Untitled (Seven Mountains) Audio Guide

Ursula von Rydingsvard

American, born in Germany, 1942

Untitled (Seven Mountains)

Cedar and graphite powder
62 × 201 × 42 inches

Photography not permitted
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1988

Location: Welch Hall (WEL)
GPS: 30.28640025, -97.73749122
Audio file

Valerie Fletcher: Ursula von Rydingsvard works almost exclusively in wood. She carves with traditional simple hand tools, chisels and so forth. She began sculpting in 1973 where she studied art at Columbia University. Her arrival in New York was fortuitous at a time when sculpture was possibly the most active of all the media or art forms. She was impressed by the works of the minimalists who were advocating using simple, basic forms usually in repetition or sequence.

And in her sculpture here, Untitled, from 1986 to 88, made of red cedar wood, you can see it consists of seven forms aligned in a straight row. However, unlike other sculptors working in wood, like Raoul Hague and Hans Hokanson, von Rydingsvard does not espouse the ideas of direct carving; that is, she does not seek out a massive piece of wood and then carve it to reveal its intrinsic grain and natural forms of growth. Rather, she works with basic 4 × 4 pieces, the kind that you get from lumberyards except she uses very fine quality cedar. She then builds them, she layers them in rows, joins them together with glue and dowels. Only then when she has these large constructions of wood does she then start to carve them. And she then carves them into forms that are organic that suggest they are craggy forms of rock. So she’s not at all espousing the intrinsic qualities of the wood, but using it to create an expressive form that emerges purely from her hands and her mind.

She then scours the surface, sometimes using a Brillo pad with powdered graphite so that she imbues the red cedar wood with a kind of dark gray patina. This work, although untitled, has a subtitle, Seven Mountains, and that’s because these seven forms do suggest perhaps a row of seven mountain peaks. The way they’re carved with the rugged forms may suggest the erosion of the centuries. When this piece is compared, for example, with the works of Hans Hokanson, you can see that he was looking for nature; she was creating abstraction that is only indirectly evocative of nature.