A new work by sculptor and installation artist Steven Siegel 74S is on exhibit. But that doesn’t mean the piece is entirely finished.
Biography, a wall-mounted sculpture currently at 75 feet, stretches across the entire second-floor of the Marlborough Gallery on West 25th Street in New York City. Melding thousands of discarded items, from CDs and paper to computer parts and plastic cable ties, Siegel began the project in 2008 and says that Biography will continue to transform and expand.
“It’s truly been an evolving improvisation that keeps growing. There’s no design and no plan, it goes where it has to go,” he says. “It started with a circle on the right, and after four feet, it was getting heavy and cumbersome. So I thought of expanding it to the left. Over the next month or two the notion of it growing infinitely took hold.”
Siegel has long used nontraditional materials in his sculpture, which often deals with environmental issues. Siegel studied visual arts at Hampshire College after transferring from the University of Colorado, and his interests branched into sciences like ecology and biology. Design professor Arthur Hoener and biology professor Ray Coppinger were among the faculty who encouraged him to bridge his interests, expressing his passion for the natural environment through his artwork.
“I can talk about ecology, biology, the human place in the world, but you could take all of those things away and leave me with the aesthetics, and I’d still be an artist,” says Siegel. “The priority here is to make art, not to make a statement.”
Siegel’s works are often incorporated into wild spaces, and in some situations volunteers help him assemble the large-scale sculptures. For Biography, he worked alone despite the size.
“The idea was to be immersed in it as much as possible,” he says, noting that the sculpture was built in 18-inch sections.
Hampshire was an “extraordinary place” to study, says Siegel, and he cherishes his education as well as the lifelong friends he made. For current students and others just starting out as artists, he has simple advice that has served him well over the years.
“You have to know why you get up and do this work every day. It really should be about the thrill of it, and not the accolades. The people who stick with it the longest are the ones who have a real need to make these things,” says Siegel.