Manuel Neri: The Figure in Relief
November 7, 2008 – January 17, 2009
Internationally acclaimed sculptor’s 25-year retrospective of figurative relief sculptures in exclusive Bay Area Presentation.
The ICA is proud to present The Figure in Relief, a comprehensive exhibition of painted sculptures, maquettes and works on paper by preeminent Bay Area sculptor Manuel Neri. This is the first time that this body of work has been shown together in California. Neri has been exploring the human body in his art for more than five decades. He is known internationally for his life-size sculptures in plaster, bronze, ceramic and marble as well as for his association with the Bay Area figurative movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Since his earliest figurative sculptures, Neri has used color to add gestural and emotional depth to the work, creating pieces that merge contemporary sculptural considerations with classical forms. He has worked with the same model, Mary Julia Klimenko, since 1972. Over the decades, she has become as much his muse and collaborator as his model.
The Figure in Relief includes work from the last 25 years that focuses on Neri’s use of the fragmentary and partial figure. Due to the enormous expense of production, the bronze editions often required periods of several years to complete. The relief format has coalesced into four series: Arco de Geso, Mujer Pegada, Maha and Isla Negra. Each series is preceded and often accompanied by a substantial number of drawings. The reliefs recall ancient Greek temple pediments and metopes as well as medieval altarpiece carvings and Renaissance relief sculpture. However, unlike the multiple figure scenes and narratives depicted in these historical references, Neri’s sculptures are more minimal and abstract. The reliefs often depict a single figure in various states of emergence from the background, sometimes gazing out at the viewer but more often turning away. In his introduction to the exhibition catalogue, Maxwell Anderson suggests that the single figure is one of a pair – that someone else is missing or just out of sight.
Manuel Neri was born on April 12, 1930 near Sanger, California. He studied briefly at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and later attended the University of California at Berkeley where Mark Rothko was teaching. Neri withdrew from Berkeley after his freshman year, only to be drafted for service in Korea from 1953 – 1955. Upon his return to the Bay Area, he enrolled in the California School of Fine Arts (now known as the San Francisco Art Institute) where Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira, and Frank Lobdell were among the influential artists and teaches at the school. He taught at the California School of Fine Arts from 1959 – 1964 before becoming a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Davis. In 1976, Neri was appointed Professor of Art and continued his tenure at Davis until his retirement in 1999.