Snatching stillness from motion at the Addison
ANDOVER — When the sculptor Paul Manship died, at 80, in 1966, his son, the painter John Manship, found a scrap of paper in his dressing-gown pocket. It read, “The primary impulse in the Arts is to give permanence to the fleeting moment, to bid it stay because we cannot bear to lose it.”
That ache and glory drive Manship’s Art Deco sculptures, the best of which snatch stillness from motion. One pair depicts the Roman goddess Diana and Actaeon, a hunter who happened upon her while she was bathing. They sprint away from each other. Diana, turning, shoots Actaeon with an arrow. It’s breathless, all twisting torsos and dancing limbs, nearly symmetrical but just uneven enough to keep us on our toes. Flight stilled, action in bronze.
Art has another central impulse: to return to what has been lost, excavate the remains, and find threads that tie past to present. To engage not with time, but with timelessness.
“From Starfield to MARS: Paul Manship and His Artistic Legacy,” up through Jan. 20 at the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, has it both ways. The show examines the sculptor’s fleet work, and steps into eternal concerns with photographs by the first artists to participate in the new Manship Artists Residency + Studios program at Starfield, Manship’s Gloucester estate.
The sculptor purchased the 15-acre Lanesville property, situated between two quarries, in 1944. He moved a house and an ox barn there and planted gardens. Savoring the site’s delirious darkness, he called it Starfield. It became a nexus of Gloucester’s art colony.
When Manship died, the property went to his son and daughter-in-law. John died in 2000, and his wife, Margaret Cassidy Manship, in 2012. Last year, the nonprofit MARS bought the estate, aiming to preserve the home, conserve the land, and offer artists time and space to work.
The first artists in residence were photographers Barbara Bosworth, Justin Kimball, S. Billie Mandle, and Abelardo Morell. The Addison’s two-part exhibition puts Manship at its center, spotlighting his relationship with Phillips Academy. The photographers’ work is in four satellite galleries. It’s an inspired mix — the solidity of bronze surrounded by the ethereality of photographs.
The sculptor is best known for his 18-foot-tall sculpture of Prometheus, outside Rockefeller Center, in New York. Gilded gold, the lithe figure holds fire in his hand as he soars above an earthly mountain and the zodiacal ring of the heavens, bringing the flame — and with it, civilization — to humanity.
Manship doted on classical subjects. He admired Rodin, the father of modern figurative sculpture, but had no interest in the master’s sometimes-anguished romantic expressionism. The mechanics of motion and linear grace were Manship’s game, not the mystifying human psyche.
His works include sketches and casts of Diana and Actaeon, versions of “Flight of Night” (embodied as a willowy young woman), and “Young Indian Hunter.” All illuminate the sculptor’s process. He shifted the positions of Diana’s hound, and changed the plinth for “Flight of Night.” A pin model of “Indian Hunter” breaks the piece into torso and arms, and we see how he put it together.
The true luminaries of any Manship show at the Addison are always on view. His “Armillary Sphere,” with a young family encircled by the spherical sweep of the heavens, sits on the academy’s Great Lawn, a picture of learning and wonder. “Venus Anadyomene,” an enchanting marble fountain, graces the museum’s rotunda. The goddess kneels to wring water from her hair. Capturing dramatic movement is secondary, here, as Manship seizes something equally quick: the ephemerality of the archetypal feminine.
When the four photographers descended on Starfield, they encountered time standing still. The house was dusty and untouched in places. Renovations were getting underway. Kimball, who has in the past photographed belongings left behind by the dead, found unfinished busts on shelves and prints and photos scattered over a bed.
His photographs bear witness to traces left by the house’s inhabitants. In “Hands,” a white fist hangs on the wall like a door knocker; nearby, the corner of a painting depicts a hand grasping a stylus. Both speak to the work of an artist. Shadows of figures dance along the wall below, like ghosts of youth.
In John Manship’s landscape paintings, Mandle found a quiet counterpoint to his father’s exuberant, declarative sculptures. Her underexposed close-ups are nearly black. We can’t make out imagery. Instead, we see texture: the gleam and runnel of a brush stroke picking up light, the weave of the canvas. When colors appear, they’re dying embers. These gorgeous, flickering images mull over the inner life that Paul Manship’s art elided.
Bosworth’s spare images of stars dashing across the night, glistening blades in the dark, honor the sculptor’s love of the heavens. Her nocturnes of quarries, soaked in inky blue, echo his ardor for the night.
Morell studied the Native American imagery, Art Nouveau patterns, Bauhaus designs, and Tibetan mandelas that influenced Manship’s beloved Art Deco. He digitally flips and multiplies scans of his photograms and painted glass plates (a photographer’s approach to painting called cliché verre) to make bristling, kaleidoscopic photos.
They’re smart and dizzying. The cliché-verre works are loaded with juicy brush strokes and the visual tactility of paint. Despite their multiplicative order, Morell’s photos are explosive and wild. Still, they’re delicate — like being immersed in the patterns on a butterfly’s wing.
Manship’s desire to stop time, to bottle vigor in bronze or marble, is, of course, also an effort to approach eternity. And awe is eternity’s gateway. At Starfield, Manship built a site that stirred wonder and inspired him and others. Now that legacy will continue.
FROM STARFIELD TO MARS: Paul Manship and His Artistic Legacy
At Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, 180 Main St., Andover, through Jan. 20. 978-749-4015, addison.andover.edu