In 2015, the Nasher Sculpture Center was invited to select works to be donated from
the Manuel Neri Trust. The resultant gift (six sculptures and ten drawings) comprises
one of the most important public repositories of the artist’s work, highlighting significant
developments in Neri’s career and providing insight into his working process.
Manuel Neri: Recent Acquisitions from the Artist’s Trust celebrates this extraordinary
gift and highlights the work of this important American sculptor and draftsman.
Manuel Neri (born 1930) has spent his entire career inventing and reinventing the
figurative tradition, remaking the ancient language of the human body for his own
time. Inspired early on by the boldly colorful paintings of the Bay Area Figurative
Movement, which included his teachers Richard Diebenkorn and Nathan Oliveira, as
well as Funk Art, an aesthetic derived from improvisatory jazz and Beat poetry, Neri
creates novel representations of the body that combine expressive modeling, rough
assemblage, and vibrant coloration. He sculpts intuitively, using additive and subtractive
methods, typically applying wet plaster onto a skeletal armature before gouging
its surface with a chisel and ax. Neri’s fragmented figures with vigorously worked
surfaces recall the modernist examples of Rodin and Giacometti, as well as sculptural
remnants from ancient Greece, Egypt, and Mexico. Covered with thick patches
of paint, the works explore the relationship between surface and volume, along with
the emotive effects of color, texture, and form.
Neri began sculpting the female figure in the late 1950s and met his primary model
and muse, poet Mary Julia Klimenko, in 1972, initiating a collaborative relationship
that lasted over thirty years. When asked to explain the carved and gouged surfaces
of his figures, Neri replied, “I more or less see it as that destructive force we have
upon ourselves and what we do to each other… [T]he female figure represents humanity
to me and not just the woman alone.” At once awkward, sensual, and violent
in tone, Neri’s works highlight the profundity of human experience, often incorporating
elements that blur distinctions between physical and psychological space, as well
as classicism and modernity.