BIG BLING & THORNTON DIAL

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The installation of Big Bling is finally in Madison Square Park. The work is inside the park near 24th Street. The artist is Martin Puryear and this is the largest public art work the artist has done.

Madison Square Park Conservancy and renowned American sculptor Martin Puryear collaborated on Big Bling, which will be on view in Madison Square Park through January 8, 2017. The temporary outdoor work, the thirty-third public art exhibition mounted by Mad. Sq. Art, the free contemporary art program of Madison Square Park Conservancy, is a multi-tier wood structure wrapped in fine chain-link fence. A gold-leafed shackle is anchored near the top of the structure. At forty feet high, Big Bling achieves colossal scale and elicits a range of readings, stimulating diverse and profound interpretations of its meaning.

Big Bling is part animal form, part abstract sculpture, and part intellectual meditation. The artist’s signature organic vocabulary appears in a graceful, sinewy outline and an amoeboid form in the work’s center. The piece “will command Madison Square Park in New York like a kind of Trojan horse,” writes Hilarie M. Sheets in the October 1, 2015 issue of The New York Times.

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Thornton Dial (b. 1928 – d. 2016) uses a range of techniques from sinuous works on paper to monumental sculptures and densely packed assemblages of found materials. Born in Sumter County, Alabama, Dial has chosen to lean into his life’s hardships, drawing from his personal, as well as a collective, wellspring of experiences living as an African American man in the South through the middle of the twenty-first century. Dial’s work captures struggle and oppression, but also joy and wit, and challenges viewers to wrestle with their own preconceptions, prejudices, as well as ironies of being an American.

Through his art, Dial revealed the stories of those living in the rural south, highlighting the experiences and tensions among those of different class, race, and economic power over the last seven decades. In the latter part of his career, Dial pushed his perspective and work outward, choosing to connect with and interpret a more universal and contemporary history. We All Under the Same Old Flag explores this conceptual and aesthetic transition, and emphasizes Dial’s ability to capture a broader, national consciousness on the canvas.

A self-taught artist, Dial began constructing sculpture and assemblage with found scrap materials and objects from his job as a metalworker. He transformed old tires, chains, twigs, and rusted-tools, forming the foundation for his artistic practice for years to come. His highly textured wall reliefs, paintings, and gestural works on paper often employed a secret language of symbols that convey strength, survival, and freedom–important to the dialogue of the black experience. Dial also incorporated ideas and techniques from African-American quilt-making traditions, noticeable through the shape and scale of certain work, the incorporation of woven materials and used-clothing, and grid-like compositions. Overall, the identity of the “outsider” and the remembrance of a dark American past were essential histories for Dial to put forth visually.

As Dial began to tackle wider national histories of oppression and contemporary issues of freedom and equality, his work became more simplified in form and color palette and took on a more pluralist vision. In the days and months after the attacks on September 11, 2001, for instance, the artist worked fervently on largescale paintings and sculptures, trying to capture a nation’s emotion and position at the time. The resulting works incorporate elements of past approaches, but are more scaled and focused in their composition. More recent paintings, such as We all Live Under the Same Old Flag (2008) and American Orange Show (2004) similarly convey Dial as the politically-minded, self-reflective artist he has always been, but with a different, perhaps more proud sensibility.

 

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