Wendell Castle, Nirvana (chair), 2007, Gift of Wendell Castle, 2013.0216
Wendell Castle, f’58, g’66, a sculptor hailed as the founding father of the American art furniture movement, died Saturday at his home in Scottsville, NY. He was 85.
Castle used sculptural techniques to creature modernist tables, benches, lamps, coat racks and clocks that were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the Spencer Museum of Art and dozens of other venues, pioneering a new art form that applied the techniques of modern sculpture to furniture-making. Two of Castle’s works, a KU-blue chair titled “Nirvana” and a sculpture called “Hanging in the Balance,” are on view in the Spencer’s permanent galleries.
In 2015 the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City organized an exhibition that paired Castle’s early 1960s pieces with new work, highlighting the restless, inventive creativity that drove him throughout his 60-year career always to strive to accomplish something new.
“There have been times when I made something that has been very successful, and there would be buyers out there if I wanted to make a lot of them,” Castle told Kansas Alumni on the eve of the exhibition. “But I don’t want to make a lot of them. I want to move right on. … I don’t believe it’s true art if there’s no risk.”
The Emporia native returned to campus several times over the years, including in 2013, when he received an honorary Doctor of Arts from KU, and in 2008, when the Spencer organized an exhibition of his curious, whimsical clocks: “Wendell Castle: About Time.” The showstopper was a bell-shaped aluminum piece with a motor inside that caused it to roll slowly on the floor, tracing a complete circle every 12 hours.
“Because the sculpture is not perfectly round and the surface it rolls on is never perfectly flat, the piece occasionally encounters resistance, like a wheel caught in a rut,” Kansas Alumni reported. “At such moments the sculpture must build momentum to overcome that resistance, and it rocks in place before lurching forward.”
“It illustrates, in a primitive kind of way, one of Einstein’s thoughts about time, that time moves in fits and starts,” Castle said. “We all know that: If you’re waiting for something time takes forever. If you’re having a great time, time flies.”
The Spencer Museum of Art published this video in 2013 in anticipation of Castle’s honorary Doctor of Arts degree. In the video, Castle discusses his decision to study art at the University of Kansas. For more coverage of Castle and his achievements, click here.
Joseph Ducreux’s painting “Le Discret,” one of the Spencer Museum’s iconic and most-popular paintings, will headline an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, beginning in May. This article was originally published in issue no. 2, 2017, of Kansas Alumni magazine.
Is he shushing noisy children, warning of dire political dangers, or something else? Even the title of Joseph Ducreaux’s “Le Discret” hints at ambiguity. Silence? Discretion? Shades of both?
Such range of content within an otherwise uncomplicated image helped establish “Le Discret,” which has been on near-continuous display at KU since it s951 acquisition, as an icon of the Spencer Museum of Art’s collection. Now it will take its charms to a larger audience as the headliner of “America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting,” an exhibition from May 21 to Aug. 20 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
“This work has a lot of personality,” says Susan Earle, the Spencer’s curator of European and American art. “It’s a great way to represent us, to share that Kansas is a place with a lot of interesting culture that people may not be aware of. That might just be a revelation to some people.”
As First Painter to Queen Marie Antoinette, Ducreux feared for his life during the French Revolution and fled for a time to London. Forced afterward to reinvent himself, Ducreux ventured beyond the norms of high-society portraiture by painting self-portraits that depicted expressions then rare in fine art: yawning, laughing, crying, mocking, shushing.
Earle describes the 1791 painting as a sort of 18th-century selfie, which helps explain Ducreux’s emergence as an internet superstar. The painter, who died in 1802, has two Twitter accounts and in 2013 won Reddit’s Tournament of Memes. “It hits that chord as a selfie in a way that others don’t,” Earle says. “This one somehow speaks to people.”
2016 was an eventful year that marked major milestones and gave cause for celebration. From our Jayhawks in Rio to our 27th Rhodes Scholar, KU alumni had plenty of reasons to be proud of their alma mater in 2016, so we’re recounting the most memorable moments and biggest KU stories of the past year. With help from our crack team of KU experts, a.k.a. your hard-working KU Alumni Association staff, we’ve assembled and ranked the top stories of 2016. So without further ado, we present the best of KU:
…How are we doing so far? Can you guess the biggest stories of 2016? Our final 15 feature some beloved KU buildings–both new and old–a few famous Jayhawks and some fond farewells. Keep reading while we reveal the rest of the best…
The Spencer Museum of Art will reopen to the public Saturday, Oct. 15, after an 18-month renovation that has transformed exhibition and educational spaces. A weekend-long celebration featuring music and dance performances, art activities and new gallery installations will usher in a new era for the Spencer Museum.
Kansas Alumni magazine featured the Spencer renovation as the cover story of issue No. 5, 2016. The article is available online.
Click here to learn more about the renovation and to see a schedule of events for the grand opening celebration.
Saralyn Reece Hardy, c’76, g’94, director of the Spencer Museum, shares more in our new video below.
The KU Alumni Association is commemorating the 150th anniversary of KU’s first day of classes on September 12, 1866, with a 15-hour sale on membership. Starting at 9 a.m. on September 12, Jayhawks can receive a $15 discount on Annual Memberships and a 15% discount on Life Memberships. The sale lasts until midnight.
A limited-edition KU keepsake, a print of Streeter Blair’s painting KU’s First Morning in 1866, is also being offered for sale exclusively to members, thanks to a partnership with KU’s Spencer Museum of Art. Details about the promotion can be found at kualumni.org/ku150 along with a summary of other sesquicentennial celebrations that have taken place throughout the year.
Alumni support has been a longstanding tradition at the University of Kansas. The KU Alumni Association is grateful for the 42,000 proud members who have helped make KU a truly great university. Learn more.