2 Sculptures in Collection
Works in Selected Public Collections
Storm King, New Windsor, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Hirschhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, Spain; Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Beverly Pepper Sculpture Park, Todi, Italy; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; Dallas Museum of Art, Texas; Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois; Museum of Modern Art, Sapporo, Japan; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Selected Permanent Public Sculptures
Todi Columns, Piazza del Popolo, Todi, Italy; Spazio Teatro Celle, Pistoia, Italy; Thel, Dartmouth University, New Hampshire; Palingenesis, Zurich, Switzerland; Manhattan Sentinels, Federal Plaza, New York, NY; Sol i Ombra, Barcelona, Spain: Hawk Hill, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Sacramento Stele, Sacramento, CA; Alpha, Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, MO
Beverly Pepper: Palingenesis 1965-2012, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MI, 2012
Retrospective, Palais Royale, Paris, France, 1999
Beverly Pepper a Forte Belvedere, Retrospective, Forte Belvedere, Florence, Italy, 1998
Beverly Pepper, Contemporary Sculpture Center, Toyko, Japan; Traveled to Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 1991
Beverly Pepper: Small Scale Sculpture and Drawing, Gerald Peters Gallery Sante Fe, New Mexico and Dallas, TX, 1989
Included Flat Genesis
Beverly Pepper, Sculpture in Place, organized by Douglas G. Schultz, Director, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD, 1986. Traveled to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Columbus Museum of Art, OH; The Brooklyn Museum, NY; Center for Fine Arts, Miami, FL, 1987
Beverly Pepper Sculpture, The Tyler School of Art in Rome, Rome, Italy, 1973
Included Wind Totem
Beverly Pepper: Monumentality, A Life in Art by Robert Hobbs and Phyllis Tuchman, Rizzoli, New York, 2012
Beverly Pepper: Three Site Specific Sculptures by Barbara Rose, Spacemaker Press and Milan: Edizioni Olivares, Italy, 1998
Beverly Pepper a Forte Belvedere by Angelo Bucarelli, Milano, Electa, Milano, Italy, 1998
Beverly Pepper, Sculpture in Place by Rosalind E. Krauss, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY and Abbeville Press Publishers, NY, 1986
Born 1922 Brooklyn, NY
Died 2020 Todi, Italy
Beverly Pepper is an internationally celebrated abstract sculptor who created monumental works in steel, iron, and stone. Six decades of committed work and a willingness to overcome the substantial obstacles faced by women sculptors earned Pepper numerous awards as well as commissions from public and private entities across the globe. Pepper worked with a range of materials and processes. Her art varies in style as well as scale as she responded to the materials she was working with as well as the site.
Pepper grew up in Brooklyn, New York and was supported in her art by her mother and her paternal grandmother. She was inclined to make art as a child and early on she was specific about her material choices—at age 6 she took a dollar from her mother’s purse to buy colored pencils. Pepper enrolled at Pratt Institute after high school but was denied entrance to industrial design classes because of her gender. At her mother’s urging, she pursued commercial art and at 24 she was a designer for Decca Records in New York. At night she took an art theory class with Gyorgy Kreps at Brooklyn College and painting at the Art Students League. She married and divorced in the late 1940s and then made her way to Europe to attend Académie de la Grande Chaumiere where she studied with Andre Lhote and Fernand Leger, who was an advocate for outdoor public art. At the time Pepper was pursing painting, doing social realist work that captured the suffering present in post war Europe.
In 1949 she met Curtis Bill Pepper in Rome. He was an art enthusiast, author and a former Air Force intelligence officer and would become her husband. They settled in Rome and Bill became Newsweek’s Mediterranean bureau chief. The couple were a compelling duo, both deeply curious about the world. They surrounded themselves with other creative people including Gore Vidal and Federico Fellini. Pepper exhibited her paintings during this time, but it was writing cookbooks that generated some income. She continued painting into the 1950s, frequently using their daughter as her model.
Pepper became interested in working as a sculptor after taking a trip in 1960 through Asia and the United States. She was deeply moved by the Khmer Temple complex at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, enchanted by how the banyan trees had interwoven themselves through the ancient carvings. Compelled by this memory of art and nature merged into a complete environment, she returned to Rome and immediately purchased a group of felled elm trees and began carving.
Two years later in 1961 she began to work in metal after a visit from Giovanni Carandente of the ambitious Spoleto Festival. Carandente reported that he had invited David Smith and Alexander Calder to participate in the Festival and he wanted the third sculptor to be a woman. He asked Pepper if she knew how to weld. She evaded answering and asked instead for the exhibition’s dates. Caradente’s visit was in April, the exhibition was September. She told Carandente yes, she could weld. Upon his departure she went out and apprenticed herself to an ironmonger to learn how to weld. This tenacity, commitment and lack of fear of processes or material was to serve Pepper throughout her lifetime.
