P.O. Box 310
Gansevoort, NY 12831, U.S.A.
Click image to enlarge.
Noah Savett is inspired by the intrinsic beauty of his materials. His compositions are based largely on the form and coloration of metals, primarily steel. Despite the psycho-sexual suggestion of many of the pieces, Savett emphasizes the paradoxical nature of his chosen material. Steel is both plastic and rigid, creating objects of certain permanence. Most metals can be mass-produced, but start out liquid; it seems natural to Savett to bring that liquid or plastic quality (which is, after all, the basis of cast or forged ironwork) into fabricated sculpture. This isn't a language spoken by many sculptors of steel.
Savett's sculptures develop out of his prolific drawings: he produces close to five hundred thumbnail sketches a year, of which fifty or so are developed into more resolved drawings; of these, five to ten might become sculptures. Drawings may be based on specific pieces of found material. Rarely representational, the pieces are nevertheless often humorous or whimsical. Influenced by the sculpture of Smith, Tingueley, and Oldenburg, as well as the metalwork of Gaudí, Savett strives to elicit a strong emotional response in the viewer.
Consider the objective facts which produce the expressive power of Noah Savett’s sculpture. The material is steel, but steel made into flesh. The surfaces are hard, but vibrant with organic life. Shapes are abstract and at the same time hover on the edge of recognition. The scale is large, the details infinitely subtle. Dense material mass strikes the consciousness, while that mass gleams in dematerializing light. These inherent paradoxes wrench in opposite emotive directions, putting into dramatic use the “complexities and contradictions” which characterize Postmodernism in art. Explosive tensions are generated between centripetal effects, giving to these works an incredible raw power, a raw power channeled then, by the artist, into the emotional content. But these complexities and contradictions are bound together by a unifying rhythm and texture. This is a power controlled by aesthetic design, so the forms are beautiful, however discredited that term might be today. And it is this strong design of formal relationships (structure amidst the deconstructed) that achieves in Savett’s work the best of both worlds, Modern and Postmodern. I see this synthesis as the style for the new millennium.
I have to think back to Michelangelo’s David to find comparable effects in the art of sculpture. In the David the hard marble, like Savett’s steel, is never at rest, but almost continually undulates, becoming not a description, but rather an expression of flesh. The materiality of this massive being overwhelms, while the polished surfaces miraculously gleam with immaterial spirituality. As in Savett’s style, great mass and great subtlety are combined. To compare Michelangelo’s work with Greek sculpture is like comparing Savett’s work with Modern sculpture. Savett’s style is Postmodern: or better, Post-Postmodern, since it deconstructs to reconstruct - Postmodern merely deconstructs, and usually, structureless, ends up not much like art. The Modernists and the Greeks allow the material to control the expression: Form follows function was the Modern credo. The welded steel sculpture of David Smith never loses the look of steel fresh from the rolling mill, with its flat, smooth, simple surfaces and sharp-cut edges. In the same way the sculpture of the Parthenon never loses its marble qualities. Like cut stone its surfaces are also flat and smooth, and its edges are also simple, clear and sharp. The central theme of Modern aesthetic form is an industrial look, an expression of the Industrial Revolution, the prime mover of the Modern Age. To achieve an art with an industrial expression was the stated motive of the Russian Constructivists, who first made sculpture from steel and machine parts. In Savett’s style one of the great effects, and another of his great paradoxes, is the way he never lets us forget the machine, or the machine parts from which his work is derived; then he makes them go soft before our eyes - more correctly we see the hard, machine-derived elements metamorphosing into something alive, something alien to the machine in feeling. This, of course, is deconstruction in action, and deconstructing is the great gesture of Postmodernism. Savett deconstructs Constructivism. And yet Savett, like many Postmodern artists, takes from one Modern style, Surrealism. His forms are like creatures seen in a dream, and remind me of some of the shapes encountered in a Dali. Or, even more, some will remember the organic forms in the paintings of Yves Tanguy; or going back to a distant source, the forms concocted by Hieronymous Bosch. Considered one way, there is something frightening about Savett’s softened steel beings, but not quite like anything seen on earth, unless in a dream.
