Art That Turns Life Inside Out

Casting friends and family in plaster, George Segal creates “environments” that bring inner reality to the surface

This Holocaust remembrance sculpture stands outside the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. (Wikimedia Commons)
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In the old chicken coops on his New Jersey farm, artist George Segal has been wrapping plaster-impregnated bandages around friends and family members since 196l. When the casts dry, he cuts them off the models, using them as molds for life-size sculptures in the "environments" he constructs. In The Diner, 1964-66, for example, a man sits at a counter aimlessly watching the waitress draw coffee from a huge urn. The scene has an eerie sense of reality. "I've found," says Segal, "that the inner state of the mind connects to the outside surface of the sculpture." For the new FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C., Segal created three works in bronze-- Appalachian Farm Couple 1936, Depression Bread Line and Fireside Chat. These works, which Segal says express "how ordinary people felt," have been extraordinarily popular with visitors to the memorial, many of whom can't resist snapping pictures of their family and friends standing in the breadline.

Next month, a major retrospective of George Segal's art will open at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where it opened last fall, the show will later travel to the Jewish Museum in New York and the Miami Art Museum in Florida.


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