Standing Figure. Fritz Wotruba. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
I did not take a photograph of the sculpture and I could not find an image of it (that I could reproduce) on-line. However, Wotruba's work was widely collected and exhibited. For an image, go to the Wotruba on-line catalog, click the drop-down menu, and select image WV211 "Stehende Figur".
1. Literal description. A column of cast bronze, about 4' high, and 6" to a side. Gray bronze. Cast from a piece mold, with seams and other casting marks remaining. On a four inch textured stone pedestal, situated in a corner of the garden on a concrete walkway, in open sun, although shade trees are nearby. Axis of sculpture is vertical and the sculpture "faces" northwest. The lines of the sculpture re-iterate the lines of the museum building.
2. Structural composition. Fundamentally a geometric composition utilizing rectangular and box structures. Several curved surfaces mark the base and head. The composition can be analyzed, thusly, with curved reduced to angles:
3. Definition of mass. The figure is at right angles to gravity with the greatest mass at the base and the lightest mass at the top. The weightedness (gravitational effect) is emphasized by the solidity and braced base (legs) which prevent the upper torso from being pulled to the ground.
4. Definition of space. The sculpture utilizes entirely positive definition of space, with no extensions or external references. There is no negative space.
5. Surface. The surface is grey bronze, the color of cold, wet granite, or other heavy building stone. Light texture, made by the clay-modeling tools. From a distance of thirty feet, the surface appears to be weather-worn.
6. Emotive qualities. The sculpture carries regal or royal qualities. The head bears a faint image of a crown, and although the sculpture is not elevated, one has the impression of looking "up" into it. Without the strong pedestal-feel to the legs, there would be a sense of soaring upward; however, this upward motive is not strong.
7. Interpretation. This is a strongly representational figure, with definite historical associations. It is intended to be in itself, or to associate by reference to, architecture (hence it feels appropriate beside the verticals of the modernistic museum building).
The figure associates itself most closely with the caryatides and architectural sculptures of medieval European churches. Its strong verticality implies placement along the columns supporting ceiling vaults. The sculpture is intended to be viewed at only two perspectives and not to stand independently of a building.
The architectural quality is enhanced by the base, which has supportive qualities hinting of a pier.
I perceive the piece as secular, rather than spiritual, in intent, because it lacks the strong upward motive which symbolizes ascension (into heaven). On the other hand, the gravitational effect, the faint intimation of a crown, together imply royalty; hence I could easily see this figure as a worn, historical figure of a king, once in a royal chapel or cathedral.
Later Thoughts. It seems to me now that Wotruba's abstract representations of human form were not abstract, but politically literal. They refer to the deadening of the human spirit in the Soviet "Bloc". Not humorously, the figures look like the Soviet era East German housing projects and the Soviet-style housing projects erected around London by Labor governments. The Soviets approached human beings as if they were blocks that could be moved around and arranged, built up and torn down, at the whim of political will. Trusting my initial reaction to viewing his work, which is to see human royalty somehow being expressed, I would now interpret his work as the effort of the human spirit to free itself - emerge from - transcend - the dead materiality of Marxism. I say this, knowing nothing about Wotruba's political or philosophical views.