|Art in America
Sidney Geist at Jason McCoy
by Edward Leffingwell
This vibrant survey of works from 1936 to 2004 by sculptor Sidney Geist included a variety of mediums, from cast aluminum and terra-cotta to painted wood and ink on paper. Born in Paterson, N.J., Geist studied at St. Stephen's College (today's Bard), the Art Students League and in Paris with Ossip Zadkine. He later taught sculpture at Pratt, the New York Studio School and Vassar. In 1969-70, he served as guest curator for the Brancusi retrospective at the Guggenheim, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Art Institute of Chicago, and his book Constantin Brancusi, 1876-1957 was the catalogue for that exhibition.
Geist's works are often totemic and abstract, but they can also be figurative and playful. The frontal simplicity and reductive features of his marble Mask (1937) recall Brancusi's Sleeping Child (ca. 1908). Geist's 86-inch-tall wooden Hommage sans fin (1997) nods to the small version of Brancusi's Endless Column, carved in wood by the master in 1918. In Hommage, Geist's pencil scores the sites intended for his regular cuts into a foursquare, 7-foot timber, introducing a rotationally symmetrical pattern and skyward orientation.
The spirit of the constructed sculptures of Joaquin Torres-Garcia come to mind in such works as a 6-foot sculpture of painted pine and iron, Young Woman (1951). This totemic, columnar expression of sinuous figuration includes what resembles a wooden painter's palette bored through with recessed rows of decreasing diameter, painted a spectrum of colors. Four-Way Figure (1957) is made of roughly milled, jigsawed wood segments more than 6 feet tall--four slotted and fitted planks that intersect at right angles. These somewhat figurative segments face each other in repeats of form and color, a cubistic sculpture resembling Noguchi's figurative cutouts. Smaller works in wood resemble body ornaments or toys, such as Needles (1936), a graduated articulation of smoothly finished pieces strung together like the necklace it resembles, and Object of the same year, bristling with spikes like a hairbrush. A 7-foot-high, voluptuous polychrome goddess figure in the manner of a ribald Picasso, Femme-Fleur (1989-92) conflates the elements of its title. In the manipulation and collaging of forms and the influences of tribal precedents and modernist history, Geist delights in the interaction of occasionally grotesque elements.
The most recent works were three untitled, freely brushed ink washes on paper recalling choreographic sketches of the figure in motion. In an earlier group, three untitled ink drawings from 1956 consist of prominent rhythmic dots that resemble a plotting of stars in a constellation, which, when connected, resolve into a figure. In this telling, Geist was presented as a prince of the modernist era, inventive, spontaneous and free.