Precious Metal: Albert Paley On View

Paley 1--1974 Renwick Portal Gates

Albert Paley, Portal Gates, 1974. Forged steel, brass, copper, and bronze. Smithsonian American Art Museum, commissioned for the Renwick Gallery, 1975.117.1A-B.

Albert Paley is the first and only metal sculptor to receive the American Institute of Architects Lifetime Achievement Award. This summer, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. hosts an exhibition that showcases the deservedness of that honor. American Metal, on view through September 28, is a retrospective of Paley’s significant metal work and an exposition of the intricacies and organic designs achieved with this medium. The technically masterful doors, fences, and sculptures reveal the twists, curves, extensions, and patterns forged by Paley.

Paley entered into the world of architecture when he completed the Portal Gates for the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. These gates, included in the show, proved pivotal for Paley as they launched him from the jewelry and decorative objects in which he worked to the greater scale necessitated for architecture. As evidenced in the exhibition, no detailing or fluidity was lost in this transition from small scale to large; such three dimensional triumphs were merely enlarged and intensified.

Thanks to the sketches and proposals also on view, American Metal provides a further glimpse into the metalsmith’s unparalleled technique and creativity. Hand drawings, along with cardboard maquettes covered with red pencil markings and sequential numbering, offer rare insight into Paley’s design process and to how he has altered the American landscape one idea, and work, at a time.

To augment the retrospective at the Corcoran, Paley’s monumental metal sculptures are on view through October 13 at Chesterwood in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. This marks the first time the institution has presented the sculpture of one artist, underscoring once again the significance of Albert Paley to the field of contemporary art, design, and architecture in America. Neither the Corcoran nor the Chesterwood exhibition is to be missed. — Margaret Hancock

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