Ronald Bladen: Sculpture of the 1960s and 1970s

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Black Lightning, (Monumental) 1981, Painted aluminum 288 x 720 x 58 inches Edition of 3 Seattle Center Sculpture Garden Seattle, Washington





RONALD BLADEN by Irving Sandler

Three Elements (Garden) 1966, Painted wood, aluminum 112 x 48 x 21 inches Edition of 3 The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

As a young man Ronald Bladen was a member of a group of anarcho-pacifist artists, writers

mands, he was the exemplary artist to a wide circle

etry.” He also added, “I desired something in the

of painters and sculptors.

grand manner since I’m still romantic.”

and musicians, among them Kenneth Rexroth,

Prior to becoming a sculptor in the early 1960s,

Bladen has often been linked to Donald Judd

Robert Duncan and Philip Lamantia, who formed

Bladen had painted lyrical Abstract Expressionist

and Robert Morris, who might be termed hard-core

the Liberation Circle. The radical attitudes Bladen

canvases, avant-garde at the time. Composed of

Minimalists. But he was very different. He rejected

developed then continued to inform his life and

heavily painted organic forms that protrude into

their anti-romantic attitude and what they termed

art. The Abstract Expressionist painter Barnett

space, they “brought me off the wall,” as he said.

“anti-anthropomorphism,” that is, their purging

Newman, a fellow anarchist, wrote that anarchists

Then, in 1960, he rejected organic forms as too

of any sign of the human body and its gestures.

are “intoxicated with the love of personal free-

commonplace and built a number of large plywood

Bladen’s romanticism and humanity are evident in

dom,” embracing above all “the autonomy of the

bas-reliefs whose projecting plank-like components

a work titled Three Elements (1966), composed of

Individual.”1 He also wrote, “Only those are free

were elementary “letter” forms, for example, an

a row of three free-standing, nine-foot high, rhom-

who are free from the values of the establishment.

inverted C or an L. His next move was to create

boid-like monoliths, each tilted so as to appear

And that’s what anarchism is all about.” Bladen

monumental Minimalist sculptures in the round.

precariously balanced, and painted black with the

rarely talked about his political beliefs, but he sub-

His intention in the work was, as he said, “to push

outer diagonal side sheathed in aluminum.

scribed to these axioms. An independent spirit who

abstract art a little bit further [past the prevailing

Three Elements was exhibited that year in

refused to bow to art world powers and their de-

open construction-sculpture] but not lose the po-

Primary Structures, a comprehensive survey of



ed space, sculpture as field, or as line—and devel-

works are based on the upward aspiring diagonal,

oped it in a spectacular manner. In Black Triangle

the heroic diagonal—a metaphor for transcen-

(1966-67), he inverted a triangular volume 9 feet

dence, as in Cathedral Evening (1971), Flying

four inches high, 10 feet long, and 13 feet across

Fortress (Maquette), (1974-78), Host of the Ellipse

the top. Poising it on its vertex, he overturned the

(Garden), (1979) and Black Lightning (1981). A re-

usual expectations of how the sculpture ought to

lated work, Light Year (1979), thrusts forward as if

sit. Indeed, the form calls as much attention to

preparing to soar. His intention in these sculptures,

the space it activates as to its massiveness. The

which is evident even in the small models, was, as

22-foot high X (1967-68) almost overwhelmed

he said, “to reach that area of excitement belong-

the great hall of Washington’s Corcoran Gallery

ing to natural phenomena such as if a gigantic

of Art in which it was installed. In Black Minimal Art, at the Jewish Museum. The exhibi-

Lightning (1981), a 24-foot high zig-

tion was characterized by sculptor Mark di Suvero

zag line points upward—to the ineffable

as “the keystone show of the 1960s [which] in-

sublime—like an upward index finger

troduced a new generation of sculptors.” Three

in Christian art—a trajectory that is

clockwise: The Sentinels, (Model) 1972, Painted wood 8 x 9 x 7 inches each Edition 2 of 3

Elements stood out; it literally made the art world


Coltrane, (Structural Model) 1970, Wood 30 x 171/2 x 171/2 inches Unique Flying Fortress, (Maquette) 1974-78 Painted cardboard 111/2 x 33 x 27/8 inches Unique

look up. Di Suvero singled out Bladen’s work as

Bladen’s sculptures may look mini-

“the one great piece in the show. It expands our

mal on the outside but internally they

idea of scale and changes our knowledge of space.

