Historical Journal

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Helene Brandt: Sculpture and Drawings

September 11, 1987
Anne Classen

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"The wheels whimsically facilitate movement on your hands and knees, while its ghoulish plaster panels suggest a more sinister and painful purpose."

September 11 through October 18,1987
Morris Gallery exhibitions are partially and generously funded by a grant from the Harold S. Truitt Fund and the Henry G. Keasbey Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation.
Helene Blain Brandt was born in 1936 in Philadelphia. Growing up in the city, she took piano, dance, and art lessons at the Settlement Music School in South Philadelphia, and graduated in 1954 from Overbrook High School. She earned her B.A. in Fine Arts from City College, City University of New York, and her M.F.A. from Columbia University, New York. At Columbia, Brandt studied sculpture under George Sugarman, Ronald Bladen, and Sahl Swarz. In 1976, she was awarded a certificate of advanced studies from St. Martin’s School in London, England. There she studied sculpture with William Tucker, Tim Scoff, Philip King, and Anthony Caro. Her awards include a Hudson River Museum Purchase Award, 1972; a National Endowment for the Arts, Artist in Residence Grant, 1982; and a Guggenheim Fellowship, 1985. Brandt is currently an instructor of sculpture at Parsons School of Design, New York.
Bending and welding thin steel tubing directly around her body, Helene Brandt carefully shapes images out of the surrounding space. She likens this technique to “drawing on air.” Indeed, the steel tubing seems to loop, curve, and twist with the ease and freedom of rapidly drawn pencil lines. To the artist, her skeletal steel sculptures “resemble prehistoric animals, insects, flying machines, wheeled vehicles and armour … They can be thought of as cages, sanctuaries, body protectors, vehicles for dreams or exploration or machines that extend the physical and psychological power of the body.”
Brandt’s sculptures hint at themes of strength and vulnerability, inspiration and alienation, freedom and restraint. To address these dualities, she derives her imagery in part from the animal world. Ornithopter is at once a bird and a cage. From a distance, it appears to be a squawking predator, ready to attack. On closer inspection, the animal becomes a human cage in which the viewer may actually sit. The sensuous steel curves promise protection, enticing you to curl up inside. But the uncomfortable steel seat and close fitting steel bars confine and trap. Earth Wings, with its one wheel, handlebars, and operator seat, appears to be a cross between a rickshaw and a plow. However, from a side view, gracefully curving wings dip down to the ground and transform it into a large bird. Diver is an ornithological hanging sculpture. Its wings soar out into two perfectly polished arcs, lifting Diver skyward. Yet the quirky placement of the wheels and weighty body pull it earthward again. Elbow Plow, a smaller body that fits around the forearm, is at once a gardening tool and an instrument of torture. The wheels whimsically facilitate movement on your hands and knees, while its ghoulish plaster panels suggest a more sinister and painful purpose.
In Brandt’s charcoal and pastel drawings, nude female figures sprout claws and talons, are tangled in tree branches, or hang upside down. There is terror, despair, pain, and confusion in the haunted faces and twisted bodies of these ghostly white beings. The human element in these drawings compels us to confront directly the darker themes only partially revealed in her sculptures.
Anne Classen
Curatorial Assistant
1. Cradle, 1985
Welded steel, 48 x 40 x 63″
2. Ornithopter, 1985
Welded steel, 44 x 26 x 45″
3. Toucan, 1985
Welded steel, 53 x 41 x45″
4. Earth Wings, 1987
Welded steel, 45 x 22 x 45″
5. Rapunzel, 1987
Welded steel, 84 x 26 x 38″
6. Pterodak, 1982
Welded steel and rubber, 120 x 70 x 44″
7. Zing, 1987
Welded steel, 13 x 28 x 23″
8. Elbow Plow, 1982
Welded steel and painted canvas, 10 x 15 x 41″
9. Shopping Cart House, 1982
Welded steel, 20 x 8 x 7″
10. Liberty Lookout, 1982
Painted steel, 33 x 10 x 151″
1. The Tree, 1985
Charcoal, pastel, 30 x 20″
2. Winged Tricyclist, 1987
Charcoal, 30 x 22″
3. The Mask, 1987
Pastel, 22 x 30″
4. The Monkey Suit, 1987
Pastel, 22 x 30″
5. The Fall, 1987
Pastel, 30 x 22″

Selected Individual Exhibitions
1982 Machines and Sanctuaries, Sculpture Center, New York, New York
Sculptural Metaphors, M.O.A. Gallery, New York, New York
1983 Sculpture and Painted Wall Constructions, Queens Museum, Flushing, New York
Bicycle Music Sculptures, Staten Island Children’s Museum, Staten Island, New York
1984 Sculpture, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, New York
Viewpoints, Nassau County Museum, Roslyn, New York
1985 Sculpture and Drawings, A.I.R. Gallery, New York, New York
Selected Group Exhibitions
1981-82 Ward’s Island Sculpture Garden, New York, New York
1982 Mixed Bag, Alternative Museum, New York, New York
1983 Bridges, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, South Beach Sculpture Garden, Staten Island, NY
1984 Sculpture to Touch, Allentown Art Museum, Allentown, Pennsylvania
1985 Sculpture/Penn’s Landing/85, Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1986 New Liberty Monuments, Snug Harbor, Staten Island, New York
The Morris Gallery displays the work of outstanding contemporary artists with a connection to Philadelphia, determined by birth, schooling, or residence. The exhibitions are chosen by a committee composed of area artists, museum personnel, and collectors, and the curatorial staff of the Pennsylvania Academy. Currently serving on the Morris Gallery Exhibition Committee are: Cynthia Carlson, Paolo Colombo, Bill Freeland, Faith Ginsburg, Dr. Helen Herrick, Cheryl McClenney, Carrie Rickey, Eileen Rosenau, Judith Tannenbaum; Academy staff Judith Stein, Morris Gallery Coordinator, Frank Goodyear, Jr., Linda Bantel, Kathleen Foster, and Academy students Anna Yates and Treacy Ziegler.
Copyright, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1987
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