When I walked into Joan Danziger’s studio for the first time in 2016, it was magical. An authentic reflection of the artist’s creative output for the past four decades, it is both a working space and a showcase.
I was there to view a new wire and glass sculpture series Danziger had embarked upon of horses. I knew of her previous beetle sculptures, and my interest was piqued. Against a backdrop of over 50 sparkling insects hanging on a wall were two completed equine works, Riders of the Blue Spirit and Black Star, and a few others that had been started.
They were something new, something different. As I walked around the sculptures taking pictures of them, I began to analyze how they were different. They were joyful, they made me smile, and they were free-spirited; there was something noteworthy about how they were created that made them unique.
Danziger has completed 17 horses in the past three years since that visit, of which we have on loan 13 in her current solo exhibition at the National Sporting Library & Museum, Canter & Crawl: The Glass Sculpture of Joan Danziger. Her sometimes whimsical works have a freedom and airiness that is emphasized by their mixed media and construction. Each has a metal base with a soldered rod around which up to four layers of chicken wire are wrapped and shaped. Because her materials are so lightweight, Danziger can project her forms, sometimes as much as 3 feet, away from their footings. The negative space created around the works adds an almost ethereal quality. The support rods are mostly hidden in the finished sculpture, heightening the allusion of her horses as archetypes of dancing, galloping, jumping, and frolicking.
The contemporary sculptor’s pieces are obviously not meant to be perfect representations of horse anatomy but are an exploration of the spirit and nature of the horse. Danziger’s studio assistant Rebecca Long, a representational sculptor, creates the basic forms, and Danziger instructs her on elongating and exaggerating proportions. In her early career, Danziger was an abstract painter having studied at Cornell University. Relying on her knowledge of color theory and abstraction, she cuts and applies glass shards and braids wire to the forms to create mosaic surfaces that are an intriguing play of light, shadow, texture, translucency, and opacity.
As a photographer, I can attest to how difficult it is to capture the nuances and subtleties of three-dimensional art in a photograph. We at NSLM are excited to be the first venue for Joan Danziger’s uplifting horse series so that visitors may experience these sparkling jewels in person. If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet and are within driving distance, I encourage you to visit Canter & Crawl before it closes on January 5, 2020.
Claudia Pfeiffer is the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at email@example.com