Essay by Valerie Fletcher

Born in Indiana, Bryan Hunt attended the University of South Florida with the intention of becoming an architect but soon found himself more intrigued by painting. In 1967–68 he worked as a technical assistant at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral; that brief interlude sparked a strong interest in technology’s role in modern consciousness. He then moved to Los Angeles to attend the Otis Art Institute, where he obtained his BFA in 1971.

Hunt’s sculptures in the early 1970s were architectural models of famous landmark structures, such as the Hoover Dam and the Empire State Building. Then, while bedridden with a serious illness, Hunt read voraciously, particularly books on modern philosophy and literary theory by such authors as Jean-Paul Sartre and Roland Barthes. He also admired the purist aesthetics of Barnett Newman and the newly established minimalists.

When Hunt returned to making sculpture, he combined the clarity of minimalist forms with motifs from the real world. Intrigued by historical aviation rather than contemporary jet or rocket technology, he made an elegantly simplified model of a dirigible (also known as a zeppelin or blimp) and incorporated it into startling compositions in which the airship appears to float weightlessly, often with its front end stuck into a wall.

Hunt changed his approach again in 1979–80. Fascinated by topography, he modeled amorphous sculptures of Lakes and Waterfalls. The bronze surfaces were highly articulated to convey a sense of energy—a stylistic tradition established by Auguste Rodin in the 1880s and revitalized by Alberto Giacometti in the 1940s and 1950s. Hunt was specifically inspired by Willem de Kooning’s sculptures of the 1970s.

Amphora, 1982

Throughout the 1980s, Hunt focused on motifs from classical Greek art and culture. His Maenad sculptures, although abstract, evoke the swirling draperies of Hellenistic sculptures. Amphora refers to a tall, slender, two-handled vessel, usually made of clay and used to store food and drink, especially wine. Rather than a sturdy, practical container, Hunt’s Amphora is flat and visually unstable; it serves primarily as a pretext for modeling form and creating expressive surfaces. Viewers are free to solely enjoy the visual, but we might also see an analogy for the diminished appreciation of most classical culture today.

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.