One interesting social effect of the Covid-19 era is new circuits of networking borne not only of proliferating media forums but also by dint of temporary physical relocations. I have been holed up in a small town upstate, where the sculpture park at Salem Art Works has been one of my interesting art finds. In conjunction, a neighbor mentioned that her sister, Arden, was a sculptor specializing in abstract large-scale outdoor work. I first heard of Arden Scott, who was born in 1938, a few years ago when a brief article appeared in the New York Times that highlighted her local renown as a boat-building sailor in Greenport, NY, where she has also been creating art for the past forty years. This article announced the sale of a small schooner she built from scratch over eight years, itself a fixture in the community. I had never seen her work, although she had been exhibiting in New York for decades, albeit with decreasing visibility. I learned that Scott has continued steadfastly with her art and has been active in a lively regional scene.
What: Abstract sculpture by Arden Scott
Where: Kathryn Markel Fine Art, 529 West 20th Street, NY 10011; markelfinearts.com; VSOP Projects, 311 Front Street, Greenpoint, NY 11944; vsopprojects.com.
Both galleries are currently open by appointment only due to Covid-19; see the websites for contact information and updates.
In a phone conversation last week, the artist relayed to me that she began to define herself as an artist while growing up in Westchester County when she began visiting New York City museums. There, she also always enjoyed spending time near the water. Among her earliest sculptural triggers was David Smith’s horizontally-oriented, skeletal painted steel piece, “Australia” (MoMA). After graduating high school in 1956, she did not attend a college-level art school, still relatively rare at the time, or likewise, dedicated studio art departments. She credits classes with Leo Steppat, a pioneering studio art educator and sculptor specializing in welded abstract sculpture, at the University of Wisconsin, with setting her on the road to New York art world, without finishing her degree.
For several years, Scott lived and worked in a series of lower Manhattan apartments with a husband and, eventually, four children. To be able to pursue her art she used to take on jobs that even now are non-traditional for women, such as plumbing, eventually trekking to a Bronx shipyard for affordable studio space as her work got larger in size.
A break came in the late 1960s from the legendary art dealer Ivan Karp, who gave innumerable artists of all stripe their starts; Scott was included in the inaugural show at his O.K. Harris Gallery (1969). By the time his active days were waning, Scott had a fledgling art career, eventually establishing a long-term affiliation with Kathryn Markel, known also for her commitment to artists and her gallery’s longevity. Scott speaks fondly about supportive, artistically engaging relationships with both, as such artist-dealer relationships are dwindling in the current mega-market driven contemporary art milieu.
Still, by 1978, gentrification was underway—even the Bronx space was slated for condominiums. Through a friend, Scott secured new studio space in another shipyard—in Greenpoint on the Long Island Sound, at first commuting sporadically from home base in Manhattan. Conducive to the practice of her two passions, sculpture and sailing, long independent of each other on a conscious level, she relocated permanently within a few years to the then sleepy fishing village—now something of a hipster alternative to the ritzy Hamptons across the bay. By the late 1980s, her non-objective linear forms were morphing into ship shapes suggestive of motion. In her favored medium, welded steel, they have affinities with Anthony Caro’s framing structures, often in similar rich monochromes that culminated for Scott with industrial baked pigment coatings.
Others are more of more fragile natural materials incorporating involving intricate crafting techniques or appear so in textured bronze. Collectively, they conjure a range of sea-faring vessels across time, place and cultures, without being preconceived as representational; in turn, they spawned other curvilinear abstractions.
More recently she has been revisiting early modernist aesthetics, judging from a series of totemic, sentinel-like hand-painted works structures evoke works by Max Ernst, Joan Miro, and Alexander Calder.
Beyond well-attested gender bias in the postwar art world, few women working exclusively in large-scale abstract sculpture have rivaled the attention that peer male artists enjoyed. When I asked about her experience, Scott replied that she never really stopped to think about—notably, neither did Ivan Karp. She did recall supportive camaraderie with Mark DiSuvero and George Trakas, among others of a loose downtown cohort that showed generosity with each other in terms of opportunities for sculpture—a tough career endeavor in any case. At present, with most seasonal outdoor venues already canceled, Scott simply forges ahead as always with her self-generating work, wherever it leads.