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Valerie Fletcher: Unlike Deborah Butterfield [and] Louise Bourgeois, Anita Weschler is not very well known. She worked in a very modest way in New York. She was inspired largely by her teacher, William Zorach in the 1930s. Zorach was one of the founding fathers of the direct carve and primitivist movements in American sculpture and this is evident in Anita Weschler’s work. The sculpture here is called Victory Ball from 1951, approximately the same year as Frederick Kiesler’s Winged Victory (see above). Weschler’s sculpture like Kiesler’s refers to the experience of having come through World War II.
Weschler herself had a very quiet war and she did among her more stylized carving, she also supported herself through fairly traditional realistic portraiture in the manner of Rodin. However, her true love was the simplified forms of early modernism that is taking forms, like the human body. Here in Victory Ball, we have several figures celebrating and dancing in joy at the end of World War II. But they are not realistic nor are they completely abstract. Rather, they occupy that wonderful medium ground where you can recognize them as figures; and yet, they have the streamlined contours and the simplified forms that we associate with modern art, with modern architecture and modern design. So in her work, Weschler liked to represent groups of figures. She felt that the dynamism and energy of figures was far more expressive than a single or even a double-figure composition.
In this one, you can see that there is one figure reaching up high in celebration. This is a reference to that period of joy that marked the end of World War II. From the initial celebrations in places like Times Square when the surrender of Germany was announced, to the subsequent celebrations that took years every 4th of July, every Armistice Day in the years following World War II. She had done anti-war and militaristic themes before and during the war. So the Victory Ball has relevance today, that idea of delight and hope and joy at the end of a terrible war.
Anita Weschler worked in modes ranging from portraiture to abstraction using a variety of materials such as paint, stone, wood, and bronze. A cofounder of the Sculptors’ Guild in New York, she strove to create works that balance “form and substance.” According to Wescher, “Each is determined by the other and each is dependent on the other. The finer an art is the closer it approaches the point where fusions of mind and matter are complete and perfect.”
In her sculptures, Weschler applies the principles of abstract art—form, line and texture—to highly narrative subjects. She was mentored by William Zorach (1887–1966) and was inspired by German expressionist sculptor Ernest Barlach (1870–1938). Zorach provided an exemplar for the primitivist simplification of forms. Weschler preferred casting to direct carving but sought the natural texture of stone. In her search for an alternative to bronze casting, she developed her own method of stone casting in which aggregate cements and crushed stone are poured into a mold.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Weschler made a series of sculptures that explore antiwar themes, all of which are executed in the simplified forms and strong contours of the primitivist style. Victory Ball concludes the series with an image of people celebrating the end of World War II. Although ostensibly an expression of joy, the dense, multi-figure composition shows the bacchanalian excesses of street celebrations in 1945. Inebriated male figures collapse in a pile, while a lone woman on the right dances with abandon. Attuned to the increasingly consumerist ethos of American society in the early 1950s, Weschler looked back on the 1945 celebrations as harbingers of future excess.
Location: Bass Concert Hall Lobby, Sixth Floor