Archive for Peplos Kore

Bay Area FAV—George Rickey at the Main Library

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contains Video Elements, Liz Hager, Public Art, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2009 by Liz Hager


We’ve hunkered down into an indeterminately long recession. We’re tightening our belts, in the process shifting our discretionary dollars to less expensive entertainment options or forgoing some culture/entertainment items altogether.

Currently, most Bay Area art museums charge entrance fees in the double digits (the Oakland Museum is a notable exception). Not more than the climbing prices of movie tickets, to be sure, and still a deal, when you consider the amount of content that is available for the price.  And yet, with scores of art galleries closed or closing, the opportunities to consume art are shrinking. These are exactly the kind of times that ought to make art lovers appreciate San Francisco’s commitment to art in public spaces.

Venetian Red has covered some pieces in the “public domain,”  both permanent works (such as Michael Stutz’s Peplos Kore at SF Airport) and temporary installations (such as Patrick Dougherty’s Upper Crust resident in the Civic Center plaza until November). Today we initiate a more formal round up, periodically posting on the many of our Bay Area FAVs (aka Free Art Views).

George Rickey’s Double L Eccentric Gyratory sculpture (one of several versions he created) is located rather inauspiciously on the northwest corner of Larkin and Fulton at the edge of the Main Library’s footprint. Given the crowd of street habitués usually in residence on that corner, one might be forgiven for passing that point as quickly as possible, head down, etc. Still, we say, brave the crowd, pause and watch, Double L will make you forget (at least temporarily) its less beauteous surroundings.

One of two major American sculptors to make movement an integral part of his works (the other was Alexander Calder), Rickey produced kinetic sculptures as early as the 1950s and was the first to move his sculptures into outdoor environments. The stylistic influence of his early teachers Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant on Rickey’s later sculptural work seems self-evident; Rickey was heavily  interested in the geometric minimalism practiced by the Constructivists (e.g. Malevich, Tatlin, Gabo, et al.). He wanted to make public art that could be appreciated by people who understood the beauty of machines, although his machines don’t have a work purpose.

Double L is executed in Rickey’s signature style—braised and polished stainless steel geometric forms, whose movement is facilitated by a system of pendulums, fulcrums, rotors, gyros and pivots. Propelled only by the action of gravity and wind (lots of that in SF), the two giant heavy “L”s twirl almost inconceivably in effortless synchronicity, appearing to come close to, but never once colliding. (Of course this adds a lot of drama to the experience of viewing.)  After a few minutes in front of this sculpture,  you will realize that the pair is engaged in an ancient human rite, the courtship ritual.  It’s hard to believe that two large beams of steel could generate such a profound and ethereal experience.

Wider Connections

My SA Entertainment—“George Rickey’s moving sculptures make a stir in McNay retrospective”

Flickr—McNay retrospective

George Rickey in Indianapolis

Pink Martini—La Soledad

Bewitched by the Peplos Kore

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Sculpture with tags , on September 30, 2008 by Liz Hager


Peplos Kore, 530-525 BC
Marble, about 4 1/2 feet (statue only) not including plinth,
(courtesy Acropolis Museum, Athens)

In the 1880s archeologists clearing the Acropolis stumbled across an amazing find—dozens of broken statues of male (kouroi) and female (kourai) figures dating from the 4th century BCE.  The figureswere remarkably similar—all were depicted in the same forward-standing pose, the left foot thrust slightly ahead of the right foot.

In 480 BCE the Persians captured Athens and in the process laid waste to the Acropolis, presumably leaving the shattered remains of buildings and statues behind.  It seems the Athenians reverentially buried the pieces, perhaps as a way of paying homage to the dead, and they remained there until the late 19th century.

The “Peplos Kore” (above) was one of those Archaic-era (800—500 BCE) statues unearthed on the Acropolis. Like all kourai she is clothed (the convention of depicting the male figures naked and females clothed persisted until the fourth century BCE).  Peplos refers to her garment, common to the period, in which multiple layers of different weight fabrics were often elaborately folded and belted at the waist. The figure above wears quite a plain peplos in contrast to other korai (below), and it is not altogether clear whether less depiction of fabric folds was a stylistic choice or a competency limitation.

The right arm of the “Peplos” hangs at her side; it is thought that her left arm was extended with a hand either holding a sculptural offering or palm up to hold a devotee’s offering.  Though only a few fragments of paint survive, scholars surmise that this statue would have been painted all over in bright colors as was the tradition in ancient Greece. In this manner the textile patterns of her garments would have been gloriously emphasized; some of this is partially visible in the belt of the kore below.

Standing Female Figure (Akropolis #594), 530-520 BCE,
(Acropolis Museum, Athens)

The “kour” statues evolved from a well-established sculptural tradition. Greek and Egyptian cultures mixed fairly freely by the mid-seventh century BCE, owing to the establishment of a Greek trading station on the Nile delta and numbers of Greek mercenaries left in Egypt after the campaigns of Pharoah Psammetichos I. Thus, Greek sculptors would have had great familiarity with Egyptian sculptural techniques.

