Publication | Manuel Neri and the Assertion of Modern Figurative Sculpture


Representing the breadth of the artist’s oeuvre, this book offers insights into the development of Manuel Neri’s sculpture and a fresh perspective on his contributions to contemporary art.










Alexander Nemerov


Bruce Nixon






Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson


Jason Linetzky




Alexander Nemerov





Bruce Nixon

























WE BEGAN COLLECTING MODERN and contemporary art in the late

1960s. At that time, we became great friends with Nathan Oliveira, who was a

champion of the Bay Area Figurative artists and introduced us to a number of his

contemporaries. Nate’s knowledge helped us to grow and focus our collection, as

he encouraged a strategy of always collecting the best of the best.

Our appreciation for figurative works began with early and mid-20th-century

sculptures by Rodin, Matisse, Maillol, Arp, Giacometti, Lipchitz, and Ernst. These

early works became the foundation for our collection and inspired our interest

in contemporary figuration. Eventually, this led us to appreciate and admire the

work of Manuel Neri. While Neri was well aware of these artists, he is most

known for his commitment to the figure in contemporary sculpture, and his

impact on the sculpture of his time. His treatment of the figure presented

something unique that was exciting to us.

We built a strong connection with Charles Cowles and his New York gallery.

Presenting solo exhibitions, Cowles was also a great supporter of Bay Area

Figurative artists. In the fall of 1982, the gallery mounted an exhibition of Neri’s

figurative works. After visiting, we were thrilled to add to our collection the

plaster sculpture Standing Figure II, 1982. In early 1984, we purchased a Neri

work on paper titled K.C. No. 2, 1982. Later, we added the charcoal, pastel, and

gouache on paper Untitled, 1978.

Richard Olcott/Ennead Architects

Design drawing for the

Anderson Collection at Stanford University



Harrison Truong, Photographer

Mary Margaret and Harry W. Anderson at

the Anderson Collection at Stanford University

with Manuel Neri’s Standing Figure II, 1982

The Andersons with Standing Figure II, 1982,

and David Park (1911–1960), Four Women, 1959


Johnna Arnold, Photographer

Galleries of the Anderson Collection

at Stanford University, 2014

Philip Guston (1913–1980), The Coat II, 1977;

Sam Francis (1923–1994), Red in Red, 1955;

Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), Lucifer, 1947

Clyfford Still (1904–1980), 1957-J No. 1

(PH-142), 1957; Peter Voulkos (1924–2002),

Untitled Stack, 1981


Adolph Gottlieb (1903–1974), Transfiguration III,

1958; Franz Kline (1910–1962), Figure 8, 1952


Neri’s sculptures took figuration to a level that we really had not appreciated

previously. His works fit tightly into our Bay Area Figurative collection, and we

recognized the relevance of Neri’s position as a contemporary and colleague

of Peter Voulkos, Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Lobdell, Joan Brown, and Elmer


We consider these works by Neri to be fine examples of figurative sculpture

and painting. We wish to thank The Manuel Neri Trust for gifting a significant

group of works to the Anderson Collection at Stanford University.

Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, 2017




great pride in sharing the work of Manuel Neri, a native Californian who has

been long thought of as an “artist’s artist” among his peers. The museum is

grateful to have added to its collection this past year a number of sculptures and

works on paper by Neri, through a generous gift from The Manuel Neri Trust,

all of which are included in the exhibition, Manuel Neri: Assertion of the Figure.

As a university art museum dedicated to enriching the artistic, cultural, and

intellectual pursuits of students, scholars, artists, and every visitor, the Anderson

Collection at Stanford University strives to present artworks, exhibitions, and

programs that stimulate the mind, hand, and heart. This impulse stems in part

from the philosophy of the Anderson family, Harry W. (“Hunk”) and Mary

Margaret (“Moo”) Anderson, and Mary Patricia (“Putter”) Anderson Pence,

whose collecting criteria requires the existence and evidence of the “head and

hands” in every work. Hunk, Moo, and Putter’s five decades of unwavering

support and passion for artists, collecting, and education led them on a path to

assemble one of America’s finest private collections. Their transformative gift to

Stanford University of 121 world-class modern and contemporary American

paintings and sculptures, including a work by Neri, established the museum in

2014. Since its opening in a new building designed by Richard Olcott/Ennead

Architects, the Anderson Collection has grown through additional gifts and

Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1996



ecome a place of creative engagement, community programming, and active


Manuel Neri’s primary focus in his work has been on the figure, which he

approached not only as a sculptural form, but also as a vehicle to convey his

humanist ideas. Neri combines historical art forms with modernist ideas to

create a viable, figurative form that he wants to be relevant in a contemporary

context. His friendships with fellow artists Joan Brown, Jay DeFeo, Richard

Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira, Mark di Suvero, and Peter Voulkos, among others,

with whom he shared conversations about art, social events, teaching experiences,

and attended exhibitions, created mutual commitments to maintain

honesty and integrity in approaching their work.

Among the gifts of art received from The Manuel Neri Trust is a striking

work from the early 1960s depicting the young artist, Joan Brown, who at the

time was Neri’s model and partner. It is impossible for me to think of this work

outside the context of the Anderson Collection. The balance of the dual qualities

of abstraction and figuration, of attention to surface, mark, and gesture, are

Joan Brown Seated, 1959;

Unique Cast 1963; Patina 2016

Anderson Collection at Stanford University


Willem de Kooning (1904–1997)

Woman Standing—Pink, 1954–55

Anderson Collection at Stanford University


indicative of the impact Abstract Expressionism had on the Bay Area, united

with Neri’s need to bring attention to the human form. In the context of our

collection, this work brings to mind Willem de Kooning’s Woman Standing—

Pink, 1954–55, or Nathan Oliveira’s Reclining Nude, 1958, works that, like Neri’s,

carry with them traces of the past, of those who may have modeled for them,

or who have lived in their presence.

This publication, with its thoughtful and insightful essay by Bruce Nixon,

accompanied by a trove of archival photos and images of Neri’s work shown

alongside important works by Alberto Giacometti, Marino Marini, and others,

presents the reader with an opportunity to consider Neri’s work in the context

of Modernist ideas. I am grateful to Alexander Nemerov, Thoma Provostial

Professor and Chair of the Department of Art and Art History, whose enlightening

Introduction considers Neri’s work in context with Auguste Rodin and

Stanford University.

The Anderson Collection at Stanford University is deeply grateful to Anne

Kohs & Associates and the Trustees, Max Neri and Anne Kohs of The Manuel

Neri Trust for inviting the museum to select works for donation to its permanent

collection. These sculptures and works on paper expand the breadth,

depth, and reach of this collection and provide Stanford students, faculty, and

the public firsthand opportunities to think deeply and critically about Neri’s

work and the world in which we live.

Jason Linetzky, Director

Anderson Collection at Stanford University

Nathan Oliveira (1928–2010)

Reclining Nude, 1958

Anderson Collection at Stanford University





HOW TO EXPERIENCE Manuel Neri’s sculptures at Stanford? Compare

them to Auguste Rodin’s. Rodin (1840–1917) created The Gates of Hell, The

Burghers of Calais, and many other bronzes on campus. The two sculptors are

very different, but they share a feeling for human vulnerability.

Take Rodin’s The Martyr, for instance. Splayed on her back, the poignant and

disturbing bronze figure is among the works at the Rodin Sculpture Garden at

Stanford. Unlike her many big brothers and sisters at the Garden — great

muscular beings descended from Michelangelo — she is a small woman, painfully

thin, who anticipates the body size of Neri’s plasters and marbles. Had

Neri’s favorite model, Mary Julia Klimenko, lived in Paris in the 1880s she would

have been perfect for Rodin’s figure. Resting on her left hip, her head tilted back

and long hair puddled to one side, the young woman of The Martyr appears as

if left for dead. Neri’s sculptures, such as Standing Figure II, 1982, a plaster at the

Anderson Collection, likewise feel fragile, sharing The Martyr’s smallness in

space. The plaster woman is life-sized but pared down, eroded. Her flattened

face is eerily too small.

Both Rodin and Neri created individual sculptures that feel like refugees

from larger sculptural programs — and from grand explanations of life. The

Martyr, lying alone on her plinth, literally comes out of Rodin’s Gates of Hell,

having been adapted from one of the figures there. Her excision suggests that

Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1980



she is an exile in other senses as well. No portals or domes or altarpieces

frame her fate. Not even an executioner lords over her. She closes her eyes

and purses her sensuous lips in bliss, but her demise — her ecstasy, whatever

it is — plays out in a purely personal way. The individual is alone. The Stanford

sun shines on the closed moons of her flattened eye-sockets: that is all she

knows of God.


