Arts, News

Martin Puryear selected to exhibit at the Venice Biennale


By Frederick H. Lowe


Martin Puryear shakes hands with President Obama after accepting an award from him.

You can stop holding your breath or biting your nails because the U.S. State Department has finally chosen an American artist to exhibit at next year’s 58th Venice Biennale.

Ladder for Booker T. Washington

The State Department on August 19th —- more than three months late —- selected Martin Puryear, a 77- year-old African-American artist, known for minimalist, abstract sculptures made from bronze and wood. Puryear will exhibit his work at the U.S. pavilion in Venice from May to November.

The exhibition was commissioned and will be curated by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, director of the Madison Square Park Conservancy in New York City, according to ArtDaily Newsletter.

One of Puryear’s sculptures includes “Ladder for Booker T. Washington,” which was unveiled in 1996. The ladder is more than thirty-five-feet tall and it narrows toward the top,

The work of art honors Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, and the Negro Business Council.

Puryear’s art focuses on African-American history and slavery.

Puryear, who lives in upstate New York, worked  in Sierra Leone from 1964 to 1966 as a member of the Peace Corps. The country is located in West Africa.

He studied printmaking in Sweden and learned how to weave in Japan. Puryear earned an MFA from Yale and  he taught at Fisk University, a Historically Black College in Nashville, Tennessee.

When a fire destroyed his studio in 1977, he moved to Chicago and taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

He has exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded him the National Medal of Arts.

Puryear was born in Washington, DC, in 1941.


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