The splendid Martin Puryear retrospective currently at the Museum of Modern Art made me wonder when I first became aware of this inventive sculptor’s work.[1] The evidence of my bookshelves suggests that it was in 1978, when Puryear was included in the Exxon National “Young American Artists” exhibition at the Guggenheim. (Among the other notable young participants were Siah Armajani, Scott Burton, Denise Green, and Bryan Hunt.) The catalogue of the show not only establishes the forgotten date of my initial encounter with Puryear but also confirms my memory of what he exhibited: a mysterious, tapering dark form extending along the ground, part overturned boat, part abstracted sea creature à la Brancusi, and a wall of extended, indescribable forms that seemed to function at once as pure drawing and primitive trophies. I recall being both fascinated and puzzled by these sculptures—which are both...


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