Bird leaves angles of the original rectangular stone slab intact, which encourages us to consider how the artist liberated his forms, and also frames and underlines the compositional sense of ascendant thrust. The sculpture by Jesús Moroles, Ellipse, features Moroles’s favorite medium, granite (in this case, Italian and Texan granites), a material he poetically considers “the core and heart of the universe.” And finally, Sablosky’s multi-piece Guardian incorporates Trani marble with Indiana, Cordova, Fossil, and Leuders limestones. While the varied textures and forms of these four sculptures hint at tactile pleasures and encourage us to imagine their carving, each of them also resembles a modern totem pole, encouraging us to walk between them and consider their potential shared, separate, and suggested meanings.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website