publication of the International Sculpture Center
the Personal Monumental:
A Conversation with Patricia Cronin
by Jan Garden Castro
Memorial to a Marriage, 200001.
Carrara marble, 83 x 40 x 27 in.
E.G. Schempf, courtesy Grand Arts, Kansas City
three-ton marble mortuary sculpture Memorial to a Marriage is heroic in
size, scale, and theme. At its debut at Grand Arts in Kansas City on September
6, the artist and her partner were doubled, their presence mirrored by
their marble likenesses embracing in what Cronin describes as post-coital
The work takes its theme from Courbets 1876 painting The Sleep,
its style from 19th-century mortuary sculpture, and part of its process
from 21st-century technology. Memorial to a Marriage was permanently
installed at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Its November 3 unveiling
was presented by Deitch Projects, New York. Memorial is a new sculptural
direction for Cronin. Her work includes close-up, sensual, and explicit
drawings of women making love, shown from a participants point of
view. Cronin also draws on horses as a metaphor and symbol that she associates
with girls, women, sexuality, and power. Since receiving her BFA from
Rhode Island College in 1986 and her MFA from Brooklyn College in 1988,
Cronin has been featured in five solo exhibitions and over 50 group exhibitions.
The plaster model of Memorial was included in the recent exhibition
Family at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield,
Connecticut. Cronin is the recipient of two Pollock-Krasner Foundation
Grants. She is a visiting critic in the Graduate Art Program at Yale University,
and she also teaches undergraduate courses at the School of Visual Arts.
Memorial to a Marriage.
Plaster, 2/3 to scale maquette.
Jan Garden Castro:
What is the genesis of your latest project?
For the last two and a half years, Ive been working on Memorial
to a Marriage. Carved in marble, its an over-life-sized double portrait
of my partner and me in a loving embrace. Im interested in subverting
the 19th-century figurative style by injecting contemporary content. The
project was funded predominantly by Grand Arts, the Kansas City-based
foundation. They pick a few artists a year, ask them what their dream
piece would be, and then pay most fabrication costs.
When I was selected
by Grand Arts, I had just finished
a series of bronze horses, and I started looking around New York City
at all of the public equestrian monuments. In these war memorials, the
men were specific, the horses were particular, but, alas, the women were
I loved these sculptures but found them lacking. I tried to find images
of women in public places that were particular. In Manhattan, there are
Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir, Joan of Arc, Alice in Wonderland, and Mother
Goose. The same artists who made war memorials also made cemetery art,
most famously Augustus Saint Gaudens who made the Adams monument (commissioned
in 1886) in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, DC. Soon, I was researching
cemeteries and the Garden or Rural Cemetery Movement,
as it was known. Women, children, and men are remembered specifically
Memorial to a Marriage.
Plasticine clay, 2/3 to scale maquette.
Harriet Hosmer, Beatrice Cenci, 1857.
Courtesy the St.Louis MercantileLibrary at the University of Missouri,
I looked at 19th-century
American idealizing sculpture as a model, especially Harriet Hosmer, but
also Daniel Chester French, William Reinhardt, Edmonia Lewis, William
Wetmore Story, Hiram Powers, and others. These artists were making sculpture
for the new nation, even though Powers and Story stayed in Italy. Most
people believed you had to be trained in Europe to make real
art employing the popular themes of the time: literary figures, biblical
subjects, Greek myths, or historical figures. So artists would get patrons
to finance a good starta trip to Italy, much like Grand
Arts did for me.
did you go?
I went to Paris to research the Père Lachaise, Montparnasse, and
Montmartre cemeteries, then to Italy, to Pietrasanta, where Michelangelo
lived when buying marble, and to the next town north, Carrara. I selected
a 21-ton block of Carrara Bianco P marble. One of the most exciting weeks
in my life was up in the quarries. Strangely enough, they dont allow
women in the quarries, and they wouldnt sell me a block that large
and ship it to the U.S. unless I picked it. So we had to get special paperwork
signed and stamped to allow us access. To me, this was like Rosa Bonheur
getting permission to wear pants in the slaughterhouses to draw the carcasses.
did you develop the marriage theme?
