Elemental Matters: The Sculpture of Jonathan Prince
July 1 through October 24, 2022
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, October 2022
“I like to look at the fluidity of light rather than the fluidity of matter”—so asserts sculptor Jonathan Prince. His show “Elemental Matters” is currently up at the former estate of Chesterwood in western Massachusetts. Chesterwood, once the summer quarters of Daniel Chester French, the 19th-century sculptor responsible for the statue of Lincoln in Washington, DC’s memorial, has become a public grounds and museum, showing the work of contemporary artists. Curated by Cassandra Sohn, the Prince exhibition is presenting 12 large-scale works placed throughout the estate’s grounds. Prince, active in medicine for many years, also worked in the development of Internet and media technology. He returned to sculpture in 2002. Now established on a property in western Massachusetts, not too distant from the Chesterwood grounds; his home serves as a platform for his monumental abstract art.
His exteriors, most often made of Cor-Ten steel and polished, faceted small stainless steel plates lend themselves very well to a public declaration. The twelve works in “Elemental Matters,” placed in fields and forested parts of French’s estate, feel at home in a natural setting. Both the volumetric shapes and their exteriors merge with rocks and trees, in part because the polished planes reflect the natural imagery around them. But the sculptures also stand their own ground—as testaments to Prince’s efforts to develop a body of work that reflects the legacy of modernism. As a teenager, Prince met Jacques Lipschitz in New York City and would, on occasion, take lessons from him. Taken with recent work of public and environmental sculptors, Prince uses traditional and newer technologies to achieve his expansive art. For example, the three sculptures Shatter I, II, and III (2018-19), are laid out in a small meadow backed by brush and trees. Placed at equal lengths from each other and made of Cor-Ten steel and polished stainless steel, their placement strikingly contrasts with their green setting.
Torus 340 (2011) is a monumentally sized open circle, made as well of Cor-Ten and polished stainless steel. Its large circle is not complete, with a break in continuity toward the top of the work. The ends of this break, a foot or two in length, display Prince’s polygonally shaped, small planes of reflective steel. The sculpture is located a short distance from French’s house and studio; it presents a considerable gravitas within a sylvan setting. While Prince’s technologies are highly developed, he is right to name his major interest as the “fluidity of light.” His concerns, shown in the lucency reflected from the many planes of polished steel, look to spiritual insight as well as technological processes. Perhaps the light enables Prince’s sculptures to engage the small forest and grasses set around them. The square column titled Rumination (2021), made entirely of Cor-Ten steel, has been placed in a small patch of forest behind the property. It is 144 inches tall and 16 inches wide. The top and bottom are smooth and fully intact, but the middle part is narrowed, its surface rough, close to jagged.. It is as if some unknown force has eaten away at the steel. The dark orange of Rumination’s rusted surface sharply contrasts but does not necessarily clash with the trees surrounding it.
Prince’s decision to move away from New York City for a new life in Massachusetts starts to look smart, given the achievement of this show. Large artwork, meant to take place in the outside world, is well established as a genre. One thinks of Henry Moore, whose work is often seen in the fields of Britain, or, sometimes placed outside, the machine-made, streamlined forms of Richard Serra. The outdoor sculptures of “Elemental Matters” stem from the artist’s penchant for massive form, as well as his willingness to set the work outdoors. He has a gift for taking steel sculpture and finding ways of it agreeing with nature. His work belongs to late modernism, but the excellence of his skills—his technical ingenuity and his feeling for inordinate but meticulous construction—make the show a memorable one. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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