October 31, 2022
This week we recognize Steven Siegel, and his forty plus year practice focused on the new geology leading to the Anthropocene.
Siegel's early interest in geology was stimulated after reading Basin and Range by John McPhee. Sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, he traveled to Scotland in 1983, and visited the site where geologist Dr. James Hutton made his discoveries. The rock formations in Scotland were the result of the geologic processes at work over millions of years. The experience had resonated with Siegel and is reflected in his early work, notably in his newspaper sculptures, which he first attempted for the Snug Harbor Sculpture Festival on Staten Island, New York in 1990. Staten Island is home to Freshkills Park, once the world’s largest landfill, with tons of refuse buried under mounds of earth. The location prompted Siegel to note that humans were creating a “new geology” from waste, and inspired the titles of his first sculptures of this kind: New Geology #1 (1990, below) and New Geology #2 (1992). click images for more info
"There is a dutiful, yet delightful dimension to Siegel’s work. A great task produces a very simple thing. Yet this may be the only clear and dependable equation. Other connections and conclusions are variable and elusive. Generically characterized as big, spare forms of recycled newspapers, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, shredded rubber, or other jetsam, there is a serious content to this seemingly unaffected work. Remarkable and robust physical evidence and material accumulations convey a tension of imminent vulnerability and gradual dissolution. There is a puzzling experience of dissonant beauty in these ungainly objects made of disposable, if not unsightly materials. Often mimicking natural forms and processes, the conspicuously artificial work “fits” its environment in a plain, natural manner." – Patricia C. Phillips, art historian and critic, Sculpture Magazine, 2003
As a young artist working with sculptor Michael Singer in the seventies, Steven traveled to installation sites from Texas to Germany. “At the time, [Singer] was probably the best artist in the world working with natural materials and natural settings. I got a sense of what it meant to be around people doing ambitious things in ambitious places.” excerpt from Siegel's installation diary
"For an artist, or scientist, or any kind of human being really, sometimes the unfailing need to ask the same questions over and over again can become a kind of answer in itself. Where Siegel's work exists, the most salient question perhaps is one of the relationship of a person, caught like a bug in a tiny mortal moment, to the old primal earth. But the nature of the question is what defines the artwork in the end. In Siegel's work, the subtle transmission of meaning through inquiry may be in the fact that the question is "how do the natural forces of time and decay and accumulation act on earthly matter?" And in this formulation, humanity is not separate from the category of earthly matter, but part of its awesome whole. The real inspiration comes when someone grasps that deep time is not a threat to one's personal significance, but a vast enfoldment in which one's little light husk becomes part of something venerable and profound." Karin Bolender, artist-researcher, Dutchess Magazine, 2000
Steven Siegel is nationally and internationally recognized visual artist who has been making large-scale sculptures since the 1970s. He has created public artworks, private commissions, sited sculptures and installations that fall into three broad categories: time-bound, outdoor newspaper structures; organic, linear works primarily made with shredded rubber; and large cubes or spheres of bound waste materials, often crushed plastic or aluminum containers.Though his more recent works have tended towards large wall pieces–mural versions of his sculptures. Siegel has been interviewed by John K. Grande for Sculpture magazine in 2010 and his work written about by Patricia C. Phillips for Sculpture magazine in 2003. He has created commissioned works in cities and universities throughout the U.S. and Europe, in Australia, and Kazakhstan and Korea, and at the DeCordova Museum, Arte Sella Sculpture Park (Italy), Grounds for Sculpture, and Art Omi. Siegel lives and works in Tivoli in upstate New York.
Featured Images (top to bottom): ©Steven Siegel,Oak, 2004, newspaper, Gong-Ju, Korea; New Geology #1, 1990, newspaper, soil, plants, at Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, New York; Round, 1995, plastic jugs, Connemara Nature Conservancy, Plano, Texas; Scale, 2002, newspaper, Abington Arts Center, Jenkinstown, Pennsylvania; Like a Buoy, Like a Barrel, 2019, plastic, rubber, Providence, Rhode Island (destroyed by vandalism, fire, in 2020); below, portrait of the artist with his monumental work titled Biography (2008-2013).