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Robinson Fredenthal: Big Plus

October 9, 1988
Anne Classen

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"Fredenthal sets up a tension between sentient volumes and ordered geometric form, adroitly placing us on the cusp between physical experience and abstraction."

This exhibition has been supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency.
Robinson Fredenthal’s show consists of Big Plus, a 12-foot-high cardboard sculpture specifically designed for the Morris Gallery; Step, a 6-foot-high steel sculpture; and 12 bronze models. Each of the small casts represents Fredenthal’s exploration of the juxtapositions and intersections of simple geometric solids. His larger sculptures are composed of different combinations of these smaller models.
The shifting silhouettes of advancing and receding planes and the importance of internal structural grids in Robinson Fredenthal’s large-scale sculptures reveal his training as an architect. Drawn to the study of pure geometric form and attracted to the work of sculptor Tony Smith, Fredenthal began to create closely packed tetrahedrons and octahedrons in various states of deconstruction and recombination.
The two crossing lines of the “plus” sign are immediately recognizable in the intersection of planes at the top of Big Plus. As the viewer walks around it, this familiar sign is subsumed amidst the thrusting diagonal lines and lurching planes of the piece. Slightly wary, the viewer circles the sculpture searching for a familiar solid or shape to hold onto. Disoriented, the viewer is nonetheless compelled to uncover the system beneath these surface permutations. Big Plus’s interior is composed of an intricately ordered web of interlocking tetrahedrons and octahedrons. Fredenthal has wryly devised a complex equation of geometric solids to replicate the simple axis of the plus sign a fitting gesture in a world of increasing specialization and mystifying technological jargon.
Step’s 6-foot-high rectangular slabs of steel are poised delicately on their points and lightly rest against one another. While the sculpture’s vaguely human presence and seductively smooth surfaces coax the viewer closer, encouraging familiarity, its proportions are not really scaled to people. Seemingly rectangular, Step is actually a rhomboid consisting of two tetrahedrons and two one half octahedrons. Fredenthal sets up a tension between sentient volumes and ordered geometric form, adroitly placing us on the cusp between physical experience and abstraction.
Anne Classen
Curatorial Assistant
All works courtesy of the artist.
Step, 1987
Painted carbon steel
6′ x 41/2′ x 1 1/2′
Big Plus, 1988
14’2″ x 17’x 17′
12 bronze casts (1975-1988)
The artist wishes to express his appreciation to Joe Niezgoda, fabricator of Big Plus.

Artist Biography
Robinson Fredenthal was born in Claremont, New Hampshire, in 1940 to a family of artistic talents. His father was a watercolorist and illustrator, his mother a weaver and fabric designer, and his older sister a painter who is currently living in New York. Fredenthal came to Philadelphia in 1959 to enroll in the University of Pennsylvania where he received his B.A. in 1964 and his B. Arch. in 1967. Instead of becoming an architect, Fredenthal pressed his architectural training into the service of sculpture. Some of his public sculptures in Philadelphia are Black Forest, 1984, at the University of Pennsylvania, and Double Agent, 1983, at One Franklin Plaza, both outdoor works, and three untitled pieces at 1234 Market Street. A visiting artist at The University of the Arts (formerly the Philadelphia Colleges of the Arts) since 1967, and a recipient of an NEA fellowship in 1979, Fredenthal currently lives and works in Philadelphia.

Selected Individual Exhibitions
1986 Elbow Room, The Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, Philadelphia Colleges of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA
1985 Sculpture, Marian Locks Gallery East Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1983 Bits and Pieces, Faculty Club, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania
1980 Site-specific Installation, University Library Gallery, University of Ma land Catonsville Maryland
1979 Robinson Fredenthal, Reading Museum, Reading, Pennsylvania
1976 Architects Building, American Institute of Architects, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1973 Robinson Fredenthal, Peale House Galleries, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

Selected Group Exhibitions
Mathematics/CIarity of Thought, Lawrence Gallery, Rosemont College, Rosemont, PA
The Gift of Art, Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Sculpture/Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Artists of the Alliance Exhibition, Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA; jurors, Anne d’Harnoncourt, Patterson Sims
Three Centuries of American Art, Bicentennial Exhibition, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Artists of The Alliance Exhibition, Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, PA
Outdoor Sculpture, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
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 of the Fine Arts. Currently serving on the Morris Gallery Exhibition Committee are: Moe Brooker, Paolo Colombo, Bill Freeland, Faith Ginsburg, Carrie Rickey, Eileen Rosenau, Judith Tannenbaum; Academy staff Judith Stein, Morris Gallery Coordinator, Frank H. Goodyear, Jr., Linda Bantel, and Susan Danly.
Copyright, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 1988
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