Beyond Function

The Sculptural Designs of Albert Paley

Albert Paley’s unique approach to metalsmithing imbues each work with a vivid sense of movement, made even more remarkable as his achievements create a subtlety contrary to the natural state of his chosen material. Albert Paley’s sculptural work with heavy steel and other substantial metals began in 1974 when he established his studio in Rochester, New York. In discussion of his affinity for rigid metal, Paley remarked that “one of the reasons I was drawn to steel was the aspect of paradox. With forging, rather than a rigid inorganic industrial material, the context is instead an organic form that expresses motion, gesture and transformation.”

Paley remarked that “one of the reasons I was drawn to steel was the aspect of paradox. With forging, rather than a rigid inorganic industrial material, the context is instead an organic form that expresses motion, gesture and transformation.”

In the early 1990s, Paley began translating his sculptural work into with functional objects for the home. Exhibited and sold by Peter Joseph Gallery in New York, these early unique furniture designs demonstrate exuberant new expressions for the artist. Peter Joseph labeled these as explorations that “transverse the gulf that separates art from furniture”. For Paley, it is his formal treatment however, in this case deliberately elegant and graceful, which re-contextualizes these works as much as the introduction of function. The simplified welded steel and glass selection serves only to refocus our attention on the work’s intricate detailing. 

The present lot demonstrates Paley’s technical mastery alongside an unparalleled creativity. The result is a table one cannot understand from one view. Its myriad details encourage the viewer to look at every surface and angle to grasp its sculptural complexity.  

Through the creative process I have developed a personal visual vocabulary fundamentally based in symbolism and metaphor which is implicit in my work.

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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