American, b. 1941
Maquette for Swallowed Sun (Monstrance and Volute), 2018
OSB, pine, maple, paint, laser cut acrylic
17 1/2 x 33 3/4 x 16 1/4 in. (44.5 x 85.7 x 41.3 cm)
© Martin Puryear, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery
In 2019 Puryear represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. While it is one of the highest national honors that can be awarded to an artist, Puryear felt conflicted about taking on this role during a time of deep national division. He has written:
I was profoundly disturbed by the level of weaponized resentment, fear and ignorance that characterized the 2016 presidential election and the administration that followed. My anguish at seeing what was happening to the country found its way into my art.

The work that Puryear created for the forecourt outside the exhibition pavilion took the form of an enormous tracery screen that obscured the building’s Federal style façade behind a wooden sunburst with a reflective center (the “monstrance”), that was supported from behind by a dark spiraling buttress (the “volute”), reminiscent of a malevolent dragon’s tail.

Inside the pavilion Puryear exhibited sculptures that explored the ways in which notions of American exceptionalism and freedom are complicated by our fraught national history.