American, b. 1941
Tokyo International Forum Proposal, 1995
Graphite on tracing paper
15 1/8 in. x 7 ft. 9 1/2 in. (38.4 x 237.5 cm)
© Martin Puryear, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery
Photo by Jeffrey Jenkins
At the time he proposed a work for Tokyo International Forum, in 1995, Puryear was deeply interested in the concept of forced perspective. The sculpture he proposed was a wooden ladder, two hundred fifty feet long, to be suspended diagonally in the atrium of the Forum, a massive meeting hall designed by Rafael Viñoly. With this proposal, Puryear wanted to explore the interplay between the physical tapering of the ladder and the illusion of the form diminishing in space as it receded into the distance.

The drawing Puryear used for his proposal measures over seven feet in length and illustrates the narrowing of the ladder to an acute angle. Like Puryear’s proposed sculpture, the length of the drawing necessitates a perspectival shift, forcing the viewer to move from side to side or step back to experience the work in its entirety. 

A year later, Puryear realized a ladder sculpture incorporating forced perspective, on a comparatively modest scale: his 1996 work Ladder for Booker T. Washington is thirty-six-feet tall and suspended vertically.