Ursula von Rydingsvard

Elegantka II, 2013–14 / 2016

Ursula von Rydingsvard (American, born 1942), Elegantka II, 2013–14 / 2016, urethane resin, 126 x 46 x 46 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York. © Ursula von Rydingsvard.

Ursula von Rydingsvard (American, born 1942), Elegantka II, 2013–14 / 2016, urethane resin, 126 x 46 x 46 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York. © Ursula von Rydingsvard.

Ursula von Rydingsvard (née Karoliszyn) was born in 1942 in Deensen, Germany, the fifth of seven children, to a Polish mother and Ukrainian father who were brought there as forced labor during World War II. After the war, the family was moved through a series of refugee camps before emigrating to New York by ship in 1950 and settling in Plainville, Connecticut.

Best known for her tactile and large (often monumental) sculptures painstakingly cut, stacked, and assembled from two-by-four cedar beams, Von Rydingsvard studied sculpture at Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degree in studio art in 1975. In an artist’s statement titled “Why do I make art?” she supplied a long list of reasons. Some of these are “Mostly, to survive…. Because I don’t want to be doing anything else with my life—that the building of my artwork feels like the most consequential thing I could be doing with my time…. Because there’s a constant hope inside of me that this process will heal me, my family, and the world,” and concluding, “And also because I want to get answers to questions for which I know there are no answers.” Although her abstract sculptures are not exactly autobiographical, they have been shaped by both her life experiences and encounters with nature. As she has stated, “I read a lot of things from nature. Whether it’s from animals, whether it’s from plants, what the clouds do, what the skies do, she’s my major teacher.” 

In recent years, Von Rydingsvard has also explored other mediums, including bronze and cast resin. Elegantka II (2013–14/2016) is a urethane resin cast of one of her cedar works whose parts were laboriously carved with a circular saw and then stacked. Composed using vertical cuts that she has described as “feathers of a wet bird,” these resin forms explore the possibilities of light and play with the “lost-wax” process, with the cedar providing the form for the resin cast. The resultant shimmering, crystalline spiral is then electrified and illuminated from within, emanating a subtle glow at evening.

One of the most influential sculptors working today, Von Rydingsvard’s work is represented in the permanent collections of forty museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Permanent, commissioned sculptures by Von Rydingsvard are on view in multiple public locations, among which are the San Francisco International Airport, California; Stanford University, Palo Alto, California; Princeton University, New Jersey; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; Bloomberg Corporation, New York; and Barclays Center, New York.

Recent solo museum exhibitions include Ursula von Rydingsvard: Tylko sztuka / Nothing but Art (2021), a traveling exhibition held at the Centre of Polish Sculpture / Centrum Rzeźby Polskiej, Orońsko, Royal Łazienki Museum, Warsaw, and National Museum / Muzeum Narodowe, Krakow, Poland; Ursula von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling (2018) at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Pennsylvania; and Now, She (2018–19), at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park of West Bretton, UK, and a solo presentation at the 56th Venice Biennale, Italy.

Ursula von Rydingsvard has received numerous awards, including the 2008 Rappaport Prize, an annual art award presented by the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum; the 2014 International Sculpture Center Annual Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award; the 2019 National Museum of Women in the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Arts; and the 2021 Gold Medal for Merit to Culture—Gloria Artis, of the Ministry of Culture, National Heritage, and Sport, in Warsaw, Poland. A documentary feature about the artist’s practice, Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own, was released in 2019. She currently lives and works in New York, and is represented by Galerie Lelong & Co.