Bryan Hunt, Amphora

Bryan Hunt, Amphora, 1982. Bronze, 97-3/4 × 30 × 25 inches. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation, Inc. Gift (Seymour M. Klein, President), 1983 (1983.88ab). Photo by Mark Menjivar.

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audio transcript

Valerie Fletcher: During the 1960s, Bryan Hunt tried various paths in life. He started out to become an architect and then briefly he worked as an assistant to an engineer at Cape Canaveral, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, during the era when it was the peak of the Space Center’s activities, sending rockets and exploratory missions to the moon and beyond. He then went to California and earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts. Then before he really had much time to develop his studies in art, he contracted a serious illness and had to spend a long time in bed. During that, he read voraciously, including some heavy theoretical and philosophical writers, notably the great French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and the great modern theorist Roland Barthes.

When he had fully recovered his health, Hunt then turned to sculpture and what he did is he put all of these factors together. He believed that sculpture should be conceptually based, and at first he was interested in the role of technology in art. He did an amazing series in which he handmade little models of blimps, of Zeppelins from the era of World War I, and he would mount them in certain settings like smashing them into a wall. So, this tiny little model would be crashed into a wall and hovering in space. Other times he took pieces of planes and reassembled them into a series that he called the Broken Wing series.

The sculpture Amphora, from 1982, is from the period when he turned to an interest in classical art. Many sculptures and painters in the 80s were interested in appropriating ideas, themes, and motifs from the history of art, and the classical period of ancient Greece and Rome was of particular interest to some artists. Amphora is a clay storage vessel with two handles, one on each side, that was used to store liquids, often wine and, so amphorae were that something that were decorated and considered works of art but also very practical ordinary storage containers. And what Bryan Hunt chose to do was to take that ordinary motif, that object, which has no intrinsic symbolism or meaning, and to take it and use it as an excuse to create a form that stands up and yet it seems to melt. It’s very slender, it’s tippy. It’s as if it’s starting to melt; the exact opposite of what a sturdy, upright clay vessel would do. This may be a comment that the old classical traditions are melting away, that they have less and less solidity in reality in the modern world.

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Bryan Hunt, Amphora, 1982.

American, born 1947

Born in Indiana, Bryan Hunt attended the University of South Florida with the intention of becoming an architect, but he was quickly drawn to painting. He moved to Los Angeles to attend the Otis Art Institute, where he obtained his BFA in 1971. Hunt’s sculptures in the early 1970s were architectural models of famous landmark structures, such as the Hoover Dam and the Empire State Building. Later, he began to explore modern philosophy and literary theory, admiring the purist aesthetics of Barnett Newman (1905–1970) and the newly established minimalists. His work soon took a new direction; rather than adopting pure abstraction he applied the clarity of minimalist forms to his representations of objects and places.

In 1979–80, fascinated by topography, he modeled amorphous sculptures of Lakes and Waterfalls. The bronze surfaces are highly articulated to convey a sense of energy—a stylistic tradition established by Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) in the 1880s and revitalized by Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) in the 1940s and ‘50s. Hunt was especially inspired by Willem de Kooning’s (1904–1997) sculptures of the 1970s.

Throughout the 1980s, Hunt retained this highly modeled surface texture while focusing on motifs from classical Greek art and culture. His Maenad sculptures, although abstract, evoke the swirling draperies of Hellenistic works. Amphora refers to a tall, slender, two-handled vessel, usually made of clay and used to store food and drink, especially wine. However, rather than a sturdy, practical container, Hunt’s Amphora is flat and visually unstable; it serves primarily as a pretext for modeling forms and creating expressive surfaces. Viewers are free to solely enjoy the visual, but may also see an analogy for the diminished appreciation of most classical culture today. 

Bryan Hunt, Amphora, 1982. Photo by Ben Aqua.
Bryan Hunt, Amphora, 1982. Photo by Ben Aqua.

Location: Bass Concert Hall Lobby, Third Floor

GPS: 30.285811,-97.731111