Joel Perlman

American, born 1943

Square Tilt

Steel 120 × 96 × 36 inches
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. L. William Teweles, 1986 1986.442a-d
Photography not permitted
Location: PCL Plaza GPS: 30.283087,-97.73797

More Information

Essay by Valerie Fletcher

New York native Joel Perlman received his BFA from Cornell University in 1965 and then attended the Central School of Art in London. He obtained his MA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1968.

Like Anthony Caro, Robert Murray, and Beverly Pepper, Perlman espoused the purely visual aesthetics championed by the critic Clement Greenberg. Using industrial-grade steel plate, he made geometric abstract sculptures, usually for outdoor display.

After his work was included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial in 1973, Perlman was represented by the André Emmerich Gallery in New York, a bastion of formalist art. From 1973 through 1982, Perlman had six solo shows there. In 1973 he also taught sculpture at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

Square Tilt, 1983

Perlman’s works of the 1980s, unlike the intricate, three-dimensionality of Peter Reginato’s sculptures, are pictorial, that is, essentially flat arrangements best seen from a frontal viewpoint, like a painting. To some extent, he was inspired by the abstract compositions of the vanguard Russians Kasimir Malevich and El Lissitzky; although created in the 1910s and 1920s, those works were just being rediscovered in the 1960s and 1970s. Their purity of geometric forms was often enlivened by being tilted on a diagonal axis.

Square Tilt typifies Perlman’s best-known compositions, which suggest portals or gateways: a square or rectangular frame surrounds a large opening. Smaller, rectangles of steel plate are attached to the frame at seemingly random angles, yet they are impeccably harmonious. Despite its considerable weight, Square Tilt conveys an impression of airy weightlessness.

The composition of Square Tilt may owe a debt to the urban architecture of Manhattan, which Perlman could see through his studio windows. The sculpture continues to function as a window in any setting. Square Tilt offers us the opportunity to see through a physical and metaphoric portal. Seen indoors against a blank wall, it invites appreciation of its abstract vivacity. In other settings (especially outdoors), the large central opening incorporates its environment. Square Tilt consequently carries connotations of openness, far horizons, and passage into other domains of perception and thought.

Valerie Fletcher is Senior Curator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. Her research on groundbreaking aspects of international, globalized, and transnational art have resulted in numerous exhibitions and publications. 

Bibliographic Highlights

Cauman, John. “Joel Perlman.” Arts Magazine 54 (April 1980): 2.

Frackman, Noel. “Joel Perlman,” Arts Magazine, 53/1 (Sept 1978): 26.

Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida. Joel Perlman. Gainesville, 1991. Text by Ann Schroeder.

Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University. Joel Perlman: A Decade of Sculpture, 1980–90. Ithaca, NY, 1990. Text by Leslie Schwartz.

Kaplan, Gene. “Joel Perlman’s New Sculpture.” Arts Magazine 57 (October 1982): 110–11.

Maxwell, Douglas F. “Joel Perlman: Dynamic Geometries.” Sculpture 21 (July/August 2002): 42–45.

Messinger, Lisa Mintz. “The Recent Sculpture of Joel Perlman.” Arts Magazine 59 (June 1985): 134–35.

Palmedo, Philip F. Joel Perlman: A Sculptor’s Journey. New York: Abbeville Press, 2006.

Saunders, Wade. “Joel Perlman at Emmerich.” Art in America, 66 (September/October 1978): 123–24.

View Joel Perlman’s website

Project History

The first major initiative of Landmarks is the long-term loan of twenty-eight sculptures from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These works create an art historical context upon which the university has begun building its own stunning collection.

This extraordinary opportunity allows the university not only to establish an association with one of the world’s greatest museums but also to acquire a group of sculptures that, because of their quality, rarity and worth, would be impossible for any institution to assemble today.

The initial sculptures were installed throughout the main campus in September 2008, and a second, smaller group were unveiled at the renovated Bass Concert Hall in January 2009.

To accompany the loan, Valerie Fletcher, Senior Curator of Modern Art at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, contributed an introductory essay (pdf) and audio tour.

Activity Guides

Silhouette of sculpture
Joel Perlman
Canadian, born 1936
Square Tilt




Subject: Frame
Activity: Experiment with framing
Materials: Paper, scissors, tape or glue, and picture books or magazines
Vocabulary: Frame, conceal, reveal

Silhouette of sculpture
Joel Perlman
American, born 1943
Square Tilt




Subject: Geometric abstraction
Activity: Creating a sculpture that uses a frame
Materials: Glue and different shapes or sizes of cardboard or balsa wood
Vocabulary: diagonal, geometric abstraction, horizontal, steel, vertical

Silhouette of sculpture
Joel Perlman
American, born 1943
Square Tilt




Subject: Manipulation of positive and negative space
Activity: Create a shape sculpture
Materials: Cardboard or foam core, glue, scissors
Vocabulary: abstract, aesthetics, geometric, pictorial