OOSI Sculpture

Light Year

2009 / Ronald Bladen / Cleveland

bladen 1.JPG

Light Year can sometimes slip right by under the shade of the small grove of trees by Kelvin Smith Library, but if there’s any piece in the collection that deserves more notice, it is Ronald Bladen’s Light Year. Bladen is held in high esteem, often counted alongside Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Tony Smith as one of the most influential Minimalist sculptors of the movement. But he set himself apart from his peers by embracing humanism and romanticism in his work, instead of doing everything he could to vanquish any traces of natural form.

The Minimalist movement arose largely in response to the bright, busy work that came from the Abstract Expressionists, who often filled canvases with colors and shapes. Hardcore Minimalists went the other way completely: they sought to rid their art of any trace of human gesture and make it completely “anti-anthropomorphic”. Bladen, however, was a product of the Abstract Expressionist movement. His early career consisted of painting large avant-garde canvases in the Abstract Expressionist style. So he rejected the notions of the hardline Minimalists like Judd and Morris, and went the other way. His style of Minimalism is characterized entirely by being a reduction of the human form, because he wanted, to use his own words, “push abstract art just a little bit further without losing the poetry.” He continues to explain that he “desired something in the grand manner” since he considered himself a “Romantic” at heart.

One way that Bladen’s Abstract Expressionist background manifested in his sculpture is in the overly-complex substructures that lie beneath the aluminum surface. The final product itself certainly appears to be “traditionally Minimalist” but for some reason, all of Bladen’s works have a wooden infrastructure that has extraneous struts, braces that don’t actually contribute to any sort of support, and complex junctions of beams and dowels. No one knows exactly why he dedicated so much time, energy, and money on such elaborate frames that would be completely concealed to the public, but one thought is that they are a carryover from his Abstract Expressionist days where forms, according to Bladen, “had to be found in the process of artistic making”:

Light Year is a piece that came after 1982, when Bladen found himself consumed, not only with volume, but with light. Much of his work after 1982 experiments with different coatings and glazes that trap and throw light differently. During this period, he created several pieces that pushed the extremes of light and dark on a solid black structure, and used those discoveries to inform some of his more stylistically traditional models, such as Light Year. Light Year, along with all the other models from this period were not “finalized”; they may have been intended to be turned into some of the full size, monumental pieces for which Bladen is best known. There are several pieces like Light Year of a similar size based around the same concept of “the heroic diagonal”; a rising diagonal vector that occurs in art all throughout history. It fights against gravity and moves forward, traditionally representing transcendence and success in the face of adversity. The theme is evident in Light Year, which Bladen described as being on object that “thrusts forward, as if preparing to soar.” He explained that with this piece he had a clear and direct intention: “to reach that area of excitement belonging to natural phenomena, such as if a gigantic wave poised before it makes its fall… the drama is best described as breathtaking.” Thus Light Year folds over itself like a cresting wave, and threatens to tip over or take off at any moment; a feeling that would have only been intensified had it been realized on a monumental scale.

Light Year at CWRU was purchased from Bladen’s estate at the Jacobson Howard Gallery in New York City. This piece is signed and numbered “1/3”, signifying its authenticity and originality. Unfortunately, Light Year has suffered from improper restoration since coming to CWRU. It has been repainted with generic black paint applied with rollers, which was not what Bladen’s estate advised. In most cases, artists provide paint chips and detailed descriptions of how to go about restoring their work, and Bladen is no exception. Fortunately for Bladen however, his complex infrastructure makes sure that structural integrity isn’t as much of a problem as it is for a piece like Tony Smith’s Spitball.

Location: Kelvin Smith Library, Euclid Ave | Previous Location: New York

County

: Cuyahoga

Citation

: Ronald Bladen, “Light Year,” Ohio Outdoor Sculpture Inventory, accessed December 15, 2017, http://oosi.sculpturecenter.org/items/show/1362.

Dublin Core

Title

Light Year

Description

Light Year can sometimes slip right by under the shade of the small grove of trees by Kelvin Smith Library, but if there’s any piece in the collection that deserves more notice, it is Ronald Bladen’s Light Year. Bladen is held in high esteem, often counted alongside Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Tony Smith as one of the most influential Minimalist sculptors of the movement. But he set himself apart from his peers by embracing humanism and romanticism in his work, instead of doing everything he could to vanquish any traces of natural form.

The Minimalist movement arose largely in response to the bright, busy work that came from the Abstract Expressionists, who often filled canvases with colors and shapes. Hardcore Minimalists went the other way completely: they sought to rid their art of any trace of human gesture and make it completely “anti-anthropomorphic”. Bladen, however, was a product of the Abstract Expressionist movement. His early career consisted of painting large avant-garde canvases in the Abstract Expressionist style. So he rejected the notions of the hardline Minimalists like Judd and Morris, and went the other way. His style of Minimalism is characterized entirely by being a reduction of the human form, because he wanted, to use his own words, “push abstract art just a little bit further without losing the poetry.” He continues to explain that he “desired something in the grand manner” since he considered himself a “Romantic” at heart.

One way that Bladen’s Abstract Expressionist background manifested in his sculpture is in the overly-complex substructures that lie beneath the aluminum surface. The final product itself certainly appears to be “traditionally Minimalist” but for some reason, all of Bladen’s works have a wooden infrastructure that has extraneous struts, braces that don’t actually contribute to any sort of support, and complex junctions of beams and dowels. No one knows exactly why he dedicated so much time, energy, and money on such elaborate frames that would be completely concealed to the public, but one thought is that they are a carryover from his Abstract Expressionist days where forms, according to Bladen, “had to be found in the process of artistic making”:

Light Year is a piece that came after 1982, when Bladen found himself consumed, not only with volume, but with light. Much of his work after 1982 experiments with different coatings and glazes that trap and throw light differently. During this period, he created several pieces that pushed the extremes of light and dark on a solid black structure, and used those discoveries to inform some of his more stylistically traditional models, such as Light Year. Light Year, along with all the other models from this period were not “finalized”; they may have been intended to be turned into some of the full size, monumental pieces for which Bladen is best known. There are several pieces like Light Year of a similar size based around the same concept of “the heroic diagonal”; a rising diagonal vector that occurs in art all throughout history. It fights against gravity and moves forward, traditionally representing transcendence and success in the face of adversity. The theme is evident in Light Year, which Bladen described as being on object that “thrusts forward, as if preparing to soar.” He explained that with this piece he had a clear and direct intention: “to reach that area of excitement belonging to natural phenomena, such as if a gigantic wave poised before it makes its fall… the drama is best described as breathtaking.” Thus Light Year folds over itself like a cresting wave, and threatens to tip over or take off at any moment; a feeling that would have only been intensified had it been realized on a monumental scale.

Light Year at CWRU was purchased from Bladen’s estate at the Jacobson Howard Gallery in New York City. This piece is signed and numbered “1/3”, signifying its authenticity and originality. Unfortunately, Light Year has suffered from improper restoration since coming to CWRU. It has been repainted with generic black paint applied with rollers, which was not what Bladen’s estate advised. In most cases, artists provide paint chips and detailed descriptions of how to go about restoring their work, and Bladen is no exception. Fortunately for Bladen however, his complex infrastructure makes sure that structural integrity isn’t as much of a problem as it is for a piece like Tony Smith’s Spitball.

Creator

Date

2009

Sculpture Item Type Metadata

Location City

Location County

Location Previous

New York

Location Site

Kelvin Smith Library

Location Street

Euclid Ave

Installation Date

November 2009