Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is honored to present the premier exhibition of drawings and prints by iconic Contemporary sculptor, Beverly Pepper. Known regionally for her soaring steel Galileo’s Wedge, a favorite in our Sculpture Park since 2009, Pepper’s monumental sculptures are celebrated from Manhattan to San Francisco. Our galleries will display more than seventy works, dating from the 1950s to present. Never before seen in public, these works on paper are a treasury of ideas and forms.
Pepper first emerged on the international scene in 1962 as the only female artist to be invited to exhibit her early steel creations with established figures like Alexander Calder and David Smith. Her career has been both prolific and prodigious across the course of Contemporary art. A pioneering force for women in the visual arts, Pepper joins Barbara Hepworth, Louise Nevelson and Louise Bourgeois to form the quartet of female sculptors foundational to opening doors for young women artists.
This exhibition coincides with the artist’s 95th birthday and celebrate her extraordinary gift to Meijer Gardens that spans nearly 900 sketches, drawings, prints and notebooks, as well as a series of models, including Galileo’s Wedge. Among the rarities of her gift is a series of sketchbooks Pepper maintained over her career. Although Pepper’s sculptures are featured in prominent public and private collections across the globe, her works on paper–especially her drawings–are little known yet have a critical role in her studio practice and trace the trajectory of her career, from observational life studies to abstraction.
Born in Brooklyn, Pepper trained at both the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League in New York. She enjoyed a successful early career in advertising before leaving America for an impoverished, post-World War II France to become an artist. There, she studied with Modern masters Fernand Léger and André Lhote. She also met and married fellow American Bill Pepper (1917-2014), a reporter turned bureau chief for Newsweek and acclaimed author. The couple settled in Rome, where Pepper established her first studio. For more than a half century, they divided their time and respective creative endeavors between Italy and New York.
The exhibition opens with a series of extraordinary street drawings of post-war Rome that depict Pepper’s fascination with the remnants of the Old World giving way to the new. These drawings capture workers and wives, children and Cardinals in everyday life. A trip to Southeast Asia in 1960 captivated the artist and led to a dramatic change in style; still figurative, these new drawings were decidedly abstracted and served as a springboard for her non-representational imagery. In her bountiful two-dimensional works from the mid-1960s through the 1980s, the mature Pepper shows her full command of an abstract vocabulary of forms, conquering a quest for a sense of monumentality. Some drawings are sketches for sculptures, others are highly detailed studies. When she begins making prints, the relationship between two- and three-dimensional imagery extends even further. In Pepper’s repertoire, the dialogue among all forms is fluent and flawless.
From her studio in the Umbrian countryside, Pepper continues to draw and make sculpture. Since the 1990s, her drawings often link to her sculptures yet are bold explorations of form. Drawn Into Form: Sixty Years of Drawings and Prints by Beverly Pepper is a groundbreaking exhibition of one of America’s greatest living artists and a grateful commemoration of one of the most important legacy gifts made to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park– a true cause for celebration and exploration.