PC: The title
Memorial to a Marriage is taken from the Lincoln Kirstein book
about Saint Gaudenss Adams Memorial. Henry Adams commissioned the
sculpture of his wife Clover Adams, a photographer who committed suicide
by drinking developing solution. Its a wonderful booktheir
sophisticated Transcendental Bostonian lives were intellectual, romantic,
Second, my partner
and I cannot get married. We have wills, health-care proxies, powers of
attorney, and all of the legal forms one can have, but they all pertain
to what happens if one of us should become incapacitated or die. Its
not about our life together; its about the end of it. So I thought,
what I cant have in life, I will have forever, in death. Jessica
Hough, curator of Family at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary
Art this summer, wrote in the catalogue: Cronins ambitious
sculpture celebrates and makes official in death her marriage,
which cannot be made legal in life. I am using a national form,
that is, American 19th-century ideal sculpture, to address a federal failure.
figures give us a model richer than institutional paperwork. Were you
at all concerned with creating too ideal a portrait?
I think theres no such thing as too ideal.
Four views of the computerized carving process used for Memorial
to a Marriage.
was the modeling process like?
PC: The sculpture
was made in my studio in a 19th-century waymodeling in clay and
plaster. I started with photographs and drawings of my partner and myself.
Then I hired two individual models with similar body types and hair textures.
In clay, I modeled it at two-thirds scale because I couldnt get
a life-sized version out of my studio. Then I refined the plaster: plumped
up the mattress, made the curls in the hair a little curlier, refined
the toes, the toenails, the fingernails.
In earlier times,
the sculptor would send off the plaster to the carvers in the workshop.
The carvers would carve the marble using a pointing machine identical
to the plaster and send it back to the sculptor to finish. Rodin, Saint
Gaudens, and Daniel Chester French didnt carve. They were modelers.
The Piccirilli family of six brothers did the actual marble carving for
Saint Gaudens and for French, the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial in
Washington, DC. They carved many monuments in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Instead of a team
of carvers, we fabricated this piece using the newest digital technology,
a five-axis milling machine at Johnson Atelier in Mercerville, New Jersey.
They bought a brand-new machine from Milan specifically to carve this
pieceits the second one built in the world. The machines are
called CNCComputer Numerically Controlled carving machines. The
coupling of 21st-century technology with marble, one of the oldest artists
materials, is really fascinating, especially if you think that bringing
back 19th-century forms is important. First, we 3D-scanned my two-thirds
scale plaster to program the milling machine to do complex carving. The
whole process has been an incredible education.
long did it take the machine to carve?
PC: It took
about three months. We had a couple of problems with a rubber seal and
water in the ball bearings. But they guesstimated that it would have taken
a year to carve by hand. I met the mathematician who came over from Milan
to calibrate the machine. Its been a real team effort to replicate
sounds exorbitantly costly.
PC: Yes. Usually
public sculpture of this scale is financed by an institution, a municipality,
or a wealthy collector.
were the final stages?
the marble. We carved out the undercuts that the machine couldnt
reach, making sure they were roundfor instance, the way the back
sinks into the mattressthen rasping, finishing, and polishing. It
was nice to get back into it after modeling the clay, carving the plaster,
and having the machine mill most of the sculpture. This is where Canova
would come back into it to work on the finishes himself. Whether something
is shiny or notthose are choices he made. You can highlight some
areas and tone down others. The marble is quite responsive.
you teaching yourself or have you worked in marble before? What is your
PC: The learning
curve is high. A very good carver from Russia taught me as we went along.
Each carver has his or her own specialty: roughing out, undercutting,
decorative details, or polishing. I got a fast education.
The Domain of Perfect Affection, 1999.
