the artist

Judith Shea

Judith Shea

New York, NY

Judith Shea

In 1989, artist Judith Shea was invited to be the Sculptor-in-Residence at Chesterwood, the historic Berkshire Mountain summer studio of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  It was Shea’s intention to use this time to develop new work on the full figure, as previously she had been making bronze figures with a hollow core which had neither heads nor limbs, works such as Endless Model 1989 and Post-Balzac 1990.

For a few years before this, Shea had been making a study of monuments.  Having worked in bronze for a number of years, she was aware of the traditional appearance it brought to figurative sculpture.  Initially that is why she had chosen it.  Judith wanted her twentieth century clothing-figure sculptures to have a historical resonance.  When considering making a transition to the full figure and monument form, however, Shea instinctively felt that such works might not look as contemporary, therefore, as she wanted if made in bronze.  The historical quotations Judith often used would look too similar to their original precedents, muting the irony and contemporary intention in her work.  With this realization, the unique juxtaposition of working in French's studio in the woods in Stockbridge, MA, and being around his monuments in process at the Chesterwood estate, provoked her to start carving her new monument works in wood.  Additionally, this decision was enhanced by finding an old lumber mill nearby with beautiful white northern pine timbers that she could carve.

Wooden monuments were the basis of Shea’s next body of work.  The first of these full scale wooden figures, a female, was shown in February 1992 in Judtih Shea: Monuments and Statues, at the Whitney Museum at Phillip Morris, in a show curated by Thelma Golden, then curator at the Whitney.  That work was titled Object.  It is now in the collection of the Whitney. Following that, in February 1993, at Max Protetch Gallery in New York, Shea showed the first full exhibition of wooden sculpture.  The exhibit was titled All about Adam, and Eve.  It included the carved equestrian sculpture, No More Monument.

The intention of No More Monument was to depict a moment in art and history when we had moved away from the previous idea of a hero to what was now called the anti-hero.  The seated figure in Shea’s equestrian monument is no longer an unqualified, grandiose military leader, but rather a figure that shows more of the result, the cost, to the man depicted - tired, worn, hair overgrown, no military uniform, no structured saddle on the horse.  The horse itself is not a stallion, so much as a worn work horse.  Everything about the work represents a more vulnerable aspect of being human, of being in conflict.  The very material, wood, especially soft pine, is more in the realm of the ordinary, not robust or invincible like metal.  The title of the work tells the tale, too, of a transition.  An article featuring the show at the time written by Brooks Adams for Art in America Magazine was titled SHEA'S ANTI-MONUMENTS.  Indeed since that time in the early 1990s, we have seen the attitude toward public monuments take many turns, with those who are monumentalized changing considerably.

Fast Facts

Name: Judith Shea


Place of Birth: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Parsons School of Design, Associate of Arts (AA) in Fashion Design, 1969;
Parsons School of Design/The New School, BFA Fine Arts, 1975

Particular field of study or class work:
(Early) Fashion Design, Figurative Sculpture

Major influences/admired artists:
Ancient Roman, Hellenistic, Ancient Egyptian
Rodin, Alice Neel, Diego Rivera, Houdon, Van Dyke, Bernini, De Chirico, Peter Shelton, Marisol

Favorite materials or media:
Cloth, Bronze, Wood

Gallery Representation (when Convention Center acquired artwork):
Max Protetch Gallery (New York); John Berggruen Gallery (San Francisco)

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