Auguste Rodin (1840–1917)

La Porte de l’Enfer [The Gates of Hell],

1880–c. 1900; Cast 1981

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University

Auguste Rodin (1840–1917)

La Martyre, grand modele [The Martyr, large version],

1899–c. 1900; Cast 1983

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University



Neri’s Standing Figure II is also a fugitive from a lost philosophy. Her plaintive

stance, patience, and humility all suggest the Egyptian funerary sculpture that is

one of Neri’s sources. Like a functionary of the pharaoh, she is ready to stand

guard for eternity, deep within the pyramid. Yet she is without a kingdom, a palace,

an epoch, a dynasty. With no necropolis to grace, Neri’s figure is set free

from world views, left alone. With the implacable calm of a Giacometti man on

his existential rounds, she is a stranger in the universe. Rodin’s The Martyr — so

different from this cool endurance — writhes in a tumble of bones and hair. But

Neri and Rodin both explore the pathos of a figure cut adrift.

Harrison Truong, Photographer


Standing Figure II, 1982, on exhibit at the Anderson

Collection at Stanford University, 2014


Standing Figure II, 1982, and

Richard Diebenkorn (1922–1993),

Girl on the Beach, 1957, and Berkeley #26, 1954

Standing Figure II, 1982, and David Park

(1911–1960), Four Women, 1959


Auguste Rodin (1840–1917)

La Martyre, grand modele [The Martyr,

large version] (Detail), 1899–c. 1900; Cast 1983

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University

Curious how in each case tragedy is a mix of reality and make-believe.

Rodin’s The Martyr imparts a strong feeling of the real. The life-size body evokes

that of a specific person. It is not difficult to imagine the pose having come to

Rodin one day in the studio as he contemplated a tired model reclining on a

blanket or pillows at the end of a day’s posing, as the Rodin scholar Albert Elsen

conjectured. Yet neither this model nor the saint she portrays have names or

stories or biographies. There is nothing to tether them to. Like a soldier dead

without his dog-tags, or like the dog-tags found alone, minus the bones, Rodin’s

sculpture is a whole fragment, a mystery without a solution. That mystery is

what makes the figure so lonesome, so lost, like a stray animal. But it also sets

her free, liberating her from allegiance to dogmas and truths.


Neri also combines reality and invention. At the Cantor Arts Center at

Stanford is Carriona Figure No. 1, of 1981, one of the marble sculptures he began

making after visiting the quarry at Carrara in Italy. Life-sized, the marble portrays

not only the model Klimenko but Neri himself, establishing a “one-to-one

relationship” with the roughly 5-foot-7-inch stature of his own body, as he has

said. The feeling of the actual studio is likewise strong. As in Standing Figure II,

where the spattered plywood base feels like it was cut directly out of the studio

floor, the sculpture at the Cantor is true: true to the artist and model standing

there, true to their body sizes, true to the situation, true in the way that the

colors slathered on the marble are truly yellow and black. Even the patterned

chips taken out of the figure’s smooth marble contours — indentations flaked

away to make little pockets like the porousness in pumice — are absolutely

true to the gradina or other sculptor’s tool that dug them out, each a direct

record of Neri’s technique and physical activity.

But those same chips give the work its strong feeling of make-believe. They

evoke damage, wear and tear, possibly of the elemental kind, as if the figure has

emerged from centuries underground or from the bottom of the ocean. And

if the ancient civilization it came from never existed — if it is utterly up to us

to invent what it was — so much the better. The figure is loosened from the

hold of journeys and destinations, plummeted overboard from the navigational

charts of discernible routes and real-life empires and rules. For once we are

relieved of the need to determine the actual coordinates from which a work

of the imagination has sprung. The sculpture cannot ever be brought back to

the cargo hold of facts, to the nameable freight that the stevedores unload.

There is pleasure in this freedom but also pathos. Neri’s sculptures, like

Rodin’s, seem wistful for the larger monuments — the known itineraries — that

they sever themselves from. The solitary imagination, left to its own devices,

discovers that to the outermost limits of its projections it meets with no security,

no guarantee, that would prove its gestures are anything except offerings

to the void. The exhilaration of making a primitive totem, a first sign, of creating

a cosmos — personal and hard-won — makes each of these sculptures as

volatile as a pennant rippling in the wind. But the wish to be answered back

— as if by a grand echo that would confirm one’s laments and joys — is the


Carriona Figure No. 1, 1981

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University,

promised gift of Thomas J. Davis and

Shirley Ross Sullivan, L.37.1.2004

plaintive note that somehow shapes the sculptures’ very forms. It is like centuries

of breezes had eroded Neri’s figures until they could barely recall the

parades and ceremonies and rituals they had once overseen with clear features

and strong strides. Only patches of color remain on the painted beings that

once were so life-like that they seemed to blink in the sun.

The artist’s imagination is limitless, but this heady condition is also a tragedy.

Imagination, left to its own devices, starts picturing the time when it did not

have to do all the work — when the artist was not so alone, when a larger

order made each stroke of the chisel, each slathering of the plaster, a ratified

and significant act. Back then, each bend of the body was locked into a cosmic

and political order. In the absence of these certitudes, the imagination becomes

an art of subtraction, a way of envisioning a sculpture’s dissociation from life.

That is why Neri’s figures wear the cerements of a culture that never existed.


They strive to gain back a lost tradition, solacing themselves in pure acts of the

imagination. Yet these imaginative acts are always forlorn, manifesting themselves

as damage, deterioration, a kind of crumbling. Rodin, setting his figures adrift,

marks an earlier moment of this wandering, this voyage cut off from the temple

and the stars.

At Stanford and in Silicon Valley, the isolated individual is often held up as a

thing of glory. The private intelligence, the singular fate, is the topic of many a

secular sermon. Every life, no matter how digitally connected, is held to be

precious unto itself, fulfilled if not by a destiny of the heavens than by a glory of

potential achievement and enduring personal fame. In this environment the

sculptures of Rodin and Neri look on with curious detachment. Marking the

fragility of the human body in different ways — a protuberant hip bone, an

abdomen scored and scratched — each of these sculptures is friendless. Each

occupies space blindly, acknowledging that it could be anywhere but, having

wound up somewhere, it is powerless to control that environment except by

acting its private drama to the indifference of the clouds, the gravel, the drooping


There is no moral lesson in this, no lecture to the masters of the universe.

Wrought up in their own worlds, the sculptures have no time to make statements.

They are so absorbed in the equilibrium of their being — writhing,

standing — that Silicon Valley itself must seem to them like a place very far off,

a sound heard in a dream, a muffled knocking at the door. In that quiet they

hold their ground.

Alexander Nemerov

Department Chair and

Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial

Professor in the Arts and Humanities

Stanford University








artist, and a humanist by instinct and temperament. Throughout his career, he

has been loyal to the sculpted female figure, constructed at human scale in a

naturalistic formal language, a figure that unifies and then advances the prominent

figural modalities of his modernist predecessors. Neri’s work, whether

in plaster, bronze, or marble, has remained idiomatic, inimitable, immediately

recognizable — a figure whose delicate formal integrity and evocative gesture

is submitted to a textural treatment of surface, a handling of the motif that

recreates it as an articulate “speaking” subject indigenous to the artist — sculpture

that captures the condition of the figure/artist striving to make itself/himself

known in a world of time and spatial divide. The figures strive, always, to

ascertain, as sculpture, how human beings express themselves across those

divides, and to discover ways in which expression might be amplified through

the means of the artist.

Neri’s knowledge of the figurative motif as a history has enabled him to

engage some of the most durable traditions of Western sculpture, from antiquity

to the present, as he has continued to investigate the possibilities of the form

in a fully contemporary voice. He accepts the dense thematic and emotional

history of the figure as an available resource, and as he contemplates them in

the sculptural vocabulary of his own time, an authentic “modern” figure

M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Tyler Street Studio, 2006


1. Mary Julia (Cast 1/4), 1990;

Cast 1991; Painted 1992

Private Collection

emerges to meet the needs of a “modern” sculptor, a figure that draws on ideas

from the past without repeating them verbatim. The figure, for Neri, is a resilient

form, capable of embodying humanness under almost any circumstance.

