Willard Boepple, Eleanor at 7:15

Willard Boepple, Eleanor at 7:15, 1977. Cor-ten steel, 49 × 35 × 45 inches. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art Anonymous gift, 1978 (1978.567.5). Photo by Mark Menjivar.

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audio transcript

Valerie Fletcher: During the 1960s and 70s, many sculptors, particularly in North America, worked in constructed and painted steel. One of the reasons for this is that industrial materials like steel or aluminum or other alloys were considered the appropriate materials for a world that was highly industrialized, highly technological. It also had an appeal because it posed a physical challenge to sculptors: to take on a sheet of industrially made metal, to cut it, to weld it, to bend it, to construct it in ways that would require great physical strength and a certain amount of technological skill with a welder and other industrial tools.

Willard Boepple was one of this generation of artists. He had been inspired partly by having seen a great deal of abstract art in his native Bennington, Vermont which was a magnet school for the great abstract artists of the time. He also was inspired by the great sculptor, Anthony Caro, with whom he worked for a short period. Boepple’s sculpture with its title is perplexing at first. Eleanor at 7:15, what does that mean? When we look at this piece, first of all, we’re struck by its scale or lack thereof. It’s only the size of a young child. It is entirely abstract but when viewed from a certain viewpoint, it can suggest a small figure striding forward, perhaps with scarves or clothing fluttering in the breeze. This may be a partial reference to a famous Futurist sculpture of a striding figure with fluttering draperies that was done in 1915 by an Italian artist. It is more likely, however, addressing the problem of abstract sculpture, which is how do you create a sculpture that has a kind of reference point or something that will attract viewers who are perhaps not as far committed to modern art as the artist himself? And so Eleanor at 7:15suggests by its title that we are meant to see a young child striding forward or perhaps it’s simply sophisticated construction of steel forms curving in and out about themselves in space.

activity guides

Willard Boepple, Eleanor at 7:15, 1977.

American, born 1945

Willard Boepple’s birthplace, Bennington, Vermont, became nationally renowned for the art department at its eponymous college. During the 1960s and ‘70s, the school attracted practitioners and theorists of abstract art, including the leading critic Clement Greenberg (1909–1994) and the British sculptor Anthony Caro (1924–2013). In 1977, after studying on both the East and the West Coasts, Boepple returned to Bennington where he worked closely with Caro as a technical assistant for sculpture. Caro was a master of improvisational composition using sheet metal, and Boepple adapted that technique to his own style. Though he often has a concept prior to beginning a new work, Boepple states: “Only rarely does the plan survive the making; more often the sculpture takes over, establishing its own rules, its own reality.”

In the 1970s, Boepple preferred to work with Cor-ten steel, a strong yet malleable material that can be cut, bent, and formed to fabricate works with an extraordinary amount of energy and movement. Eleanor at 7:15 is a highly articulated, swirling mass of lively, spirited lines with intersecting curves and flat planes. Like many of Boepple’s sculptures, this particular piece is modest in scale and smaller than the average person. The artist feels that sculpture should not occupy its own isolated space because proximity allows for an immediate, more intimate exchange.

While Eleanor at 7:15 resists a figurative interpretation, the title alludes to an intimate moment in the life of the artist. Boepple’s titles are not meant to be descriptions or explanations. They are inspired by places or poetry that evoke a feeling or gesture. With Eleanor at 7:15, Boepple envisioned a lively and energetic morning person. Aesthetically, the piece adheres to the formalist ideas that drove abstract sculpture at that time, when the context behind a work of art was secondary to purely visual aspects like form and style. Beopple breaks from this tradition by suggesting a narrative within the title. 

Willard Boepple, Eleanor at 7:15, 1977. Photo by Christina Murrey.
Willard Boepple, Eleanor at 7:15, 1977. Photo by Ben Aqua.

Location: Courtyard between MEZ and BAT

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