American, b. 1941
Bodark Arc, 1982
Graphite on ivory wove paper
6 x 9 in. (15.2 x 22.9 cm)
© Martin Puryear, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Photo by Jeffrey Jenkins
The scale of Puryear’s Bodark Arc, permanently installed at Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park, on the grounds of Governors State University, is vast: a visitor only gains an understanding of the work’s entirety by walking through it. (Alternately, it can be viewed in full from an airplane or an aerial photograph.) The titular “arc” is a half-circular path in a meadow. The central point of this arc’s radius holds a small bronze seat that Puryear created, based on the style of a traditional African chair. The chair becomes the fixed center point around which the semicircular path revolves. This arched path continues even where the landscape does not: Puryear added a wooden bridge for an area where the circle extends over the edge of an existing pond. 

The title refers to a hedgerow of Osage orange trees, native to the lands of the Osage Nation, in the Midwestern United States, grown near the work’s site. The Osage people used the tree’s hard wood to make bows. When early settlers began to plant these trees, the French term bois d’arc, which means “bow wood,” was corrupted, becoming “bodark.” The arcing shape of Puryear’s land art is also reminiscent of the form of an archer’s bow, pierced by an arrow straight through the middle.