Neri has devoted much of his career to the problems of communicability

the human need to be known to and to know one another — and to learn

how, and if, such an exchange is even achievable. The spread of figures across

the full span of Neri’s career constitutes the artist’s own answer to the inquiries

bequeathed to figural sculpture by other humanist sculptors of the Modern era.

Taken together, Neri and his predecessors demonstrate the renewal and indeed

the continuity of the sculptural figure amid the vicissitudes of the past century

and into the contemporary moment.

In the wake of World War II, sculpture in Europe experienced an expansion

at once figural and profoundly humanist, led by a group of artists that included

Kenneth Armitage, Louise Bourgeois, Alberto Giacometti, Marino Marini,

Eduardo Paolozzi, and Germaine Richier, among others. For the most part,

it took place just outside the main currents of European art at the time, in

deliberate response to sweeping, catastrophic wartime events and to social

shifts that threatened the life of culture. Most of these sculptors were building

on developments that had occurred elsewhere in art, chiefly in the formal

distortions of late expressionism and, of course, abstraction, and would continue

to pursue those modes of working. Giacometti and Marini were two who

remained loyal to a naturalistic sculptural figure.

The work of Giacometti and Marini is thoroughly familiar to us now, but in

its own time, it met with tremendous resistance. At mid-century and well into

the postwar era, the dominance of abstraction among artists and critics alike

created a climate antagonistic to figuration, a situation that did not really end

until the early 1960s. And yet, when we look back from our vantage today, we

can readily see that beneath the surface of events, the figural motif had tenacity

as a valid, efficacious form within the tumultuous environment of late modernism.

In sculpture, especially, commitment to the naturalistic figure during the

second half of the last century would establish the basic terms of its durability

in art, the terms that would enable it not only to survive, but to retain its place

within the contentious discourse of modern and contemporary art.


In essence, Giacometti and Marini had developed sculptural figures whose

thematic substance proved congenial to the temper of progressive art in the

postwar era. As a matter of strategy, neither artist attempted to refute abstraction

or its rationales, or to undermine its real advances. Neither did they ignore

the cultural atmosphere in which abstraction was emerging around them. Their

work does not evade its historical moment. It argues, rather, for the durable

significance of the figure, and its ability to address some of the most problematic

conditions of the modern present. Giacometti took up, as art, questions

raised by phenomenology, using stylized form, scale, radical attenuation, and

surface to study the subjective variability and instability of visual perception; in

Marini’s work, on the other hand, forms drawn from the long history of the

sculptural figure are employed to address the diminshed circumstances of the

cultural present.

These artists had reestablished the figure at roughly the time that Neri was

beginning his career on the American West Coast, and as we now gaze over

the length of Neri’s career, we can readily observe how he extends them. Neri

recognized that their work was not finished — that more remained to be said

with the sculpted figure in our time. Though he represents a subsequent generation

in art, Neri negotiates the similarly difficult landscape, one that includes

the challenging cultural shifts that register the passage from late Modernism

toward post-modernity as well as all the social discontents of the era.

Neri values the centrality of the figure in the history of art and its immense

eloquence as a form, but at the same time, he is always aware that, in the

atmosphere of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries, he will be

required to establish himself as the authority in his work, the source of both its

authenticity and its communicability, that he cannot claim the cultural commonalities

that once informed sculptural building except as personal reference. It is

in this sense that his figures, we might say, are utterly autobiographical. They

speak for him in, or as, his language — and he is driven to make that language

accessible in sculptural terms, literally from work to work.

In Neri’s sculpture, we encounter the artist’s unequivocal conception of

the figure as sculpture, as, that is, an organized three-dimensional structure,

a compositional harmony of parts, means, and effects. He is not constructing a

2. Mary Julia (Cast 2/4), 1990;

Cast 1991; Painted 1992

Private Collection


3–4. Mary Julia (Cast 3/4), 1990;

Cast 2005; Painted 2006


epresentation or a surrogate of the human, or producing a narrative depiction

based on the body. He wants sculpture that happens to be derived from the

human model. And it must affect us as a sculptural object that shares our space,

that stands alongside us, with us, and we must respond to it on those terms.

It may go without saying that Neri mistrusts verbal language and its dubious

proclamations of authority. The figure provides him with the authenticity of the

expressive body and its gestures, which in turn has sustained his dedication to

the processes of sculptural building as a route of escape from the confusions

instigated by speech and by the potential for misunderstanding that lurks within

it. He wants the sculptural form to speak for him, and to be understood in just

that way. His fidelity to the expressible has rarely been more boldly stated than

it is here.

We can justly say that after more than fifty years of devotion to the figural

motif, Neri’s work speaks for itself, or perhaps more precisely, it speaks for his

faith in the durable vitality of the motif at the center of Western art history. Still,

his use of the sculptural figure — his reliance on the standing female figure and

on various canonical poses, and his scrupulous attention to truncated and

partial forms — reminds us that Neri’s engagement with the art-historical will

always return him to his abiding concern with the relevance of the form in

contemporary sculpture.

5. Mary Julia (Cast 4/4), 1990;

Cast 2005; Painted 2006

Yale University Art Gallery





with a series of plaster sculptures that would include Chanel (1958; re-worked

1964), Hombre Colorado (1958), Standing Figure with Red Arm (1958), the striding

Beach Figure (1958), and Armless Figure (1959). All are upright figures of full

human scale, substantial in mass, physically awkward, their surfaces rough-hewn

and heavily worked. Each is at least partially painted in brash, non-descriptive,

seemingly random colors applied with an evident urgency. Only Chanel and

Hombre Colorado are complete as figures, though Chanel is fractured, its surfaces

opened here and there by seams and fissures. The others are without arms,

heads, or feet, and one, Standing Figure with Red Arm, asserts itself with willful

defiance, for it is an unlovely thing that challenges the viewer’s empathy. The feet

are gone and it leans forward slightly, giving the bulky upper body a menacing

tilt. Bare lath thrusts like a bone from one of its shoulders, and the paint on the

torso and legs is a blaring collision of sienna, red, black, and silver.

Those figures, and some that followed soon after, have been invoked as

circumstantial testimony in art-critical efforts to fit Neri into the regional milieus

from which he emerged: the Beat artists in San Francisco, on the one hand, with

their love of the funky, the discarded, the ephemeral, and the improvisational,

and on the other, the Bay Area figurative painters of the mid-1950s, David Park

and Elmer Bischoff especially, whose figures are delineated in muscular, intensely

6. James Mitchell, Photographer

9 Mission Street Studio, 1959


7. The Bathers, 1958

Private Collection


8. Chanel, 1958; Re-worked 1964

Private Collection

9. Hombre Colorado, 1958

Private Collection

10. Standing Figure with Red Arm, 1958

Private Collection

constructive brushstrokes. Neri could hardly have escaped the influences of his

immediate environment, nor did he ever reject or negate them, or attempt to

extricate himself from association with them — indeed, he spent much of his

career in the Bay Area, and in time played a central role in the development of

a postwar aesthetic there. Nonetheless, as a view intended to encompass and

explain either Neri’s methods or his ambitions for the figure, critical affiliations

limited to the Beats and the Bay Area figurative painters impose severe, finally

misleading restrictions on him, particularly as his work expanded after the


During those early years, Neri empathized with the means with which other

West Coast artists dealt with their materials and with figural forms, and

although this relationship produced visual echoes among his initial figures, in

truth he was by temperament neither a follower nor a joiner. Further, the figure

is not merely an aspect of Neri’s work. It is the basis of all he has done.




His pursuit of the form across the entirety of his career can be typified by a

trans-historical curiosity regarding the figural sculptors who preceded him, the

intricate networks of tradition, in combination with his interest in the possibilities

for the form in the present. Neri’s imaginative conception of his motif

embraces its history in art with a freedom and a thoroughness that simply does

not exist among the Bay Area figurative painters of the 1950s. By the same

token, although he shares some of the material practices of the Beat artists who

were his colleagues and friends — Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, and Wally Hedrick

among them — his restless art-historical curiosity, his willingness to study the

figural past at length and to learn from it, detaches him from the programmatic

investment in an outsider aesthetic that characterizes many of the Beat artists

in San Francisco, as his subsequent production amply demonstrates.