are complex. His simple forms have an

It is radiant.”3 Di Suvero was right. Bladen’s sculp-

elaborate but concealed infrastructure,

ture had an astonishing presence, which, as Alex

whose construction is seen in the struc-

Katz quipped, “assassinated” its neighbors.

tural model for Coltrane (1970). To my

If Three Elements was Minimalist in appear-

knowledge, Bladen never explained why

ance, it was anything but anti-romantic and anti-

he devoted so much of his time and

anthropomorphic in spirit. The diagonal of the gi-

energy building frameworks that were

ant volumes is reminiscent of a human gesture,

not only invisible but were in fact struc-

at once epic and grand, like the backward lean of

turally unnecessary. It may be that he

Rodin’s Balzac, and vulnerable, suggesting falling

thought that his forms had to be found

or bowing. The three forms can also be viewed as

in the process of artistic-making, that is

a grand procession—anthropomorphic menhirs on

earned, a carryover from his Abstract

the move.

Expressionist upbringing.

Three Elements was one of a number of ma-

Much as Bladen was occupied with

jestic, elemental pieces that made the art world

volume, he was also absorbed by light.

pay attention. In each, Bladen took a new spatial

In different pieces, he used reflective

idea—such as a unitary mass, a volume in extend-

lacquers, aluminum coating, semi-gloss blacks and metal skins. Indeed, from 1982 to 1988, the year of his death at the age of

wave poised before it makes its fall. . . . The drama

69, light became the essential “form” of a series

is best described as awesome or breathtaking.”4

of pieces. In these sculptures, elaborate painted

Bladen’s humane variant of Minimalism extended

wood frameworks are the “substructures” for

its range in fresh and dramatic directions.

curved, polished aluminum sheets that trap light as they reflect it, the reflections seeming to signal cosmic space with earthly luminescence. At the same time that Bladen was constructing his light pieces he was creating small works that had been or might have become models for huge pieces had he lived. But in their own right, they are fully resolved works. Bladen invented a rich variety of volumes and shapes. Many of these

1. Barnett Newman, “The True Revolution Is Anarchist,” p. 45. The phrase is Herzen’s. 2. Barnett Newman, “The True Revolution Is Anarchist!” Foreward to Memoirs of a Revolutionist by Peter Kropotkin, in Barnett Newman, Selected Writings, pp. 50-51. 3. Symposium on Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum, May 2, 1966, with Kynaston McShine, Barbara Rose, Robert Morris, Donald Judd, and Mark di Suvero. 4. Barbara Rose, “ABC Art,” Art in America, October-November 1965, p. 63. 3

Cathedral Evening, (Monumental) 1971, Painted aluminum 118 x 354 x 283 inches Edition of 3 As shown during the exhibition Ronald Bladen Sculpture: Works from the Marzona Collection, Nationalgalerie Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 2007 4

Black Tower, (Model) 1986, Painted wood 331/2 x 40 x 27 inches Edition 1 of 3 6

Raiko, (Model) 1973, Painted wood 201/2 x 54 x 8 inches Edition 2 of 3

Light Year, (Garden) 1979, Painted aluminum 80 x 156 x 19 inches Edition of 3


1956 Paintings by Ronald Bladen, Fine

occasion of the exhibition

Columbia, Vancouver, BC

of American Art, New York, NY

Francisco, CA, traveling to Vancouver


Art Museum, Vancouver, BC

Sculpture of the 1960s & 1970s

New York, NY

1969 14 Sculptors: The Industrial Edge, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN

and British Sculptors, The Jewish Museum, New York, NY

Hempstead, NY

Carolina, Greensboro, NC, traveling to Sculpture Center, New York, NY

Beat Culture and the New America:

