DON GUMMER – CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS SERIES
To many, Don Gummer is simply ‘that man who accompanies Meryl Streep to premieres. Whatshisname. Thingie.’ In other words, Ms Streep’s husband. To all appearances, he’s her wingman, her support, and she has in the past been described as his ‘trophy wife.’ Yet Gummer has a name, an identity all of his own. More than that, he has his own highly successful career in art that hasn’t gone unnoticed to those in the know. In art circles, they know there is more to him than simply being Streep’s doting husband, father of their four children, and all-round rock of the family. They know he doesn’t quite live in her all-encompassing shadow.
A quick Google image search of him reveals a man who looks as far removed from an artist as possible. Framed in black and white photo’s next to his elegant wife, he sports slick, refined tuxedos and white shirts. To all intents and purposes, he looks a million miles like a movie star himself, or a wealthy businessman. But away from the clutches of the red carpets, Gummer swaps his sophisticated wardrobe for casual dress – for artists attire.
A sculptor by trade who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, Gummer studied at the Yale School of Art after a stint at art college, a period of his life he describes as ‘liberating’, as it gave him the opportunity to live on his own for the first time. It was the move from Kentucky, a state not known for being a hotbed of art, liberation or creativity, to New York that was crucial to his development. He discovered that there existed an exciting art world full of opportunity. With Massachusetts, Cleveland and Ohio within touching distance, Gummer was surrounded by ideas, theories, and artists of all types and moulds. New York was where he became Gummer the artist, and his love for the city has been strong ever since. He was an eye-witness to 9/11, with the collapse of the South Tower burning so deeply into his mind that he subsequently produced a sculpture dedicated to it, which he aptly titled The South Tower.
In a sense, this sculpture is a typical Gummer piece. For a few reasons, the Twin Towers made perfect sense as subject matter. A lot of his work stands upright, vertical, slim and tall, free-standing; the top usually has greater volume and density, with the piece becoming narrower as it descends to its base. His pieces are rarely too tall and imposing, with South Tower reaching a height of just over 10 ft. It is constructed of aluminium and is designed to capture the moment the building was about to collapse. It’s a homage in some ways, a gift to America. In others, it’s a harrowing reminder of things we shouldn’t forget. More tangible than a painting, it abstractly shows us the horrors of war, terrorism and evil. It’s this century’s Guernica, but more subtle, more symbolic, yet no less potent.
Pieces like Logical Rules (2000), are incredible in their conception and achievement. Made out of bronze, this sculpture on first sight looks like a tangle of twisted geometrics; an unearthly conglomeration of bars, grids, dramatic shapes and sharp, pointed metal. Without orientation points, it looks like a vase of thorns. But viewed closer, one begins to see repetition of a few simple forms and elements, and a slick pattern begins to image, one that contracts, reaches outwards, gains weight and momentum as it grows, like a flower developing. From a distance, it looks majestic. Unlike a lot of other Gummer works, it doesn’t so much point to the heavens, but fires out at them.
Most of his work asks the spectator to trace an eye line from the base to the tip of the tower, and with his interest in public spaces now increasing, Gummer’s work can be seen around the US, with the South Tower itself situated in the harmonious grounds of Indiana University. Rather than point to the ceilings of a gallery, his work can point directly to the heavens.