11–12. Carla III, 1958–60


13. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Head of Woman (Flora Mayo), 1926

Fondation Alberto et

Annette Giacometti, Paris

14. Seated Female Figure, 1961

Private Collection



15. Wood Figure No. 1, 1956–57

Private Collection

16. Wire Figure No. 2, 1956–57

Private Collection

17. Wire Figure No. 1, 1956–57

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

One could certainly argue that beyond their otherwise dissimilar projects

and visual interests, the Beat artists and the figurative painters in the Bay Area

shared a devotion to individualistic, incontestably human content, and in this

respect both were harmonious with a more general humanist challenge to the

frightening political and social climate of the Cold War era. It was a response

to conditions that came from various sectors of American intellectual life, and

the Bay Area artists can indeed be viewed as a regional manifestation of the

dissident cry against larger trends in the society. Because both the figurative

painters and the Beat artists in San Francisco were so insistent about validating

the human basis for the various symbols and metaphors in their work, they

provided an affirmative and nourishing artistic atmosphere for Neri during

those years.



18. Untitled (Bird), 1957–60

Private Collection

19. Hawk, 1957–60

Private Collection


20–21. Beach Figure, 1958

Private Collection


22–23. Armless Figure, 1959

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

For Neri, the figure has provided a consistent, exceedingly sturdy scaffold on

which to organize his various sculptural and thematic concerns, and as his work

developed after the 1950s, it would display an increasing sensitivity to the ways

in which so dense and fluent a visual referent can catalyze fresh readings around

its many different associations — cultural, social, religious, and so on, contemporary

as well as art-historical. Over time, then, the figure became for him a

formal motif quite congenial to the critically querulous climate of late modernity,

capable of accommodating a spacious range of interpretations, intuitive as well

as analytical. To go a further step, Neri’s career will be regarded more profitably

and more appropriately — in conjunction with the wave of figurative

sculpture that emerged in Europe in the decade following World War II, work

unequivocally humanist in orientation, a stubborn reassertion of the form that

occurred in the shadow of abstraction’s ascension in both Europe and the

United States.




24. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Femme qui marche [Walking Woman I

(Woman Walking)], 1932

Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris

25. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Venere [Venus], 1942

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia


In Europe, this body of fi gurative artists would include Alberto Giacometti

and Marino Marini, as well as Germaine Richier, Giacomo Manzù, Eduardo

Paolozzi, César, Kenneth Armitage, and Henry Moore. During those years in

America, where the doctrines of abstract painting had become virtually a rule

of law among artists, sculptors of fi gural inclination tended to embed the form

in totemic structures. It was a strategy that enabled them to establish a plausible

association with the atavistic, sacral themes of archaism, spirit, and ritual that

were being advanced by a number of prominent abstract painters, while at

the same time minimizing allusions to older academic traditions or even the

specifi cities of fi gural correspondence: here, Louise Nevelson, David Smith, and

David Hare come to mind. In his allegiance to a naturalistic, historically referential,

yet unmistakably contemporary human form, Neri stands almost alone

among American sculptors of that era, and by now his connection to concurrent

trends in European sculpture seems virtually self-evident. We only have to place

his work alongside fi gures by Giacometti or Marini to feel the intimacy of their

kinship, a kinship born of a need to maintain the fi gural tradition in the visual

language of modern sculpture.


26. Germaine Richier (1902–1959)

Die Kröte, 1942

Kunstmuseum Bern

27. Untitled [Armless Figure IV], 1974

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


28–29. Seated Female Figure

with Leg Raised, 1959

Private Collection


30. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

City Square, 1948

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

31. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Giovinetta (Nuda femminile)

[Young Girl (Female Nude)], 1938

Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan


If we look across the whole of Neri’s career, we can readily observe the

single-mindedness with which he went about freeing the sculpted figure from

the confinements of regionalism and its unavoidable modesties. Further, without

events in postwar Europe as a background, his work probably would not have

taken shape in quite the same way. Remove that context and Neri might appear

idiosyncratic to us now. As we consider his first figures from our vantage in the

present, their awkward, rather graceless appearance may be seen as a suggestive

metaphor of the awkwardness, uncertainty, and self-consciousness of the

sculpted figure itself at that moment in the United States, as it strove to find a

direction during a cultural period almost wholly overwhelmed by the nonobjective


To speak broadly, our informing narrative is the successful passage of naturalistic

figural sculpture across the hazardous terrain of visual modernism as it

played out during the postwar period here and in Europe. Because Alberto

Giacometti and Marino Marini are so familiar to us today, we can easily forget

that their work met with tremendous resistance in its own time — that its

passage was hazardous precisely because the artistic climate at the time,



dominated by abstraction and its advocates, would remain inhospitable to figuration

of any kind until the early 1960s. But it was an adventurous passage

nonetheless, one in which the very durability of the figural motif — its tenacity

as a valid, efficacious artistic choice — will finally ease formal divisions between

these artists. Taken together, their work establishes the basic terms for the

survival of the naturalistic figure in contemporary culture, or more exactly, how

in each instance the individual treatment of the motif advances that survival,

enabling the figure to retain a place within modernity’s contentious discourse.

It is a journey in which Neri participates, and one in which he must be


In essence, Giacometti and Marini each developed a formal language that

would be compatible with the temper of progressive art after World War II.

As a matter of strategy, neither artist attempted to refute abstraction or its

rationales, or to undermine its real advances. Nor did they ignore the cultural

atmosphere in which abstraction was emerging. Their work never shows any

particular desire to evade its historical moment. In their hands, the figural motif

demonstrates its ability to address some of the most problematic conditions of

the modern present, and in doing so, it argued for the figure as a relevant

contemporary form. Although Neri represents the subsequent generation in

art — the next step in the trajectory of the sculptural figure — he negotiates

the similarly difficult landscape of late modernism and its eventual shift toward

postmodernity. We are speaking, once again, of the continuity of the figure as a

viable contemporary sculptural form.

Historically, the emergence of an expressionist figurative sculpture did not

dominate European art after the war, but neither should it be taken as a minor

or merely transitory outburst — nor was it unknown in the United States. In

September 1959, the Museum of Modern Art mounted New Images of Man,

an exhibition assembled by curator Peter Selz. New Images of Man brought

together more than a hundred works by twenty-three contemporary artists

engaged with figurative content, painters as well as sculptors. Nearly half were

European: Giacometti, Richier, Paolozzi, and Armitage among them. The selection

was provocative by design, a deliberate intervention that proposed itself

as an alternative to the hegemony of painterly abstraction, or an antidote. In an

effort to validate this work on historical grounds, Selz emphasized its humanist

content, interpreting its appearance as a romantic resurgence, perhaps even a

retention of nineteenth-century visual poetics that addressed, in a modern

artistic vocabulary, the extreme duress that now seemed to characterize the

human plight in the nuclear age.


32. Carla VI, 1958–60

Private Collection

33–35. Exhibition catalogue, New Images of Man,

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1959


36–37. Soichi Sunami, Photographer

Installation view of the exhibition New Images of Man,

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September

30–November 29, 1959

At that moment, the postwar ascendance of abstract expressionist painting

in America seemed all but unchallengeable. Its dominion extended across

museums, galleries, and the academy alike, and although this was soon to

change, for the time being, at least, the critical complacency that followed in the

wake of triumph cast a shadow over responses to the exhibition. Diarchy, a

squat, board-like figure by the English sculptor Kenneth Armitage, stood like an

otherworldly sentinel at the entrance to the galleries, but it would be powerless

against the condescension of the New York press. One critic described New

Images of Man as a display of brutes, monsters, and hollow men, and in the

New Yorker, Robert Coates dismissed its premise out of hand: the exhibition, he

wrote, is “so capricious and so far from representing any broad, true impression

of the atmosphere of today that it is hardly worth while giving into any critical

appraisal of it.”


For the organizers, a great deal was at stake, enough that Selz had been

able to recruit Paul Tillich to contribute a preface to the exhibition catalog.

Tillich was then the preeminent theologian in America, and already had

written at length on the possible paths of reconciliation between Christian

revelation and European existentialism. Tillich believed that Christianity could

still answer the most difficult questions raised by modern philosophy — even

postwar theories of radical doubt and despair — and so the thrust of his

thought was aligned with Selz’s ambitions for New Images of Man. Indeed, his

essay has the tone of a manifesto. In Tillich’s view, the disappearance of the

figure from art offered yet another example of the suppression, alienation,

and dehumanization that were being instituted throughout the life of culture

by the vast, largely anonymous forces of self-interested power at play in the

postwar world.

