David Hayes, Man of steel: Selected works from the estate of David Hayes, an exhibition at Burgess Modern + Contemporary, consisting of sculptures, original paintings, and drawings by David Hayes showcases aspects of the artist’s remarkable career that spanned over six decades.
By offering the opportunity to bear witness to a life committed to artistry and exploration, Man of steel: Selected works from the estate of David Hayes reinforces Hayes as an indispensable figure in the world of modern and contemporary sculpture alongside his mentor and teacher, David Smith – and friends, Alexander Calder & Alberto Giacometti. The exhibition offers intriguing insight into Hayes’s academic accolades - confirmations of his proper place in art history that gives critical examination and analysis into his signature and abstracted sculptures.
David Hayes' immense contribution to art cannot be understated and should be celebrated alongside titans of the visual art landscape. Ten years after his passing, we have reached such a juncture with regards to his legacy. It is time to re-evaluate the impact created by this figure - understanding not only what was done in the past, but also how Hayes’ prolific career can be utilized going forward. By doing so, we honor the memory of this artist and ensure future generations have a foundational understanding of his role in the broader context of art history.
The exhibition, Man of steel: Selected works from the estate of David Hayes embarks upon this process.
Hayes’ virtuosic sculptural oeuvre has rightly earned admiration and acclaim across the world and is immortalized in monolithic art institutions like The Museum of Modern Art, NY and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY where examples of his unique craftsmanship are found in their permanent collections. Hayes' work remains a benchmark for dedication, growth, and abundant creation. He has certainly experienced a prolific career- not only was he the proud recipient of the Logan Prize for Sculpture awarded by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961 and the Arts and Letters Award in Art from the National Academy of Arts & Letters in 1965 (now the American Academy of Arts & Letters), but he also received a post-doctoral Fulbright Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
His distinctive use of organic shapes coupled with the construction of abstractionist steel profoundly contributes to a unique style that stimulates thought, conversation, and expression. His sculptures often capture environmental light that highlights the welded steel textures, compounding a playful interaction experienced by the viewer. He is a master of his craft, never settling for easy solutions while constantly innovating his approach to creating dynamic shapes that reinvigorated expectations of traditional sculpture.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut on March 15, 1931, Hayes went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1953, but it was his Master of Fine Arts program and degree from Indiana University which allowed him to work with internationally renowned sculptor, David Smith – a mentorship that would no doubt add great depth and finesse to his work. Thanks to this unique opportunity, Hayes gained an appreciation for the durability and longevity of steel which was channeled into his work.
Sadly, David Hayes died in Coventry, Connecticut on April 9, 2013; a decade apart from the exhibition, Man of steel: Selected works from the estate of David Hayes at Burgess Modern + Contemporary. As we pause to examine specific decades of innovation, experimentation, and creation, we see continuous progress in Hayes’ career from the mid-1900’s through the early 2000’s; never faulting, nor slowing.
In the late 1950’s, Hayes began exploring aspects of animal form constructions - artworks later accepted with admiration into New York’s Museum of Modern Art 1959 exhibition titled: Recent Sculpture U.S.A. His works would ultimately be included in four exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art.
In 1961, Hayes decided to pack his bags and venture to Paris with wife, Julia and their two babies in tow. There, he was able to meet Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, and Alberto Giacometti—each providing an invaluable source of inspiration, camaraderie, and lifelong friendship.
Hayes’ ambitious studio practice in the 1960’s hardened his work ethic. He undertook an ambitious exhibition schedule, showing both in Paris and the US at the Martha Jackson Gallery, the Willard Gallery, and the Anderson Mayer Gallery. After receiving much acclaim during this period of highly regarded, and well received exhibitions, Hayes made yet another daring move in 1968 - transplanting the whole family to Connecticut, where a 54-acre farm would become home to his main studio. This grandiose outdoor space ultimately freed him from any past studio spatial encumbrances. It is here on this farm that Hayes created hundreds of artworks, displaying them within the paths, hayfields, and orchards of the multiacre purchase.
This cherished land is now preserved by the Hayes Family and the David Hayes Foundation as the official David Hayes Sculpture Fields. This plot containing the family homestead and turn-of-the-century buildings & structures, is listed on the Connecticut register of historic places and once served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Retrospectively, we can now see Hayes’ cohort of mentors were deeply rooted in Modernism, but Hayes’s artistic style, which eloquently blend elements of Calder's playful stabiles with Matisse's vibrant shapes and colors, moved beyond the ideas and values of modernist visual linguistics - essentially placing Hayes in the next generation of artists who were forming the foundational building blocks of a new genre of Post-War Contemporary Art. Clement Greenberg, in his essay, “Towards a Newer Laocoön”, written in 1940, seems to inadvertently address principles of Hayes’ practice – “The arts… have been hunted back to their mediums, and there they have been isolated, concentrated, and defined. It is by virtue of its medium that each art is unique and strictly itself. To restore the identity of an art the opacity of its medium must be emphasized. For the visual arts the medium is discovered to be physical; hence…pure sculpture seeks above all else to affect the spectator physically . . . Emphasize the medium and its difficulties.” Greenberg's notion offers an academic, as well as unique perspective that we can in turn, conceptually project onto Hayes' commitment to steel, and the underlining dedication with which he approached this field of work.