Wax and pine table, 40 x 48 x 30 in.
Courtesy the St.Louis MercantileLibrary at the University of Missouri,
work seems quite responsive to art history. Could you discuss your critical
In graduate school at Brooklyn College, I studied with Philip Pearlstein
and Lee Bontecou, who have been enormously inspiring. If I had to pick
somebody whose writings really influenced me, it would be Linda Nochlin.
Shes the top tomato of that pyramid as far as Im concerned:
Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?, Eroticism
and Female Imagery in Nineteenth-Century Art, and her essay on Gericault
and the absence of women in his work.
She also writes about contemporary art, which makes her relevant to young
who has written extensively on 19th-century art, sculpture, and animal
imagery in art, has also had a large impact on my thinking. I cant
say enough about Nochlin and Rosenblum. My partner, the artist Deborah
Kass, has an obsessive relationship to art historyModernism, in
particularthat has informed my practice. For other art influences,
I would include Rosa Bonheur.
The Horse Fair.
PC: Of course.
In 1999, I made a piece called The Domain of Perfect Affectionlittle
wax horse sculptures on a pine table. The title is Bonheurs name
for her home, a chateau near Fontainebleau that she shared with her female
companion and all of their animals. Cornelius Vanderbilt bought The Horse
Fair in 1887 and donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Exterior and interior views of Tack Room, 199798.
Wood, leather, metal, glass, and found objects,
96 x 116 x 125.
PC: As was
Harriet Hosmer, who came to Italy around
the same time. She would dress like a man from the waist up but would
still have to wear skirts in the studio, especially when people such as
Queen Victoria would come to visit. She is known as the first professional
woman sculptor, ever.
Im not going
to suggest that Im her equal, but there are similarities. She was
born in Watertown, Massachusetts; I was born in Beverly and grew up in
Brockton, Massachusetts. Her big break was Wayman Crow, the wealthy Saint
Louis merchant who became her patron. It seems that my big break is this
project with Grand Arts, which was entirely funded by the Margaret Hall
Silva Foundation. Silva is part of a well-known Kansas City family. And
while Prospect Park, which is near my studio in Brooklyn, is certainly
not the Borghese Gardens, I have ridden horses there for five years.
I also think the
reality of Hosmers personal life influenced and is evidenced in
her choices of subject, from Beatrice Cenci to Xenobia to
the Queen of Naples. Likewise, my specificity informs my conceptual
and formal decisions. Bonheur and Hosmer, in France and Italy around the
same time, were big role models for me. How come they are not better known?
The first generation of important American women artists has been totally
erased, such as Emma Stebbins who made Angel of the aters (1868)
for the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. So has the first generation
of independent women artists. Its a disgrace.
seem to be re-discovering neglected sources. You give a nod, too, to Courbets
painting The Sleep (1867) in Memorial to a Marriage.
PC: I love
Courbet. I think hes one of the most important French painters.
The Sleep might be the first painting of two women depicted in
post-coital bliss. I wanted that kind of intimacy in my piece, but coupled
with good old 19th-century American Puritanism. So it exists within the
19th-century American tradition, which was never as sexy as the French
Besides that, the
major difference between my piece and Courbets is that mine is a
portrait of two specific women in a particular relationship, and the work
is made for those two women. Courbet hired two models to make a painting
for a wealthy patrons erotic enjoyment. Despite these differences,
I love The Sleep because it was the closest thing I had to identify
your Memorial, how did you develop the elaborate folds draping
the womens legs?
PC: I took
the idea for the folds from Berninis The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
(164552). His drapery seems to have no relation to reality or gravity.
I thought that what he was trying to convey about her body couldnt
be expressed with her body in the 1600s, so he let the surrounding
fabric say it. Sadly, I still think that adult intimacy and the seriousness
of a life commitment in same sex couples cant be conveyed explicitly
in the early 2000s, over 400 years later, so I also am letting the fabric
say it. Im trying to make an object that is as much about love as
it is about politics.
this sculpture larger than life-size was a brilliant strategy. How does
Memorial to a Marriage connect with your body of work on themes
relating to feminism, lesbian sexuality, and horses?
