Ursula von Rydingsvard
American, born Germany, 1942
Bowl with Lips, 2000 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,
Cedar and graphite, 77 x 56 x 70 in.
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) 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.
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.
--Emily Stamey 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.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Ulrich Musuem of Art
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.