Peter Reginato

American, born 1945

Photo by Paul Bardagjy

Kingfish
1986

Painted steel
113 × 121 × 62 inches
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1987
1987.226
Photography not permitted
Location: CMA Plaza
GPS: 30.289108,-97.740838

A native of Dallas, Peter Reginato grew up in Oakland, California, and studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. He moved to New York in the late 1960s, the era when sculpture was dominated by the modernist aesthetic of geometric abstraction. The minimalist artists were advocating strict adherence to the idea of “less is more,” a phrase coined earlier by the modernist architect Mies van der Rohe.

Reginato, however, found their impersonal geometries too bland and lacking in character (in the words of author Tom Wolfe, “less is a bore”). In the 1970s, he preferred to use angular geometric forms in a lighthearted way, harking back to the playful qualities of earlier constructions made by Alexander Calder, Julio Gonzalez, Pablo Picasso, and David Smith. Seeking greater visual energy and physical buoyancy in the early 1980s, Reginato adopted the biomorphic shapes devised by Jean Arp half a century earlier and developed by surrealist painter Joan Miró.

Reginato’s practice is to draw fluidly contoured shapes on sheet metal, which he then cuts out with a blowtorch. He joins them together at the edges with spot welds so that the forms appear to float in a delicate dance. He tries as much as possible to express the spontaneity of drawing in three dimensions. “I like to think that all my rippling, swelling forms could easily be flying wildly in space.” In the mid-1980s, he decided that adding bright colors would further animate the forms.

By finding his own path apart from the austerity of minimalism and equally distant from pop art, Reginato’s idiosyncratic works have a humor and vitality that is much appreciated wherever they are installed. His sculpture is the antithesis of “serious” art; it boasts forms that are playful and brightly colored. The artist once noted, “essentially my work is joyous.”

Kingfish, 1986

The title Kingfish makes reference to a character from the classic television show Amos ‘n’ Andy that aired from 1951-53. George “The Kingfish” Stevens was a huckster who tried to lure Amos and the gullible Andy into get-rich-quick schemes. The slick character was a childhood favorite of the artist who appreciated Kingfish’s flamboyance and street smarts. According to Reginato, “the sculpture had a ‘large personality’ just like the character.”

Although Reginato rarely intended a literal reading of his abstract compositions, the title conjures a bird (kingfisher) that swoops and dives looking for fish in rivers and lakes. Art historians may recognize the use of an animal reference as an homage to the quixotic creatures sculpted by Alexander Calder in the 1940s. But no expertise is needed to appreciate the sculpture’s vitality.

Bibliographic Highlights

Carmean, E. A., Jr., “Peter Reginato.” Arts Magazine 52 (June 1978): 26.

Firestone, Evan R. “Three Musicians at the Harlequin’s Carnival: Peter Reginato’s New Sculpture.” Arts Magazine 59 (February 1985): 116–19.

Frackman, Noel. “Peter Reginato.” Arts Magazine 52 (January 1978): 5.

Ratcliff, Carter. “Reginato’s Improvisations.” Art in America 77 (December 1989): 146–51.

Sheffield, Margaret. “Peter Reginato: Struggling Between the Planes.” Sculpture 21 (May 2002): 18–19.

View Peter Reginato’s website