Where Savett really ran with this frightening effect is in the powerful but deadly work entitled Cambodia, in the Saratoga Springs Public Library. There the dream becomes a nightmare, more a true expression of genocide than any work of art I know. But the beauty of the form acts as beauty does in the best of art, as a powerful antidote to what the content conveys, bringing order out of the chaos of the irrational terror of the world.
One of the potent forms that prevails in much of Savett’s work is the organic tube. Even the rectangular passages are like ducts. And one is reminded of the vital role of tubes in the human body, carrying liquids both fair and foul. Of course the industrial parts from which he concocts his beings are often actual tubes. A striking example of this use of tubes and ducts is the work entitled, curiously, Lil Dynamo, in which small tubes, waving in the air, snake out of the center of the form, while large tubes penetrates through a hole in the form’s apex. We encounter here the interpenetration of parts which is one of the psychologically grabbing effects in Savett’s style. Forms actively intertwine, overlap, penetrate each other - a veiled, metaphorical eroticism is inherent in the action, and is a critical component of the psychological impact.
As in Michelangelo’s sculpture, there is no one fixed viewpoint. The experience builds in its effect as one moves around the composition. At the same time, by compelling us to move, Savett makes the work itself appear to move, enhancing the eerie effect of a living form. If I were to characterize Savett’s compositions, and his works are meticulously composed, I would say that they involve a sequence of abrupt, almost violent breaks, followed by harmonious integrations. Discords followed by chords. The form wrenches apart, then pulls together again, which would be something of a tour de force of design, if it were not like the design system of a human body. In the human form in action, quite diverse parts break out in all directions, yet flow together in the advancing and retreating curved surfaces of the anatomy, and in the unbroken continuity of the skin. (Of course most sculptors avoid this break-away effect, and, as in classical Greek sculpture, or in a human figure by Michelangelo or Rodin, Maillol or Brancusi, the limbs are usually bound close to the body.)
Going close, one marvels at the consistency of Savett’s style, in any single work and throughout the many sculptures. The surfaces and edges everywhere rise and fall in an irregular but unbroken rhythm. A beautiful effect is the way silvery smooth surfaces flow into tough, rust-like textures and out again, effecting contrasts between visual opposites which vividly enlist our tactile senses. This is an art we do not simply stand back from and admire. Rather it draws us into itself, demanding an intimate engagement with its textures and small subtleties. Of course, joining the monumental to the intimate is one further inherent contrast in this style, which holds in equilibrium so many paradoxical effects.
By never abandoning the great lessons of Modern art, with its emphasis on structural design, Savett’s work quite ignores the anti-art aspect that makes most Postmodern art an example of fin de siècle decadence. At the same time, by enlisting the power of Postmodernism’s complexities and contradictions, and its return to a kind of gutsy realism, Savett creates a solid, tough and emotionally moving style, which is utterly original for its epoch. But when the second millennium comes around, I think it might well be the style for its time.
History of Art
Sculpture in the Garden
Ten Broeck Mansion, Albany, New York
Presented by the Albany Center Galleries
Houghton House Gallery
Hobart College, Geneva, New York
Recent Sculptures and Drawings
Kirkland Art Center, Clinton, New York
Shellnut Gallery & Sage Union
RPI, Troy, New York
Westside Iron Works
Saratoga Springs, New York
Dupre House (Installation)
Saratoga Springs, New York
Aimee's Lobby Gallery
Glens Falls, NY
Saratoga Springs, NY
1999 - 2002
Plattsburgh State Art Museum
State University of New York at Plattsburgh
Saratoga County Arts Council Gallery (Two person show)
Saratoga Springs, New York
Two Sculptors, Inc. New York, New York
Schick Art Gallery (Invitational)
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York
Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York
Plattsburgh State Art Museum Sculpture Park,
"Warrior" and "Chaplinesque Totem"
Adirondack Community College
"Industrial Still Life"
Saratoga County Arts Council Gallery
"Center of the Universe"
Saratoga Springs Public Library
Kim & Mike Kershaw
Deborah Martin & James E. Lowe
Lynda Smythe & Jeffrey Kelly
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York
Emma Willard School, Troy, New York
Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, Ohio
Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, B.A.
CEO, NS Associates Ltd.
Commercial Steel Fabrication
Gansevoort, New York