New York, NY 10065 212-570-2362

American Art, Whitney Museum of

traveling to: The Walker Art Center,

American Art, New York, NY

Minneapolis, MN; MH deYoung

Art in Space: Some Turning Points, The

Memorial Museum, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

Student Center, New York University,

Bauhaus on American Art, Lowe Art

1996 The San Francisco School of Abstract

New York, NY

Museum, University of Miami, Coral

Expressionism, Laguna Art Museum,

Gables, FL, traveling to the New York

Los Angeles, CA, traveling to San

Cultural Center, New York, NY

Francisco Museum of Modern Art,

Angeles, CA, traveling to Philadelphia

1975 The Martha Jackson Collection at the

Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA

Structural Art, American Federation of

Rejective Art, University of Omaha,

Art, New York, NY, traveling

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, AlbrightKnox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY 1976 200 Years of American Sculpture, Whitney Museum of American Art,

Fine Arts Festival, Omaha, NE Guggenheim International Exhibition,

New York, NY

1999 Ronald Bladen: Selected Works, PS1/ MoMA Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, NY

of America 1876-1976, Hirshhorn

Paik and Ronald Bladen, RWE-Turm,

The Solomon R Guggenheim

Museum and Sculpture Garden,

Museum, New York, NY

Washington, DC

Barnett Newman, Tony Smith, The Corcoran Gallery of Art,

Akron Art Institute, Akron, OH 1979 The Minimal Tradition, Aldrich

Washington DC

Museum of Contemporary Art,

1968 documenta 4, Kassel, Germany Minimal Art (Andre, Bladen,

Ridgefield, CT

Contemporary Sculpture: Selections

Flavin, Grosvenor, Judd, LeWitt,

from the Museum of Modern Art,

Morris, Smith, Smithson, Steiner)

Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY

Gmeentemuseum, The Hague, The

1986 Sculpture on the Wall, The Aldrich

Netherlands, traveling to: Städtische

Museum of Contemporary Art,

Kunsthalle und Kunstverein für

Ridgefield, CT

die Rheinlande und Westfalen,

Catalogue designed by ADT

Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany

1967: Sculpture from Twenty Nations,

1977 Project: New Urban Monuments,

Center, Minneapolis, MN, 1969 page 9: photo by Ellen Page Wilson

San Francisco, CA

2000 „Kontrapunkt“, Werke von Nam June

1967-68 Scale as Content: Ronald Bladen,

page 1: Ronald Bladen at The Walker

1998 Ronald Bladen Sculpture, Kunsthalle

The Golden Door: Artist-Immigrants

33 East 68th Street

of American Art, New York, NY,

1974 Less is More: The Influence of the

American Sculpture of the Sixties, Los

Jacobson Howard Gallery

1950–1965, Whitney Museum

Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI

Angeles County Museum of Art, Los

October 16 to November 26, 2008

of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE

1973 Biennial Exhibition: Contemporary

1967 Ronald Bladen: Sculpture, Emily

Bladen, Grosvenor, von Schlegell, Loeb

Art Gallery, The University of North

Wisconsin, Madison, WI

American Art, New York, NY Lowe Gallery, Hofstra University,

Working Models & Related Drawings

Memorial Art Gallery, The University

Elvehjem Art Center, University of

Contemporary American Sculpture

Monumental & Garden Outdoor Sculpture

Sculptural Models, Weatherspoon

1972 Ronald Bladen and Allan d’Arcangelo,

1966-67 Annual Exhibition 1966, and Prints, Whitney Museum of

1995 Ronald Bladen: Drawings and

1970 American Sculpture, Sheldon

1966 Primary Structures. Younger American

This catalogue published on the

Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San

Center, New York University,

1991 Ronald Bladen: Early and Late, San

American Sculpture, Whitney Museum

1965 Concrete Expressionism, Loeb Student

Annual Exhibition 1968, Contemporary

Art Gallery, University of British

Essen, Germany 2004 A Minimal Future? Art as Object. 1958-1968, The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 2007 Ronald Bladen-Skulptur. Werke der Sammlung Marzona, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany

front cover: X, (Monumental) 1967–1968, Painted aluminum, 264 x 288 x 168 inches, Edition of 3. As shown during the exhibition Scale as Content at The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1967. Corcoran Gallery of Art Archives.

Düsseldorf; Akademie der Künste, Berlin


back cover: Ronald Bladen beside museum staff during the construction of X, 1967. Scale as Content, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1967.

Host of the Ellipse, (Monumental) 1981, Painted aluminum Edition of 3 420 x 756 x 96 inches Baltimore

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