Nasher opens exhibit of sculptor George Segal’s moody urban scenes
To paraphrase Tennessee Williams, the gay community has always depended upon the kindness of straight allies. And for an iconic representation of gay rights, few heterosexuals have offered more than sculptor George Segal.
Segal is usually credited with creating the first piece of public sculpture commemorating the struggle for gay rights: "Gay Liber-ation," which has been on display since 1980 at New York’s Sheridan Square, just outside of the Stonewall Inn. His style is instantly recognizable: Life-sized plaster-cast (sometimes re-cast in bronze) humans, often coldly expressionless, seemingly isolated if not contemplative. "Gay Liberation" may even be Segal’s most engaging work: Two women and two men, intimately touching one another with sorrowful expressions.
That particular work isn’t one of those on display at the Nasher Sculpture Center’s new retrospective of Segal’s artistry, but the 11 that are there — including one from the Nasher’s own permanent collection — stand as a testament to Segal’s wholly contemporary vision of modern life.
"George Segal: Street Scenes," on display until April 5, concentrates on the artist’s later works (most of from the 1990s), but also includes classic pieces from the 1960s. Segal seemed to become more disaffected with society as he aged. Both "Street Crossing" (1992) and "Bus Passengers" (1997) capture the psychological tensions between city-dwelling strangers, isolated even as they interact intimately.
"Liquor Store" (1994) embodies both loneliness and urban decay: A solitary figure, hunched on a plastic milk crate, is dwarfed by the graffiti around him.
There are images of the homeless and even a woman on a bench who may be a bag lady, yet Segal’s work is not depressing so much as thought-provoking ("Depression Bread Line" seems uncomfortably relevant in the current economic climate). And as with many sculptures, the chance to revel up-close in the technique — most of the figures are delicate plaster casts, with just a few bronzes (try to pick out which is which) — makes it all the more engaging and impressive.
There’s an inescapable theatricality to Segal’s dramatic compositions: a series of tableaux, with the presentational affect of a stage set a moment before the action commences. And like the best theater, it draws you inexorably toward its subject.
Nasher Sculpture Center, 2001 Flora St. Through April 5. Tuesdaysâ€“Sundays, 11 a.m.â€“5 p.m. (open until 9 p.m. Thursdays). $10. 214-242-5100. Nashersculpturecenter.org.
To see a photograph of George Segal’s acclaimed statues commemorating the Stonewall Riots click here.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 30, 2009.