38. Soichi Sunami, Photographer

Installation view of Alberto Giacometti sculptures

in the exhibition New Images of Man,

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1959



As a consequence of those conditions, he wrote, “the image of man became

transformed, distorted, disrupted and it finally disappeared in recent art. But as

in the reality of our lives, so in its mirror of the visual arts, the human protest

arose against the fate to become a thing. The artists, who are shown in this

exhibition, are representatives of such a protest.” Selz took up his own motives

in an essay saturated with the existentialist discourse of the prior decade, and

one senses that for these authors, both of whom emigrated from Germany

during the mid-1930s to escape harassment by the Nazis, the prideful autocracy

of abstract expressionist doctrine was more than a philosophical or art-critical

problem alone.

For us today, the tempest surrounding the appearance of New Images of

Man is a vivid reminder of the barrier that separated abstract and figurative art

and their respective functions at that time. As we know now, a fairly wide variety

of work was moving forward beneath the visible skin of the New York art

world during those years, and inevitably it began to assert itself on the critical

marketplace. Although one can make too much of the significance of the

exhibition, it has meaning here because it epitomizes, too, the fierce critical

partisanship that Manuel Neri faced in the late 1950s as he formulated his

direction as an artist.

At that point, the figure, as a subject for contemporary art, was laden with

risk even in the Bay Area. In the years immediately after the war, San Francisco

had experienced its own comprehensive abstract expressionist phase, a

moment when regional conversion to the nonobjective canvas was so

complete that the emergence of figural painting in the early 1950s — beginning

with David Park — would be received by other artists in the region as regressive,

willfully contrarian, reactionary. Yet the figural canvas held firm there, as a

kind of local insurgency that eventually settled into uneasy coexistence with the

abstractionist mainstream, and without it, Neri might well have found himself

on much stonier ground. If an attraction to the full-sized sculptural figure

seemed eccentric in an artist then in his mid-twenties, to his good fortune, the

Bay Area let him go his way.

At the time of New Images of Man, Giacometti and Marini were well

established in European cultural circles. Although viewers and institutions in the


39–40. Figure with Arms Raised, 1968

Private Collection

41. David Park (1911–1960)

The Model, 1959

Yale University Art Gallery


42. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Pomona [Reclining Pomona], 1935

Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan


43. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Composition avec trois figures et une tête (la place)

[Three Figures and a Head (The Small Square)], 1950;

Cast 2007

Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris

44. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Homme qui marche I [Walking Man I], 1960

Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris

United States still turned a cool eye in their direction, change was in the air

here, too. In another six or seven years, Giacometti’s attenuated figures would

be a common sight in American art museums, an instantly recognizable sculptural

population whose appeal has never diminished. And within the context of

the humanist sculptural revival in Europe after the war, only Giacometti and

Marini have a critical relationship with Neri through their conceptions of, or for,

the human form. Both were born in 1901, and so represent the preceding

generation in art. They are his most proximate lineage and Neri, to speak

broadly, relates to them as such.

But let us go another step. Giacometti and Marini represent the two primary

paths for an explicit sculptural figuration in the mid-twentieth century. For


Giacometti, the figural identity is chiefly perceptual, the site of a tense, dramatic

encounter between the artist’s eye and the spatial world, mediated through his

hand and his materials. Although he refers to sculptural history, the modes of

archaic religious statuary in particular, Giacometti was resolutely engaged with the

present and its concerns: his tactics would be scale, material attenuation, stylized

form and idiomatic surface, and repetition. Marini’s figure is poetic. Its awareness

of its own cultural past — Marini’s cultural inheritance as an Italian and as a Tuscan

— can hardly be overstated as a resource in his expansion of content and meaning,

as if the artist means to insist that the past cannot simply be argued away,

jettisoned, or abandoned, nor can the figure, as a representative of all that is

human, be severed from its deepest roots and traditions and endure.



These currents converge in Neri. He values the centrality of the figure in the

history of art, its textures and immense eloquence as a form, but at the same

time, he is always aware that in the atmosphere of the late twentieth century

he will be required to establish himself as the authority in his work, the source

of both its authenticity and its communicability, that he cannot claim the cultural

commonalities that once informed sculptural building except as personal reference.

His figure, we might say, is autobiographical. It speaks for him in, or as, his

language, and he is driven to make that language accessible in sculptural terms,

literally from work to work. At the same time, the trans-historical nature of his

imagination has allowed him to proceed with the assurance that more generally

expansive and encompassing figural traditions stand in support behind his immediate

predecessors, too, and behind him. It is relationships with the past that

have enabled Neri to look at and use almost any prior use of the figural form

as though it is itself of the present.


45–46. Armless Figure in Silver II, 1960

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art,

University of California, Davis

47–48. La Palestra No. 6, 1988


In the summer of 1961, Neri traveled in Europe for the first time, and there

he saw works by Giacometti, Marini, and other postwar figurative sculptors that

were previously available to him only in reproduction. Firsthand experience

was revelatory. The figures opened themselves in all their formal and thematic

complexity, and Neri returned to the United States invigorated, with a fresh

understanding of himself, and of his work, within the context of a much larger

sculptural emergence. As a sculptor, he was no longer alone.

49–50. Male Figure I, 1958


During the course of that trip, Neri also encountered — crucially — the

sculpture of antiquity, the stone fragments he saw in Florence, Rome, and Paris

— figural remnants that had endured centuries of tribulation and wear, the very

sculpture studied by Michelangelo, Rodin, and many others. He was fascinated

by the sculptural lessons imparted by accidents of breakage and erosion, time’s

serendipitous alterations to these ancient forms. However truncated, still they

displayed a complete, unequivocally human, often complex expressive capacity.

Their effect can hardly be underestimated. No other American sculptor of the

postwar era has worked as extensively or as fruitfully with the partial figure. 51–52. Female Figure I, 1958


53. Kneeling Figure, 1960;

Re-worked 1964

Private Collection


54–56. Shrouded Figure,

1960; Re-worked 1964

Yale University Art



Still, the 1960s would be for Neri an investigatory period of exemplary

thoroughness and rigor, as he went about placing a sturdy foundation for

the great spread of work that was to come. He produced heads and partial

figures of notable force — Kneeling Figure (1960; re-worked 1964), and the

enigmatic plaster, Shrouded Figure (1964) are examples — as well as ostensibly

“abstract” forms such as the light-weight, wall-mounted, sculpture, Window

Series Sculpture I (1968), made out of a plaster-like material called “magnesite”.

This wall sculpture is related to a series of paintings and drawings Neri

created in the late 1950s titled “Window Series” while he was a student

at California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Two other sculptures,

the aluminum-faced Geometric Sculptures (1966) are characterized by their

unmistakable formal echoes of the human torso. Neri’s sketchbooks are full of

colored versions of these joined and twisting “blocks,” and we feel instinctively

that for all their formal objectification, they are based on a model, or on

memories of figures that Neri had been observing in his daily life.



57. Pastel Study for Window Series No. 11, 1959

Private Collection

58. Pastel Study for Window Series No. 7, 1959

Private Collection

59. Pastel Study for Window Series No. 14, 1959


60. Window Series Sculpture I, 1968



61. No Hands Neri Sketchbook, Page 75 verso, 1966

62. No Hands Neri Sketchbook, Page 83 verso, 1966


63. Geometric Sculpture I, 1966

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, University of California, Davis

64. Geometric Sculpture II, 1966

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, University of California, Davis



65. Architectural Forms–Tula Series V

[Untitled Rectangles, 1969–71], 1969

Yale University Art Gallery


66–67. Standing Armless Figure, 1974

By the end of the decade, Neri was also building the Architectural Forms

(1969), which reflect his travels through Mesoamerica in the late 1960s and his

studies of ancient sites in Mexico and Peru. The Architectural Forms reach in a

number of directions: toward the ancient past, certainly, and the utter submission

to time that marks its sculptural survival, and toward events in contemporary

art, including earthworks, conceptual art, the material and formal reductions of

minimalism, and so on. But they also resemble pedestals. Was Neri already

thinking about the figures that he might one day place on them? Perhaps. In any

case, he was circling patiently in the direction of the full figure of his mature

career, and as we shall see, this kind of discipline and attention would yield many




68. Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1993


During the late 1970s, Neri spent several summers in Carrara. In 1981, he

acquired a studio there and began returning annually to Italy to work in marble.

This provided him with a base from which he was able to travel easily to

Florence and Rome, to the Etruscan archeological sites throughout the region,

and to the Tuscan museums where he could contemplate the recovered sculpture

and artifacts at his leisure. He was now in regular, direct contact with some

of the most durable figurative traditions in Western sculpture, immersing

himself in a landscape inseparable from the history of the sculptural figure in

Western art as he studied the figures of the Etruscans and of classical antiquity

alongside work of European modernism. It would become a regular practice,

one that also reflects Neri’s desire, or need, apparently innate, to extend his

grasp of the history of his form, which in turn has enabled him — as we shall

see at greater length — to absorb and utilize this history in incontestably

modern terms, drawing on various traditions without repeating or quoting

them verbatim. It is a resilient form he seeks, an authentically modern figure

with the ability to communicate a felt humanness under the most contemporary

of circumstances.


69. Babette Eddleston, Photographer

Carrara Studio, 1977

70. Mary Julia Klimenko, Photographer

View of Carrara Studio, 1983


71. Darren Cox, Photographer

Etruscan Temple Ruins at the Fiesole Archaeological

Area outside Florence, Italy, 2007


72–75. Carla V, 1964

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas


Because we are considering him, in part, against the setting of the postwar

figure in Europe, let us remember that Neri’s place is the United States of the

Vietnam years, Watergate, Reaganomics, the culture wars, ecological catastrophe,

an infiltration and corruption of public discourse by the self-serving lexicons

of politics, the media, advertising, and technology, and on and on. Much of his

career unfolded during a difficult historical period, in a nation rife with social

and political anxieties and, at the same time, dulled and distracted by a burgeoning,

increasingly influential mass culture. In the midst of this strange, often

frightening environment, Neri discovered possibilities in the naturalistic figure as

a pathway through some of the thorniest problems of human communication

and expressivity. Not that his work can or even should be seen as artistically

“expressive.” Absolutely not. It is a dedicated study of communicative expression




NERI MET MARY JULIA KLIMENKO IN 1972, and she would be his

primary model for decades to come. Klimenko was ideally suited to Neri’s

working methods. She had an unusually vivid awareness of her body as a communicative

vehicle, and at the same time showed little physical self-consciousness

in the studio. No pose or gestural nuance went untested, and their work

together yielded the expansive production of the figural form that has become

a hallmark of Neri’s output, the lithe, delicate-looking females, androgynous,

waiflike, feet planted resolutely on their plywood bases.

These figures refer explicitly to the physical traits and gestures of the model,

and they reveal the tremendous care with which Neri attended to replicating

her narrow, delicate shoulders and the curve of her abdomen, the flowing

movement of back and buttocks, the serpentine spine, the neck and ponytail,

the athletic thighs and calves, her innate poise: such fastidiousness

led to a particular kind of verity, one that allowed the sculptor to develop a

lucid, compelling depictive reality apart from the deterministic appearances of

conventional realism. What Neri does accept from sculptural tradition is the

submission of the entire figure to formal integration, the insistence that each

part be congruous with and contributive to the unified whole of the figural

body — a harmony of gesture that prohibits the visual dispersal of the form

into its constituent parts.

76. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Manuel Neri working with Mary Julia Klimenko,

Benicia Studio, 1985



77. Steve Moore, Photographer

Benicia Studio, 1979

78. Seated Female Figure I, 1979

Private Collection

This devotion to the structural unity of the figure has the effect of linking

Neri to the sculpture of antiquity, the Renaissance, and, if surreptitiously, to

Rodin and Bourdelle, a sense of the body as a proportionate, interconnected

system of levers and fulcrums in which even the slightest shift or alteration

produces unavoidable formal consequences throughout its entirety. While the

historical connections may only be inferred, Neri appreciates their presence

and the particular kind of support that comes from them: a nonspecific historical

context that places no pressure of its own upon his constructive process.

Still, because Neri’s figures tend to hide the kind of psychological information

that normally invests the form with literary narrative — facial expression, or

specialized physical gestures — his sculptures withdraw from the thematic


intentionality of those predecessors, which in the past has variously appeared

as idealization, commemoration, the florid tonality of Rodin and the symbolists,

and so on. If Neri returns periodically to formal ideas drawn from the sculpture

of antiquity, it is because those figures embody a paradox that he admires:

though they may be quite anonymous as depictions, an expressive capacity

endures, undiminished after millennia. How, he wants to know, does the figure

express itself as a body rather than as a personality? Or: how is character

embodied physically? Thus Neri’s study of the figure has been experiential and

empirical, not traditionally anatomical, and he has often worked with the model

and sculpture in immediate proximity, thereby insuring the precise accuracy of

the figural form as he builds.

79–80. Seated Female Figure I, 1979

Private Collection


81–83. Standing Figure No. 1,

1976; Re-worked 1979

Private Collection


This kind of building is not simply technique, for the purpose of recreating

the form of the model. It reflects, rather, the artist’s unflinching skepticism regarding

a priori knowledge of how figures reveal themselves, his conviction that

sculpture contrived solely from a memory or an idea might be little more than

the presentation of a predetermined concept, and therefore corrupted as a

form. It further confirms Neri’s reliance on touch, as well, his fear that the eye

alone might force his figures back into acculturated hierarchies of formal or

narrative significance. To get a little closer to the nature of this quality in the

artist, let us say that Neri sees with his hands. Or that what he knows with his

hands is more trustworthy to him than what he only sees, and so provides him

with a more dependable testimony regarding the truth of the subject.

Does this suggest a phenomenological motive for Neri’s figures? One

thinks of an observation by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in “Eye and Mind.” Here,

Merleau-Ponty refers to Cézanne, though the passage is toned by the author’s

abiding interest in the Giacomettian figure, which, he believed, was closer in

spirit to phenomenology than to existentialism or to the existentialists’ claims

for it. But we cannot read these words without thinking about Neri: “The

painter ‘takes his body with him,’ says Valéry. Indeed we cannot imagine how

a mind could paint. It is by leading his body into the world that the artist

changes the world into paintings. To understand these transubstantiations we

must go back to the working, actual body — not the body as a chunk of space

or a bundle of functions but that body which is an intertwining of vision and


Merleau-Ponty’s subject is the eye, and how a distinctly modern problematizing

of visual perception affected the tasks of painting, typified by Cézanne’s

realization, as art, that visibility is as much an extension of the body/self as it is

a quality in things, that art and the world do not in fact meet within the field of

representation. Just as the point holds as an approach to Giacometti’s work, it

can also be applied to Neri, whose work continually reveals his conviction that

the whole body participates in our encounters with the physical world — in,

that is, the endless and abundant accumulation of sensory information — and

that an awareness of the operations of the active, sensate body will always be

necessary to our understanding of reality.


84–85. Posturing Series No. 2, 1978

Private Collection


86–87. Julia, 1976; Re-worked 2010

Yale University Art Gallery

The overall integrity of Neri’s form suggests, therefore, that a comprehensive

integration of our physicality — body and mind — is not simply our best means

for knowing our surroundings. It is also the means by which we arrive at knowledge

of others like ourselves. What exists solely in the realm of sight exists

“outside” the body, in space, and thus “apart” from the body, forever marked by

an absolute separateness, as the eye forages the visual field before it, looking

without physical contact across a spatial divide it can never hope to master.

The eye may lead the body, but that is all.

Because the sculpted figure must express itself in a (visual) field comprised

of other objects, a field in which it takes part, as do we, its viewers, the work

always risks a return to the realm of sight alone — a situation that Neri strives

to circumvent with his dynamic surfaces and the addition of color. Or: a vivid,

dimensional instatement of the figure into the physical world, as the demonstration

of its desire to be seen as something more than an “object,” is among

the duties that texture and color are called upon to perform on behalf of the





88. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Benicia Studio, 1992

89. Steve Moore, Photographer

Benicia Studio, 1980

In L’Atelier d’Alberto Giacometti (1958), Jean Genet wrote of visiting

Giacometti’s studio and there conversing with the standing figures by running

his hands over their pitted surfaces, and we want to do the same with Neri’s

sculpture, too, not as voyeurs, but as fellow travelers who yearn for the kind of

experience that only the body can provide. The figural surfaces, scored and

abraded, marked everywhere by the hand of the artist, sometimes urgently,

sometimes gently, sometimes ruminatively, seize the haptic eye and, further, seek

the actual hand of the viewer — as though Neri reaches for our hands with his

own, through the figure, or with the figure as intermediary — that our hands

might also see as he sees, that we might travel his path to knowledge of the

form. In just this way, the figures argue for Neri’s belief that authentic contact is

possible, and here he plunges decisively into a territory of his own, for he is now


far from the Giacometti who described the unsettling finale of a studio session

by saying that after many hours of close observation his model had become a

stranger to him — even when the model was his wife — and that he no longer

recognized her as someone he knew, loved, observed daily.

Still, Giacometti’s experience provides a useful background to Neri’s undertaking.

For Giacometti, the sensation of acute visual de-familiarization, which

occurred during the seemingly prosaic act of looking, provoked an anxiety that

became another aspect of a phenomenon that he wanted to embed in his

sculpture — the demonstrable instability of sight and the frightening jolt of

physical separation it produced in him. To go another step, if the labor of the

eye is unstable, then knowledge — even consciousness itself — must be perilous

as well.

90. Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1995


91–94. Mary and Julia, 1979

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Neri is sensitive to these concerns as aspects of sculptural presence and the

questions it can raise for us. He feels a related, perhaps quite similar anxiety in

the face of language and its ambition to contain — to represent — definitive

modes of knowledge. When rationalism calls upon language, words are susceptible

to rationalism’s (self-) deceptions, its inevitable human shortcomings,

limitations, and misunderstandings, and in this sense, the vagaries of language

resemble, or are analogous to, the deceptions of the eye, similarly conditioned

by familiarity and habit to see what it wants, or expects, to see. Neri, however,

has no interest in posting further lessons on the subject of visual instability. The

physically expressible is his concern — what is expressed by the figure, whether

human or sculptural, authentically, beyond the reach of language — and so he

commits himself — the point can hardly be made often enough — to an indivisibility

of perception as the most reliable basis of experience and therefore of

understanding. Here, indivisibility describes the fullest kind of physical encounter,

one that engages the whole physical body in its contact with the world, represented

in Neri’s work by our moment-to-moment apprehension of other

human beings, endlessly variable, endlessly communicative, complex, and utterly

like ourselves.

For Neri, all the pictorial conventions related to the biases of sight —

perspective, scale, the illusionism of modeling, descriptive color — are inventions

that have originated in art, that is, in the human mind and its desire to

manage experience. As such, they are techniques, submitted to the organization

of things seen, true to the human imagination and its irresistible ordering

impulse, but unfaithful to the actuality of the world. Thus art may become

yet another rationalizing system, like language itself, and we will find ourselves

on treacherous ground if we accept without question the explanations and

claims to truth of either. We tell ourselves that language and visual art are

simply revealing an order that already exists in and around us, but how can

we be so sure? Neri asserts his questions through sculptural gestures that

derive from his own body and are subsequently rediscovered in the body of

the model. It was a stroke of fortune that he found a model through whom

he could perform these constructive processes so consistently as a mirror of

the (his) self.



THROUGHOUT THE 1970S AND EARLY 1980S, plaster would be Neri’s

chief sculptural medium, and although he has worked at length with marble and

painted bronze since the mid-seventies, plaster is the material with which he is

most often associated. It is so crucial to all that he has done with the figure

— conceptually and formally — that the terms of his engagement with it bear

inspection. First and foremost, the malleability of plaster, which permits an endless

variety of additive and reductive techniques, is exceptionally well suited to

the concentration and speed with which he typically builds. He can model,

carve, or cast it, and its surface, marked by every gesture, each glancing touch

of hand or tool, is an unerringly precise palimpsest of the making process.

Whatever history may reside in the pose or gestures of the form, the surface

belongs entirely to the artist. In this respect, Neri has benefited from Giacometti’s

handling of surface as a viable, personal site of engagement with, and on, a motif

that comes sweeping out of the past and into the (his) present moment with

its history in tow.

Given its swiftness of application, plaster may be the sculptural medium

closest in spirit to painting or drawing, and indeed plaster invites the use of

paint. Although Neri has used color on bronze and stone with striking originality

of effect, the luminous brilliance of freshly dried plaster can hardly avoid comparison

to a waiting canvas, and the possibilities for metaphor quickly multiply

when the traditional ground of painting assumes human form.

95. Steve Moore, Photographer

Benicia Studio, 1980



Not only does plaster offer the potential for substantial revision — Neri has

gone back to individual pieces after years, or decades, to rework ideas — it can

discolor or crack over time. Certain textures begin to crumble, as if shedding

dead epidural tissue. Thus time enters the work — enters it literally, a material

resource just outside the artist’s control — as the sculpture struggles to return

to its constitutive state, with often unanticipated visual effects. These kinds of

unpredictable occurrences are transformed in turn into a functional metaphor

of the patient agency of time — of history — connecting the work both

materially and conceptually to the scarred fragments of antique sculpture that

Neri first encountered in Italy in 1961, objects whose surfaces, inscribed by

existence itself, gave seductive evidence of historical passage, as a kind of

serendipitous artistic presence that very gradually went about altering the work

by the means of happenstance and accident.

But this is poetic reading of time and its functional relationship to the work

of art. Once Neri recognized the material effects of time as another element

active in his work, he forced the point conceptually by taking some of time’s

duties upon himself in a series of exhibitions conducted during the early- and

mid-1970s, in which he altered and reworked figures on site throughout the

period of installation. The first of these took place in 1972, at the Davis Art

Center in Northern California. In this instance, Neri went back to the gallery

to work on the sculptures every third night. Two years later, at the San Jose

State University Art Gallery, he built a series of figures during the course of the

exhibition itself, a performative presentation, and riskier for the artist.


96. Standing Figure, 1972

Private Collection

97. Photographer Unknown

Neri with sculptures in process,

San Jose State University Art Gallery, 1974

98. Photographer Unknown

Sculptures in process,

San Jose State University Art Gallery, 1974



These adventures reached a culmination in May 1976, with The Remaking of

Mary Julia at 80 Langton Street, an alternative space in San Francisco. Neri was

now acting as time’s proxy, its stand-in, even as the project tacitly acknowledged

that he himself, and indeed all of the circumstances of setting, are subject to

its contingencies in the end. In The Remaking of Mary Julia, Neri and Klimenko

returned nightly to the gallery, to the population of figures awaiting them there

in various states of completion. Viewers could, if they wished, come each day

and follow the changes. Poses were established in part by the sculptures’ steel

armatures, so alterations were evident chiefly in the realms of mass and surface

markings. Yet this in itself was a revelation of Neri’s process, of his innate sense

of how the sculptural figure is brought to full formation, day by day. 80 Langton

provided a large, unobstructed area in which to build, and daytime visitors also

encountered the remnant splatters, pebbles, and dust of the plaster lying around

the figures, which stood on the drop cloths that covered the floors. In essence,

the gallery offered a window onto the life of the working studio.

99–103. Philip Galgiani, Photographer

Sculptures in progress in the exhibition

The Remaking of Mary Julia,

80 Langton Street, San Francisco, 1976


104–105. Re-making Mary Julia No. 6, 1976

Yale University Art Gallery

The nocturnal encounters — an ongoing discourse, really, between artist,

model, and sculpture, intimate, discursive, unpredictable — openly acknowledged

the mutuality of exchange through which the work comes into being

and the participation of time in that process. Neri’s willingness to expose himself

in this way can probably be traced to his early involvement with the Beats, who

were generally unconcerned with refinement, finish, or studio mystique — with

idea, rather — and who admired the intervention of chance in any artwork. The

Remaking of Mary Julia had merged one of the great archetypal forms of

Western art with the jazzy modality of the Beats, and its success reveals Neri’s

level of formal and material fluency at that moment, his knowledge of figural

traditions past and present.


But plaster had another virtue for Neri: the speed with which it submits itself

to his use has fostered productivity, the outpouring of figures from his studio

and the gradual spread of those figures into a kind of population. Plaster presented

no material obstacles to a strategy of serial building, which allowed Neri

to reconsider and then revise one of Giacometti’s most familiar tactics, the

incessant cycles of construction, destruction, and reconstruction that were also

enabled by the use of plaster. On this point, we can say of both artists that while

the sculptural body may ultimately be another object among the world’s innumerable

objects, and not inherently conceptual, philosophical, or spiritual, it may

accept meaning from any of these areas at any moment, as a figure whose

physical characteristics, inscribed and left intact by the sculptor, will inevitably

engage its specific situation or conditions of its setting. The figures are never

inactive, never quite lifeless.

