Ursula von Rydingsvard
American, born Germany, 1942

Bowl with Lips, 2000
Cedar and graphite, 77 x 56 x 70 in.
Museum Purchase

Born to a Polish mother and a Ukrainian father, Ursula von Rydingsvard spent her childhood displaced, moving with her family among Germany's post–World War II labor and refugee camps. Not surprisingly, her sculptures seem to resound with echoes of these formative years. "I was exposed to very few objects," the artist recalled,

and the ones I grew very attached to were the things that belonged to my father, his agricultural tools; and the things which belonged to my mother, her domestic implements, like bowls, washboards and spoons, and so on. . . . I still feel that these very primitive implements, without a machine attached to them, that you work food with, that you work the soil with, they’re the real icons in my eyes, in my head.(1)

The manual labor von Rydingsvard associates with these objects and with her family also informs the making of her sculptures. Although she uses electrical tools, her works require a physically demanding process. She repetitively cuts and scores beams of cedar as she stacks, clamps, and laminates them together, finally darkening their surfaces by rubbing them with powdered graphite.

These complex sculptures invite multiple, sometimes contradictory, readings. Their rough, abraded surfaces evoke natural landscapes and manmade ruins. Their substantial masses feel at once threatening and protective. Bowl with Lips bears these characteristic traits and also employs von Rydingsvard's signature vessel form, a motif she turns to often because of its rich associative potential. Bowls are a fixture in her own thoughts, but their archetypal form also recalls how bowls have been universally used for both domestic and sacred purposes, as holders of nourishment for both body and soul. For von Rydingsvard, the bowl is "a world, a vessel of emotions."(2) She also frequently thinks about the bowl's kinship to the human body--a link underscored by the present work, whose title and round opening suggest lips parted in speech. Habitually reticent to assign a single interpretation to any of her sculptures, the artist undoubtedly would hope that this one speaks differently to each viewer.

--Emily Stamey
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Ulrich Musuem of Art

1. Von Rydingsvard interviewed by Deborah Emont Scott in Michael Brenson, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Deborah Emont Scott, Ursula von Rydingsvard, exh. cat. (Kansas City, Mo.: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 1997), 27.
2. Von Rydingsvard quoted in Martin Friedman, “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Mining the Unconscious,” in Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Stephen Fleishman, and Martin Friedman, Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture, exh. cat. (Madison, Wisc.: Madison Art Center, 1998), 22.
Ursula von Rydingsvard (American, born Germany, 1942), 'Bowl with Lips,' 2000. Cedar and graphite, 77 by 56 by 70 inches. Museum PurchaseArtofOurTimecatalogue,publishedin2010