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United States of America born 1943

Amarillo (1978-79)
Collection Title: Amarillo
Materials & Technique: sculptures, painted steel, c.1000 pieces

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: installed 10.0 h x 620.0 w x 450.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1981
Accession No: NGA 81.1241.A-D
Image rights: © David Stoltz, 1978
  • Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris;
  • from whom bought by the Australian National Gallery, September 1980

Stoltz's welded steel sculptures of the early 1970s seem indebted to the work of internationally acclaimed English sculptor Anthony Caro. By the mid-1970s however, whilst still working in steel, Stoltz attempted to negotiate alternative approaches to sculpture, particularly as outlined in the statements of the American sculptor Robert Morris. In Steel II 1975, for example, Stoltz compressed sheets and tubes of steel, which were then placed en masse directly onto the gallery floor.

Amarillo (1978-79) is a similarly hybrid work, comprising approximately one thousand individual pieces of brightly painted steel ─ the material associated with Caro and modern sculpture. Rather than welding the pieces rigidly together, Stoltz explores the properties of the material and the multitude of processes by which a single piece of steel can be physically or manually manipulated, with the resulting forms exhibiting a dependence upon the initial structure of each piece. Amarillo includes flat and compressed strips, curled wires, bent, twisted and crushed pieces, as well as small off-cuts, in an array of dazzling colours; some are over a metre in length, whilst others are no larger than an Australian twenty-cent piece. All the pieces are then laid out within the dimensions of a rectangle, measuring 620 by 450 centimetres, which provides the 'frame' for the work.

The artist has not specified the arrangement of the elements within this 'frame'. The heterogeneous nature and large quantity of pieces therefore means that variations in the 'composition' of Amarillo occur with each installation. When Amarillo was exhibited at Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, the work was elevated on a low white plinth or pedestal, which in effect acted as a metaphorical blank canvas or sheet of paper. An accompanying composite set of twelve drawings, a 'study for' the sculpture, implied that Amarillo could be interpreted as a three-dimensional realisation of an Abstract Expressionist painting.

Earlier works, such as Steel II, were exhibited without the plinth. When Amarillo is laid out directly on the floor, the discrete separation of 'the work' from its surroundings is dismantled. A relationship is instead established between the elements and the floor, which is reminiscent of the colourful litter on the roadside, perhaps along Route 66 near the city of Amarillo in Texas. In this context, a comparison can be drawn between Amarillo and the near-contemporary floor pieces using discarded coloured plastics by the English sculptor Tony Cragg, who appeared on the international scene in the late 1970s. This comparison highlights the contradictory tendencies that surface in Amarillo between the materials, sculptural precedents and contemporary practice. In attempting to reconcile these aspects, Stoltz has paradoxically summarised the impasse faced by modern sculpture in the 1970s.

Steven Tonkin

  1. Joseph Masheck, 'A note on Caro Influence: Five sculptors from Bennington', Artforum, vol.10 no.8, April 1972, pp.73-74
  2. see particularly, Robert Morris, 'Anti form', Artforum, vol.6 no.8, pp.33-35, Robert Morris, 'Notes on sculpture, part 4: Beyond objects', Artforum, vol.7 no.8, pp.50-54
  3. illustrated in, Ingeborg Hoesterey, 'New York', Art International, vol.20 no.6, Summer 1976, pp.33-34

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra