Sunday, September 07, 2014

Egon Weiner


Here's "Brotherhood",  the first Egon Weiner statue I ever saw in Chicago

It was encouraging to find positive, figurative public sculpture in the "Where's mine?" city.

But it's not really great - and that's a problem with sculpture dedicated to an important theme.

Weakness is less annoying when the subject is merely personal.  By the way - the sculpture in the rotunda of the nearby Elks Memorial is also dedicated to similar lofty ideals - and it's even more disappointing.

I'm sure I've seen this Weiner portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright
many times in Austin Gardens in Oak Park.
But it's so unappealing,
I've tried not to notice it. 
Perhaps the artist was too intimidated by his subject.
But that doesn't mean that I dislike everything Weiner has  done.
Above is my favorite piece from the retrospective
currently on view at the Koehnline Museum.
He must have done a lot of life drawing,
since he taught that subject at the School of the Art Institute.
But if the above is the best example that could be found,
 he was man of modest talents.
(a challenging situation with which I identify)
From all reports,
he was dedicated, enthusiastic, and well taught.
He studied in Vienna with Anton Hanak,
one of my favorite 20th Century sculptors.

This "Sower" belongs in Dr.  Grohmann's Working Man's Museum in Milwaukee.

It's the same theme done decades earlier by his boss, Albin Polasek, head of the sculpture department at the School of the Art Institute.   But reflecting a less inhibited cultural era, Polasek's sower has his pants off.

Presumably, this is the consequence of all that sowing.


Here's another piece that I liked. He was reportedly a very spiritual man. His father was Jewish, his mother was Roman Catholic, and he chose to be Lutheran.

I also like this bust of Nietzche


But as you can see from this, and the other photos I took at the exhibition, the show was poorly lit.

Here's another bust that I really liked.
It depicts St. Paul.

I'm less enthusiastic about this bust of Martin Luther King


This one never should have been cast,
though it may serve as  Weiner's application
to the "Monster Roster" school of Chicago figuration.

In the 1950's, he switched to non-figurative sculpture.
This is a model for a monument at the  Chicago Fire  Academy.
It was  his most famous commission - but it's also a bit puzzling.
This heroic depiction of flame seems more appropriate
for a Zoroastrian Fire Temple - where fire is worshipped rather than fought.

Here's another depiction of fire -- this time it's the Burning Bush of Moses.

His flame-like abstract sculpture seems to have had a strong effect on his two most successful students at the Art Institute, Richard Hunt and Joseph Burlini, both of whom appear in a video that honors their teacher.

I doubt that kind of student-teacher relationship is often found in the theory-based MFA programs of today..

Weiner was trained and certified as a wood carver in Vienna --
 but I don't think it was a good medium for him.


The exhibit included the above photo of his relief sculpture for a synagogue.

It's better lit than anything else in the gallery - but it's rather stiff, dull, and awkward compared to the liturgical reliefs of his Chicago contemporary, Milton Horn.


It's hard to be too  critical of any American sculptor whose career straddled the great Post-war divide  that replaced figurative idealism with abstract expression.

Weiner's abstract idealism seems like a good adjustment - even if the only non-figurative sculpture that has ever entertained me are ceramic bowls, pots, and cups. (with the lone exception of Hans Arp)

What I really like are the things he did for Lutheran churches - comparable to this prolific Lutheran sculptor who was more naturalistic and did not have that inner glow that Weiner took from  Medieval Christian sculpture.