Man of steel: Selected works from the estate of David Hayes, reveals a cohesive collaboration and partnership between the gallery and the estate of David Hayes, presenting an exhibition that only skims the surface of Hayes’ decades-long legacy. A few spotlights of this extraordinary and timely presentation include highlights by the artist from the early 2000’s, the late 1980’s and the coveted 1960’s Logan Prize for Sculpture award winning bronze.
Standing a full 66 x 55 x 45 inches with an engaging angular form and curved edges, “Capricorn”, 2004, is a tour de force of skilled artistry. Hayes’ sculpture is a seamless homage to the juxtaposition of perfect anti-symmetry. His structured composition of steel blends harmoniously with curves that evoke an ethereal balance between earth and sky. His evocative use of sweeping angles and sturdy form provide an aesthetic perspective that is unique in its sophisticated expression. Uniting four panels into one cohesive figure, an intricate amalgamation of a yellow stair-like metal structure and the curved red plate supports a large blue plane that bears an uncanny resemblance to a facial profile. Piercing through the center of one side of the sculpture is a light blue V-shape, seemingly pointing both up and down simultaneously. As one observes the elegant interplay between the different forms, it's hard not to appreciate the sheer grandiosity of “Capricorn”.
“Screen Sculpture #83”, a black steel sculpture, circa 1990, measuring 60 x 53 x 21 inches, is crafted from diamond plated steel. To the untrained eye, it may simply appear to be composed of 13 generously sized abstract shapes. Hayes masterfully transforms an otherwise stoic totem into a rhythmic work of art whose shapes challenge the viewer to recognize the roll negative space plays in relation to the physical painted form. The interplay between silhouette and negative space propels the organic character of this sculpture beyond the corporeal confines of physical limits. Like an architectural gatekeeper, the defined arches, angles, points, peaks, and curves create a cohesive screen that transcends the traditional boundaries of materiality. Nothing is static here; the palpable energy elicited from this sculptural union grants permission for singular moments to breathe freely to and from a positive / negative dichotomy of substance.
“Seaforms”,1987, is an 18 x 17 x 19-inch tabletop, welded-steel sculpture that showcases a carnivale arrangement of color and form, composed of a myriad of bold hues containing angles and trajectories that collaborate into a unifying structure. The red plate seems to stand out as the main anchor in the work, leading the viewers’ attention throughout the sculpture to other forms in its close proximity. In this way it serves as the cohesive link between otherwise distinct parts - drawing our gaze from one shape to another. This level of temporal complexity makes "Seaforms" an enigmatic work of art worthy of continual analysis.
“Centaur”, dated circa 1963, is a majestic bronze adorned in black patina. It serves as a testament to the relationship between David Hayes and Alberto Giacometti. Hayes was able to gain firsthand insight into Giacometti's sculptural expertise while spending time in his French studio. This exceptionally rare artwork reflects a key moment in the career of Hayes, meriting him with the prestigious Logan Prize for Sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961. As one of the oldest pieces on display in the exhibition, this remarkable piece speaks to the importance of their association, elevating Hayes’s craftsmanship to withstand the shifting tides of time and trends. The piece offers evidence that Hayes embossed his artistry with a timeless quality and versatility, propelling it to canonic heights in the annals of curatorial achievement. Strikingly profound, this artifact is both a salute to the legacy left behind by Hayes' expertise as well as an acknowledgement of the prolonged success achieved by him.
David Hayes can easily be recognized as one of the most innovative sculptors of his generation, having created highly celebrated works of art that have been displayed in prestigious museums nationwide. A celebrated and ever-evolving sculptor, Hayes left behind an intricate and inspiring legacy before his passing.
At the time of his death, Hayes' work was on exhibition at several esteemed institutions across the nation — including John's College in Annapolis, Maryland; the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria, Illinois; the University of Kentucky Art Museum; and most notably, the University of Notre Dame's renowned Snite Museum. He has also been the subject of more than 400 exhibitions and is included in numerous permanent collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; The Boca Raton Museum of Art, FL; and the Detroit Institute of Arts, MI. In 2021, Legacy List with Matt Paxton produced a one-hour PBS special on David Hayes. To celebrate his distinguished career, Albertus Magnus College presented him with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 2007 - a fitting testament to his outstanding creative endeavors. He left an indelible mark on American Art that will remain apparent for generations to come.
The much-deserved tribute and exhibition, Man of steel: Selected works from the estate of David Hayes certainly provides an inspiring reminder of all that this contemporary art figure achieved in his lifetime.