PC: The goal
of my work is to go back, take very traditional forms to which I have
some relationship, and insert contemporary content. I dont think
everyone has gotten to speak through them yet; they are still viable means
of expression/communication. The bronze horses that I made may allude
to Degas, Eakins, and Remington, but they are the girl-postmodern version.
If you look closely, theyre cast from Breyer toy plastic horses,
which is a $50 million a year industry supported by horse-obsessed girls.
I made editions of
four different sculpturesStallion, Mare, Gelding, and
Foal. I call them the four distinct sexual statuses of a horse. I
think every female executive in the U.S. should have one on her desk.
At first I made the original 10-inch and 12-inch ones; now Im working
on a stallion that is 28 inches high. Im working my way up to the
life-sized version. I really want this to exist as public art. New York
City has an incredible equestrian sculpture collection, but they are all
war heroes on stallions. As Deborah Butterfield has said, They need
do you see your work crossing media and the role of sculpture in particular?
really a conceptual artist who uses traditional formserotic watercolors,
portraiture, bronze horses, landscape painting, mortuary/monumental sculptureto
address contemporary ideas that I think need addressing. These usually
involve female subjectivity and autonomy, class, sexuality, power, and
status. I weave back and forth between painting and sculptureas
did Degas, Eakins, Sargent, and many artists from the 19th century. I
am lucky that my technical facility is up to my conceptual choices of
form. Or lets say that if it isnt, I learn fast.
also read Across An Untried Sea by Julia Markus, about 19th-century
PC: Yes. I
love that book, because the romantic and erotic attachments that these
women had really explain their professional and financial interdependence.
While there are other books, both fiction and nonfiction, from Hawthorne
to James and more recent biographies, this is the first one that doesnt
shy away from the reality of these womens lives. And of course I
loved when the Crown Princess of Germany visits Hatties [Harriet
Hosmers] studio and remarks about her talent for toes.
Much to my glee, people have remarked about the toes on my sculpture.
Memorial to a Marriage be able to withstand environmental pollution?
One friend told me that due to pollution most cemeteries no longer accept
in Brooklyn has not let in marble statuary since the 1880s, but Woodlawn
is into conservation, and theyre thrilled. They want to know if
I want the snow brushed or blown off. They have tours of the beautiful
women of Woodlawn and the historic women of Woodlawn. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
is buried there.
Curator Bill Arning has suggested that, historically, lesbian relationships
leave no visible trace except for coded passages embedded in diaries and
the margins of photographs. Youve changed that history.
PC: What excites
me about Memorial to a Marriage is that nobodys ever done
this before on this scale with this image. I really needed it to exist.
Grand Arts has
its own sculpture studio but also funds projects created at other locations.
Past artists include Glenn Goldberg, Alice Aycock, Kimberly Austin, Beth
B, Tim Rollins & K.O.S., Isaac Julien, Dennis Oppenheim, Troy Richards,
Jamex & Einar de la Torre, Roxy Paine, ChanSchatz, and Chris Larson.
In 2003, the exhibition schedule features Sam Easterson, Ian Dawson, Teresita
Fernandez, Catherine Chalmers, and Allan McCollum. Interested artists
may contact www.grandarts.com
for more information.
Jan Garden Castro
is author/curator of Sonia Delaunay: La Moderne and author of The
Last Frontier and The Art & Life of Georgia OKeeffe.
1 The first two essays by Linda Nochlin are in Women,
Art, and Power and Other Essays (New York: Harper & Row, 1988). See
also Patricia Cronin, What a Girl Wants, Art Journal Winter
2001, p. 9097.
See Julia Markus, Across An Untried Sea: Discovering Lives Hidden in the
Shadow of Convention and Time (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), p. 27.