The Spoleto exhibition, Sculture Nella Cittá, put Pepper on the art world’s radar. During the 1960s she worked in steel factories in Italy creating ribbon sculptures, works where she welds together long strips of steel. Wind Totem in the Wolfson Collection was made during these early years. Pepper then moved on to make geometric stainless steel boxes that reflected the land where they were placed, their mass dissolving into the surrounding sky and grass. In 1964 she was one of the first sculptors to work in Cor Ten steel, which rusts when exposed to the elements leaving an overall soft patina.
Pepper’s interest in exploring materials was complemented by a freeness in her approach to making art. She has no trademark style, employing a range of materials, processes and scale. Her aesthetic propensities are abstract and minimalist in nature, but she held no strict adherence to any one ethos preferring instead to rely on her instincts. She commented that “each material has its own kind of aliveness.” Her approach was a push pull between the metal’s inherent properties and a desire to build tension in the work by manipulating material and form. Wind Totem in the Wolfson Collection beautifully illustrates Pepper’s desire to confound. Using rigid strips of steel she draws in space, creating a light and fluid work. The carved stone base roots the work, its density a contrast to the openness of the metal’s arching dance.
In 1972 the couple traded their home in central Rome to restore a 14th-century castle near Todi, a medieval hill town. Todi became home for the remainder of their lives. Many believe that this choice hurt Pepper’s reputation as it removed her further from the New York art scene but Italy’s way of life and it’s rich cultural history appealed to the artist. And she was never one to be discouraged by obstacles.
Pepper’s drive to make art propelled her to overcome tremendous impediments as a woman both physically and socially. Working alongside mostly working class men in factories, Pepper learned quickly how to communicate clearly and with humor. She was eager to learn from the workers about the materials they knew intimately. Earning their respect, she was able to work at factories all over the world and successfully execute huge pieces.
In the late 60s Pepper turned away from the vertical form that is inevitably linked to the figure and embraced the landscape with its horizonal orientation. Exhibiting regularly now in New York and Rome, Pepper was sought out by cities around the world to do public commissions. She worked in sites in Italy, Switzerland, and Spain, making art that was built in collaboration with the natural environment. This is the same moment in the 1970s that earthworks in the U.S. were being built in remote desert locations by men like Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson. Pepper’s earthworks works were different. They were not in isolated locales but mostly in urban environments. She called them amphisculptures, referencing outdoor theaters found in Rome and Greece. They were hybrids of both outdoor amphitheaters and sculpture.
As Pepper developed her thinking about how to work with nature, her ambition was to create whole parks or environments that could be used be the public, including seating elements, steps and theaters. In 1984 the city of Barcelona invited Pepper to participate in a city-wide urban renewal project which gave her the opportunity to design a public park in an abandoned railroad station. Working on the project for five years, between 1987-1992, she created a 35,000 sq ft park, Sol i Umbra (Sun and Shade), that consists of two major elements—a huge ceramic tile-covered earth mound, Cel Caigut, that rises out of the earth and swells up like a wave, and a descending spiral of trees with curvilinear seating areas composed of ceramic tiled benches that burrow into the earth. The colorful blue tiles she used were an homage to Barcelona’s favored artistic son, Antonio Gaudi, who used ceramic tile in his famous works Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia cathedral.
In 1980 Pepper worked at the John Deere factory in Moline, Illinois. Working alongside the factory’s metalworkers, she made monolithic sculptures out of cast iron. The forms were inspired by molds for tools that she had found near her home in Italy.
In the 1980s and 1990s Pepper’s sculptures took the form of sentinels, obelisks, and wedge-shaped objects that paid homage to primitive totems. Flat Genesis in the Wolfson Collection was done during this time. It’s strong geometric base softening, narrowing as it curves upward shows Pepper’s keen sense of proportion and form. This work is a close cousin of a larger outdoor sculpture that Pepper did for Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain. The central cut in Flat Genesis is typical of Pepper who often employed the tension of opening and closing, inside and outside to create interest and energy. The narrow slit invites in light, the shadows disrupting the soft patinaed surface. The title and form of the work suggest female sexual and reproductive power.
For the next two decades Pepper investigates more curvilinear monumental forms while she continues to accept public and private commissions worldwide. Her indefatigable drive to make art and explore new materials and new forms continued well into her ninth decade. She had a number of retrospective exhibitions throughout the world including in Florence, Italy; Grand Rapids, Michigan and at the Palais Royale in Paris. In 2013 at age 91 Beverly Pepper was awarded the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award.