Robert Graham: 1938-2008

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The L.A. sculptor Robert Graham died over the weekend.  Though he had many museum shows, it’s probably true that his best known works were his civic monuments and other outdoor sculpture.  His work was resolutely figurative and it could be a mixed bag.  His 1984 L.A. Olympic Gateway, with those muscular bronze torsos, was a little too reminiscent of the Arno Brekers at the Berlin games in 1936 — not a happy association.

But his Duke Ellington Monument in Manhattan, with Ellington held aloft by caryatid-column “muses”, has a theatricality that feels right for a great jazz musician, jaunty but not grandiose.

And though I only know it from photographs, his Joe Louis Memorial in Detroit, a disembodied arm suspended within a steel pyramid, looks like it has a certain, well, punch.

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