For over 4 decades, John Henry’s work has been shown and permanently installed in outdoor sites and exhibitions around the world and in various books and catalogues surveying segments of his career. Now for the first time we can now see his work as a whole, gathered in massive book form, with several incisive essays (two personal essays by David Levy and David Finn, a critical history by Stephen Luecking, and a wide-ranging interview with Finn) as well as David Finn’s numerous and beautifully presented photographs of the work.
One of the unique aspects of the book is the opportunity to see a number of works from varied perspectives, as Finn circles and focuses in on details and out on the full scope of the sculptures. Finn’s affinity for, and appreciation of, sculpture in his photography is extensively attested to here.
The essays make important points about Henry’s work. Levy notes “the degree to which this innovative sculptor blurs the line between the aesthetic outcome of his art and his exhilaration with the physical energy of the creative act itself.” And Luecking emphasizes that it is not only in the work that Henry has made a contribution to contemporary sculpture: key to the debate of contemporary sculpture, and to Luecking’s portrait of the artist, is “this sculptor’s assertion that, to carry out his search for the expressive potential of scale, entrepreneurship and community engagement would be as much a part of making his sculpture as would his wrestling with steel.”
Luecking’s text goes on to demonstrate Henry’s involvement not only with a dynamic group of sculptors allied by their reinterpretation of Constructivism, but also with the developing field of public art, with a spirit of community among sculptors, and with a hands-on work ethic. Luecking also has an artist’s appreciation for the individual sculptures, giving insights into the process and siting as well as the works themselves.
The combination of Luecking’s historical study, archival photos, and Finn’s images gives an overview of Henry’s life-work that has not previously been possible. Seeing the work all together in this way reinforces an impression one has in the face of one of the works themselves: that the encounter of forms in front of you is the only possible arrangement of these forms in space, and their present scale (whether massive or intimate) is the perfect embodiment of the forms. An effect achieved, I’m sure, through lengthy physical, aesthetic, and engineering efforts.
by David Levy, Stephen Luecking, and David Finn.
New York: Ruder Finn Press, 2011.
Hardcover, 515 pages, $65.