Micah Barr, “Pillar #5,” 1999

In the course “Art Since 1960,” students are asked to compare an artist or object in our collection to one we have studied in class. In this essay, student Ryan Beattie compares two artists working in wood: collection artist and former OSU student Micah Barr, and internationally renowned sculptor Martin Puryear.

Micah Barr is a sculptor who focuses on wood. A work by this little-known artist in the collection really struck my attention. The piece is a wooden sculpture entitled Pillar #5, completed in 1999 and acquired by OSU in the same year through a student purchase award. This indicates that Barr was an art student at OSU; little other biographical information is available. Pillar #5 is a 6’ wide bench that is composed of three large logs. One 6’ log rests on two smaller ones. It appears that Barr pealed some of the bark off of the 6’ element in order to create a stronger aesthetic form.

Micah Barr, "Pillar #5," 1999. Wood, 6' long. Gardiner Permanent Art Collection, Student Purchase Award.

This piece is very simple but what struck my curiosity is why he chose to do the piece and also the physical alterations that he made to the wood. When I look at this piece it makes me think about sitting outside in the woods. I am an avid camper and this piece would be appropriate in any outdoor or cabin setting. It could be possible that Barr is trying to express his own appreciation for the outdoors. The piece takes an extremely natural approach to furniture design. Its basic qualities remind me of prehistoric art or Native American influence.

There are carvings or scratches in the wood which seem to be the only alterations that Barr makes to the piece besides its assembly. The carvings provide a higher level of detail to the piece but they don’t take away from its natural qualities. I believe that Barr did this to make the wood appear more used as if it had been around for ages.

Martin Puryear, "Ladder for Booker T. Washington," 1996. Wood, 432 x 22 3⁄4 in. Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Gift of Ruth Carter Stevenson, by exchange.

Located in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Ladder for Booker T. Washington is a wonderful sculptural piece by Martin Puryear (b. 1941) that uses the simple form of a ladder to create the illusion of perspective. The 35’ tall ladder is built out of jointed ash wood. As the ladder reaches the top of the room it begins to narrow and creates the illusion that it is actually farther than it appears. The distorted ladder takes on the illusion of an unreachable height or unattainable goal. The weaving form of the wooden ladder adds to the illusion as well. As the ladder weaves it appears to be moving farther and farther away.

Puryear and Barr both focus on everyday objects. They transform wood into a more imaginative experience. Barr takes a simple log form and transforms it into a bench that creates the sense of being outdoors, while Puryear sculpts wood to create an illusion through the form of a ladder. The difference between these two artists is that Barr is more of a realist where as Puryear likes to take hold of the imagination by creating pieces that alter the space around you. With Ladder for Booker T. Washington, Puryear makes you feel like you are miles away from the top of the ladder. For Barr, instead of creating an illusion, he triggers your memories. Personally, by sitting on a simple log bench, my mind would be transported back to my childhood years when I would carelessly climb trees and experience nature.

Ryan Beattie was a student in “Art Since 1960” in Spring 2011.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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