Ursula von Rydingsvard: ‘Sculpture’ at the Frost April 21

Ursula von Rydingsvard is the Green Critics’ lecturer Saturday, April 21, at the Green Library. Her exhibit, “Sculpture,” will be on display at the Frost Art Museum through Aug. 5.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, “Droga,” 2009. Cedar, graphite, 54 x 115 x 219 inches. © Ursula von Rydingsvard.

At first glance, guests of the Frost Art Museum this summer may think the traveling exhibit on view is the result of an archeological dig in Northern Ireland. The monumental wood sculptures look like the work of Druids. But they are the creation of modern artist Ursula von Rydingsvard.

The Brooklyn-based sculptor will be at FIU April 21 as part of the Steven and Dorothea Green Critics’ Lecture Series. Her talk, scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Green Library (room 100), will focus on the inspiration behind the pieces featured in her traveling exhibit, “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture.”

On display at The Frost from April 21 to Aug. 5, the traveling exhibition includes a selection of the artist’s most significant pieces, including wall reliefs and monumental cedar works created from 1991 to 2009. The exhibition is organized by SculptureCenter and guest-curated by Helaine Posner.

Von Rydingsvard was happy to be able showcase her sculptures at The Frost. “The 24 foot high ceilings are glorious for my work,” she says. “There is air for my work to breath and the contrast of the white walls with my pieces create a stronger presence.”

Von Rydingsvard is known for constructing large-scale sculptures from cedar. Her pieces are abstract yet refer to things in the real world – from domestic objects such spoons, plates and bowls to natural forms like a craggy cliff side or a deep canyon.

“The raw power of her work resonates with a message as intimate as it is universal, and as mysterious as the past that dwells within the soul of each stately formation,” said Carl Damian, director and chief curator of The Frost. “We are grateful to Ursula for allowing us to share her extraordinary creations and introduce the university and Florida communities to works that command such timely authority and presence.”

The artist’s process

The cedar von Rydingsvard uses in her work comes from Vancouver, British Columbia. The soft wood is floated down the Pacific and then sent to a mill where it’s cut into thousands of precisely measured boards. They have to be exact to create a smooth, solid surface to glue and piece together.

For von Rydingsvard, the cedar is like a blank canvas. “Because of the neutrality of the medium, I can torture them in ways that serve me,” she says. “I have more freedom.”

She neither creates a model beforehand, nor sketches her idea. “I find it limits my creativity. I don’t want to be stuck,” she says.

Ursula von Rydingsvard puts the final touches on “Ocean Floor” during the installation of her exhibit at the Frost Art Museum.

In “Ocean Floor,” sculpted in 1996 and part of the exhibit on view at The Frost, von Rydingsvard added stomach intestines “as the extreme opposite of cedar.”

“Instead of being totally disgusting,” she says, “it ends up looking very elegant.”

At her workshop, the sculptor cuts, assembles and laminates the cedar blocks. Each piece is finished by rubbing powdered graphite into the textured, faceted surfaces. Von Rydingsvard has two full-time assistants – Ruben Muñoz and Sean Weeks Earps – and a cutter, Ted Springer, who comes in from Tucson, Arizona, when needed. Built slowly and incrementally, one sculpture takes six months to a year to finish.

When she’s done with a piece, the artist says, “I love to see it go. It’s like showing them off.”

The “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture” exhibition was recently honored with the U.S. section of the International Association of Art Critics’ annual award for Best Show in a Non-Profit Gallery or Space for its premiere at the SculptureCenter, NY. Patricia C. Phillips’ book on the exhibition, Ursula von Rydingsvard: Working, will be on sale at the April 21 lecture.