“Shatter,” a striking new exhibition of three large steel sculptures by American artist Jonathan Prince, was unveiled at Christie’s Sculpture Garden in New York City last month. Unlike with an auction, a private sale at Christie’s allows an artist to have an exhibition, in this case in the Sculpture Garden, that both collectors and the general public are able to see for an extended period of time. This is the artist’s second solo exhibition since 2012 at the space and the sales are being handled through Christie’s in London. Vivian Brodie, Post-War and Contemporary Art Specialist at Christie’s says that the exhibitions in the Sculpture Garden “are an excellent opportunity for us to expose artists like Jonathan Prince to the public in an exciting new way.” The Sculpture Garden has been showing work since 2008 and has previously exhibited works by Robert Indiana, Alexander Calder, Ronald Bladen and Les Lalanne, the artist duo François-Xavier Lalanne and Claude Lalanne.
A childhood visit with his father to the studio of Cubist sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, in Hastings-on-Hudson, had a lasting impact on Jonathan Prince and sparked an early interest in sculpture. On the day of the visit, the French artist was working on the clay sculpture for the famous bronze bust of John F. Kennedy, now in Military Park in Newark, N.J. The influence of other Modernist masters like Constantin Brancusi, with his clean geometrical lines and Jean Arp’s biomorphic sculptures, has been evident in Jonathan Prince’s work since he started his sculptural practice fifteen years ago.
Jonathan Prince’s large works are created from stainless steel, COR-TEN steel, aluminium, bronze and granite. With all of his work he explores the tension between the perfect and the organic, the whole and the broken, in both form and material. COR-TEN, a trademarked weather-resistant steel alloy, is the ideal material for a series of sculptures that have evolved since 2010. This type of steel was developed by US Steel to eliminate the need for painting and its rust-like appearance after several years’ exposure to weather provides the ideal contrast to the highly polished glistening steel segments that Prince adds to each sculpture.
“I’m constantly exploring the properties of fluidity and movement created with static heavy immobile materials like steel and granite,” Prince explains. “There is a poetry within the juxtaposition of fragility and strength in the materials and forms that I work with, I see this physical duality as a parallel to the chaos of the human condition.”
Three massive COR-TEN steel salvaged water pipes, each weighing two tonnes, form the basis of the Shatter series sculptures. Over 420 pieces of highly polished stainless steel have been meticulously added by hand to the front of each pipe. Each of these steel pieces was not cast; each has been individually formed and polished by hand. The artist is at pains to emphasise the handmade nature of the work. Everything is created within his own studio, nothing is sent out to be cast by fabrication houses which of course is a common practice by other well-known artists. The process is as important as the result and the process is very time-consuming indeed, with each of the Shatter sculptures taking over 2,000 hours (or seven months) of labor to complete.
The polished stainless steel pieces that are welded onto each sculpture in the Shattered series look perfect and there are no weld marks but in fact nothing was planned. “Form that is recognisable but not predictable” is a central element of the Shatter series of sculptures that push the boundaries of how steel can behave. They all flow but each piece evolves as it’s being produced. Each is chaotic; they have “chaos built into the geometry.” Prince is looking at the duality of “perfection versus chaos” with the chaos in the breaks within each sculpture. He says a comment from the late, great fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh resonated with him. Lindbergh aimed through his photographs to “free women, and finally everyone, from the terror of youth and perfection.” With his polished steel on rusting water pipes that have already had a life elsewhere, Jonathan Prince is not aiming to create perfection but to show beauty in chaos.
Jonathan Prince’s works are in public and private collections, including The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and The Joseph M. Cohen Family Collection. A previous sell-out exhibition of his sculptures, the Liquid State series was exhibited at Christie’s Sculpture Garden in 2012.
Jonathan Prince’s exhibition “Shatter” runs until 10 November 2019 in the Christie’s Sculpture Garden, located in the public courtyard of 535 Madison Avenue, New York.