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Who: Joel Perlman
What: Square Tilt
Where: Perry Casteñada Library Courtyard
Why: This sculpture by Joel Perlman is another of the works on long-term loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Perlman creates sculptures in a style called geometric abstraction and was inspired by Russian constructivists before him. As seen here in Square Tilt, his works often have portals or windows and are inspired by the energy, shapes, and materials of New York City. In this sculpture, Perlman has left the metal raw so that it would age and weather. There is no front or back to this sculpture; viewers are meant to walk around it and look through it. Students walking in and out of the Perry Castañeda Library to study can glimpse one another through the frame as they pass by.
Look through the opening of the sculpture at the building. Do you notice anything new? Try looking through the pane from the other direction. How does it change?
Valerie Fletcher: Joel Perlman like Anthony Caro, Robert Murray, and many other sculptors of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s believe in geometric abstraction as the style, the form most appropriate to our modern era. Abstraction was considered by many artists to be comparable to many of the accomplishments of the modern era. For example, Morse code, computer code, other means of communication that is not literal. Abstraction is considered the visual equivalent of such other languages, which are not at first glance understandable.
Joel Perlman, however, liked to create works that focused on the idea of a window or gateway or a portal. Square Tilt is typical of his works of the 1980s, in which he set up a frame, in this case almost a perfect square, set it on an angle, a tilt and then applied other linear and rectangular elements, flat ones, to this flat square frame. These compositions read beautifully from the front and from the back; from either side they almost disappear into a line or two. When you look at them from the front or back, however, you see them possibly as the equivalent for a window onto a vista, but you can also see them as abstract compositions in which the geometric forms play well with each other.
In this way, he was inspired by the early masters of abstraction, especially the Russians Suprematists and Constructivists who believed that using such forms would help to inspire and educate people to think on a higher plane, a higher level of awareness. Square Tilt, although it’s made of heavy sheet steel, does have a lightness, a perkiness, and it does question whether abstract art is viable in its own right as a pleasing composition or does it gain because it is contrast to its environment. When placed in front of a modern building for example, its forms are in harmony with the geometric style of most modern buildings. When placed in an open space or even a country space you then see people and landscape through it and it integrates the natural with the artificial.