Design Masterworks  19 November 2015

Forging a Pure Artistic Expression

The Work of Albert Paley

After a decade working primarily with silver and goldsmithing for jewelry designs, by 1969 Albert Paley began working with metal. The present lot, created in 1971, is the largest piece of metal work and almost certainly the first piece of ‘furniture’ made by Albert Paley. Executed in forged steel, bronze and copper by Paley independently, without assistants, and made completely by hand without the aid of power tools, this work represents the purity Paley sought in his work as he began the investigation of new materials and forms. This extraordinary work directly precedes his seminal Renwick gates of 1972, which put Paley’s work on a national stage and brought wide acclaim.

Portal Gates for the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1974. Courtesy of Paley Studios Archives.

The form of the music stand is based on the forged aesthetic. Seeking a pure expression of his artistic investigation, all the finishes are derived directly from the heat and scale (the term which black in blacksmithing refers which is the layer of oxides that form on the surface of metal during heating). The piece itself is constructed without welding using either rivets or wrapping techniques wherein a hot bar is wrapped around a cold bar thus shrinking and making a structural bond.

Albert Paley at work on an end table, 1984. A Sue Weisler, photographer. Fendrick Gallery records, 1952-2001. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Ultimately, Paley sought a work that strikes a balance between structural and functional concerns and aesthetic values and artistic expression. Paley notes, “One informs the others”. All elements play a role in finding that balance. If a rivet is needed, it must also serve the aesthetic concern. This work shows Paley’s interest in how one interacts with an object. The jewelry created early in Paley’s career was worn or placed on the body therefore becoming activated. Here, the music stand gestures to you through its upward arc. The coils on the shelf rest are made with in mind the experience of standing and touching as one would turn pages and employ the stand. 

Looking back and every piece you do is a foundation for the next work. For this, the main element probably took me four days to forge. When I see it it’s better than what I remember. I’m a perfectionist and not conservative. I try to experience the broadest spectrum I can. This was a personal challenge and represented the limits of what I could do. After this work, I started using power machinery.

—Albert Paley

Albert Paley b. 1944

Albert Paley’s most famous commission, the portal gates of the Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution at Washington D.C., was completed in 1974 just five years after he made his first piece of ironwork. Trained at Tyler School of Art as a jeweler, Paley acquired a command for working with metals exploring the inherent and natural qualities of his materials and pushing them to their full potential.

Paley’s jewelry of the 1960s and 1970s were exceptional statements of bodily ornamentation or wearable works of art that forged the way for the functional and decorative objects he would later make. Crossing the boundaries between art and craft, Paley has established himself as one of the greatest metal artists in the country. Throughout his career, he has completed several important private and public site-specific commissions; his works have been widely published and can be found in multiple major museum collections around the world. 

Auction Results Albert Paley

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