Statue of Mentuemhet, Prince of Thebes, early 6th century BCE,

The Greeks adopted the signature characteristics of Egyptian statuary—the frontal erect pose, left foot advancing, arms hung straight at sides, and the faint smile. However, they began to experiment with free-standing figures (unattached to a supporting backdrop); paradoxically this experimentation must have paved the way for the more fluid poses of subsequent Classic-era sculpture.

Although the “kour” figures were largely life-sized, sculptors abandoned the correct human body proportions—additional length in the torso—and this must have been related to the use of the “kours.” As evidenced by the inscriptions on their bases, these figures had two uses—as votive offerings from wealthy patrons to temples and as grave markers of prominent citizens.  Additionally, kourai displayed more stylized features than their Egyptian forerunners.  “Kours” were not conceived as portraits of individuals and thus not meant to be identified a separate beings, hence the standardized handling of pose and features.  Despite her rigidity, the Peplos Kore draws us in, her dancing almond-shaped eyes and bewitching smile beckoning our 21st century gaze.

Wider Connections

John Boardman—Greek Art (World of Art series)
Venetian Red—“Airport Art;” Michael Stutz’s contemporary interpretation of the “Peplos Kore.”
Egyptian Museum
Greece in the Archaic Period
Museum of Antiquities
“True Colors“—Matthew Gurewitsch’s Smithsonian article on painted sculpture
Egyptian vs. Greek statuary

Airport Art: Michael Stutz’s Peplos Kore

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Public Art, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , on July 15, 2008 by Liz Hager


Michael Stutz, The Peplos Kore, installed 2005 5.5’x22″18,” shredded cardboard over plywood armature, San Francisco Terminal 1, installed 2005 (photos © Liz Hager)

If you fly through SFO with any frequency, no doubt you’ve noticed the special exhibit cases running the length of the Arrivals Hall from the security gates to the boarding areas.  The exhibits change every so often. From what I was able to tell over the years, albeit it from the poor vantage point of a brisk moving-walkway, they ranged from the cute (e.g. toys) to the educational (e.g. the antecedents of computers) and even the seriously interesting (e.g.Scandinavian furniture design). On the one hand, art in airports is a novel concept; since many corporations have deemed public access to lobbies a security risk, an airport is one of the few public places that masses of people can actually still see free art. (Not all of it is behind the security gates.) On the other hand, when traveling, who actually has the time, or feels they have the time, to spend really looking at pieces of art?

Because of this,  I am sorry to say that the scope of the commitment at SFO to permanently-installed contemporary art had actually never registered with me.  A recent trip changed that. My husband is a seriously nervous traveler. Thus, with lots of time to spare, we ambled down Terminal 1 to Gate 46. Passing Deborah Butterfield’s metal horse released a moment of thought.   Reveling in a new-found sense of leisure, I purposely scanned both sides of the aisle in search of other art. What I saw amazed me. Over there was a Manuel Neri; my, my, there’s a Jun Keneko ceramic sculpture; oh wait, isn’t that a…NOGUCHI?

Under the aegis of the SF “Public Art Ordinance” (under which 2% of the cost of the construction of government structures goes to art) and the curatorial direction of the SF Arts Commission, SFO has been collecting works since 1977, both through commissions and purchases. The permanent collection now numbers more than 75 pieces by modern and contemporary artists, many of whom have lived or had some association with San Francisco.

With 20 minutes until boarding, I pondered Michael Stutz’s cardboard Kore, which, from what I can tell, the Arts Commission commissioned from Stutz (for $33,000, as notes to the Commission meeting reveal). Korai are the female statuary equivalents of male Kouros, not exactly deities, but perhaps based on Persephone, goddess of the underworld.  In keeping with this interpretation, they were often deployed by wealthy citizens (circa 6th century BCE) as votives or stand ins for the patron with the gods at the grave site of a family member. Korai are almost always approximately life-sized, although curiously not replicating human proportions, and fully clothed (just the males were nude). Stutz has replicated the Peplos Kore at the Acropolis—facing frontal, one foot slightly ahead, one-arm extended with an offering, a wreath or incense perhaps, to their respective deities.  In a wink to our modern experience of the icon, his statue too is missing her hand. In emulating the garish colors traditionally painted on the Korai through the colors of everyday “found” objects (cardboard strips), Stutz contrasts the mundane with the sacredness of a precious cultural artifact.

But why choose a Kore, and why the Peplos Kore, for this venue?  As the agents called for boarding, I was left to wonder what Stutz’s modern-day equivalent of a commemorative statue for the dead was ultimately saying about our airport.

Interested in more?

For a full listing of works and their locations: SFOArt.

Michael Stutz


Peplos Kore

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