106–107. Philip Galgiani, Photographer

Sculptures in progress in the exhibition

The Remaking of Mary Julia,

80 Langton Street, San Francisco, 1976


108–110. Sometimes We Forget [Mrs. C. I.] (Detail), 1976

Private Collection


111–113. Sometimes We Forget [Mrs. C. I.], 1976

Private Collection

Such processes are themselves aware of time, while the frangible material

nature of plaster insists, once again, that Neri’s figures will at some point begin

to show the effects of time and its vicissitudes, physically as well as metaphorically.

It ages, becomes brittle, cracks, or changes color, but now, as we accept

such changes as intrinsic to the life of the work, we can see the figure striving

to evoke the human capacity for endurance, survival, continuity — how our

humanity endures after once-sustaining cultural ideals and iconographies have

been discarded, and how we go about seeking replacements for them — with

the vertical figure “standing” to present a possible alternative or direction,

encouragement, support. The very choice of form declares an underlying

optimism. If, at some moment in the future, the sculptural figure no longer has

relevance for artists, it will mean that society has undergone a transformation

of consciousness, that our understanding of the human, and perhaps of consciousness

itself, has changed in ways that cannot be satisfied by the motif.





with his devotion to the specific physical traits of his model — that he recreate

her form at the scale of life, a trait that characterizes virtually all of his output.

Here, too, he deviates from both Giacometti and Marini, and some comparisons

may be helpful. For Giacometti, scale would be a decisive strategy. He shifted

the scale rather than the pose of his standing figures from one sculpture to the

next, in part to locate them within an identifiable field of transaction between

the sculptural form and his own distance from the model at the time of its

construction, as a document of his visual perception within that space: the scale

is so exacting that we can often recreate the precise distance between artist

and model by simply shifting our position relative to the figure, which appears

like the fixed point on a graph, with ourselves as the variables. In a critical

sense, this tactic had additional consequences. Scale was no longer a reliable

determinant of utility — that is, whether the work was destined for a tabletop,

niche, or civic square — nor was scale a criterion of the inherent “significance”

of the work.

114. Philip Galgiani, Photographer

Sculptures in progress in the exhibition

The Remaking of Mary Julia,

80 Langton Street, San Francisco, 1976



115. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Homme qui marche [Walking Man], 1947

Kunsthaus Zürich

116. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Piazza, 1947–48; Cast 1948–49

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York,

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice


117–118. Mary Julia [Standing Figure V], 1976

Private Collection

Collectively, then, Giacometti’s figures build towards a particular sculptural

situation — one that the sculptor demonstrates in microcosm in his City Square

pieces — a situation whose operational clarity refers to our encounters and

perceptions of the world as we move through its innumerable spaces in real

time. Neri is less programmatic. As his figures entered the spatial realm of

objects and human beings, he found that the naturalistic form at correspondent

human scale had little difficulty eluding forthright allegations of a deliberate or

exclusively phenomenological function. Or: the gesticulating figure, however

anonymous as a depiction, could prompt a startling — and startlingly human

— intimacy in the viewer that Giacometti’s standing forms do not. As a result,

Neri’s figures arouse a curiosity that goes beyond interest in either their critical

or their perceptual intentions as sculpted objects, and should we suddenly

come upon one of them in a gallery, surrounded by other works of art, its call

is so uncannily human that we can hardly turn from it.




On this point, Neri leaves behind an art of ideas, which, strictly speaking,

is the territory of rationalism. He longs to transcend the tics of ideation and

interpretation, to test instead the accuracy with which his figure projects a

recognizable communicability in a felt, self-evidently human way. It may go

without saying that an experiential familiarity with the human form — his and

ours — is a perennial condition, and a serious one. We meet ourselves in

others all the time, and to echo the surrealist poet André Breton, we are likely

to insist that everyone knows what a human being looks like. It is among the

most intractable challenges faced by the contemporary figurative sculptor. How

will the work perform the necessary initial task of penetrating the perceptual

habits that enclose our usual encounters with the sculptural figure, all the

well-conditioned reflexes of “reading”?


119. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Femme assise [Seated Woman], 1948–50

Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris

120–121. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Femme assise [Seated Woman], 1956; Cast 1981

Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris

122–123. Mary Julia Seated

[Seated Female Figure No. 1], 1976

Cincinnati Art Museum


124. Alberto Giacometti sculptures on exhibit

at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art,

Humlebæk, Denmark

In Giacometti’s work, the forms are clearly figurative, and yet, just as clearly,

they do not reproduce or duplicate us. They are not “naturalistic” in quite the

same way as are Neri’s. Surface brings them to an enlivened state that piques our

interest almost in spite of the effect of separateness created by their extreme

formal stylization. Put another way, the intricacy of the artist’s handwork over the

entirety of the figure, in conjunction with the removal of mass, emphasizes the

form as a referential “body,” however ethereal, and, at the same time, the liveliness

of its surface. Because we feel these two aspects as a charged relationship

between the artwork and its setting, the figure is a natural metaphor for the

tension of the living, conscious body for which the very conditions of existence

require that it conduct its own wary passage through an intricate, potentially

dangerous world of other bodies, objects, and events separate from itself.


125–126. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

L’Homme qui chavire [The Man Who Capsizes]

[Falling Man], 1950

Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence



In his drive for visual effect, Giacometti’s handling of figure and surface, or

perhaps more accurately, his handling of figure as surface, represents a production

of formal rather than depictive detail, or in place of depictive detail.

Consequently, surface distortion is finally inseparable from formal distortion in

Giacometti’s figures: and yet the discontinuous surface also gives the figure its

delicate shiver of animation, a visual effect emanating from its literal response

to the specific conditions of space and light around it — the figural “skin” as a

network of facets and textures whose interaction with its setting recreates the

sculpture as a device for transforming its environment from a seemingly passive,

circumstantial setting into an active reality inextricable from our perceptual

experience of the work.

Although Neri, too, uses the surface to bring a felt sentience to the mass of

inert sculptural material, his conception of the building process — his search

for the gestures with which to speak through the figure — is far more variable

than Giacometti’s, and certainly less committed to the requirements of stylization.

As naturalistic forms of our own scale, Neri’s figures are spatial beings,

resolutely so, as they must be, and we, the viewers, meet them in space, where

they stand. Or: they do not tell us about space, as Giacometti’s figures tend to

do, they tell us about our space. Thus Neri employs scale and surface to invoke

the familiarity of experience that characterizes our encounters with other

human beings, but the liveliness of his sculptural surface — the textures and

colors that mobilize the eye — is not dedicated to drawing attention to experiences

of uncertainty specifically spatial in nature. We absorb the figural presence

in a bodily way, true, yet Neri’s figures never insist that our encounters

with them ought to proceed from their real settings, or from the ways in which

the contingencies of distance can and often do inflect our reading of the figure

before us. Neri, we might say, accepts the presence of space and figure alike as

readily apprehensible, and so he problematizes the communicative resources

of the figure as a representative of human expression rather than the physical,

sense-based experience of distance and form.

Whatever Neri’s treatment of surface may derive from the Giacomettian

figure, the comparison refuses to continue into the realm of thematic function.

The unified drama of formal organization and surface invention is instead a


127. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Grande femme [Tall Woman], 1958

Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris

128–129. La Niña de la Piedra, 1978

Private Collection



means by which Neri claims authentic engagement with his form: the form is

him, or speaks for him, in an idiom of his own devising. The orchestration of the

sculptural surface, the flow of detail that constitutes the figural “skin,” is another

active mode of speech. While the surfaces may strike us as pictorial in the same

sense that a nonobjective canvas is pictorial, and descriptive in the sense that

the artist makes self-descriptive gestures on them, for Neri their pictorial,

descriptive activities are integrated with his goal that the figures be recognizably

“naturalistic” as figures, more “like” us than not.


130–131. Standing Male Figure, 1960;

Re-worked 1964

Private Collection

132. Acha de Noche II, 1975



As another comparison, let us turn to Marini’s Pomona figures, the standing

or seated females constructed of plaster or stone, their scored surfaces

rubbed with soft-hued pigments. Here, similar means lean toward more

decidedly narrative, thematic effects. The Pomonas emerge from the Tuscan

landscape where the artist spent most of his life: history lies everywhere

around them, remnant, fragmented, obscured but never quite eradicated, like

a fragrance that has settled on the present — and the figures, conscious of

this past, evoke the timeworn, yet incompletely effaced ideals that long ago

gave such vitality to Western sculpture. In this sense, their surfaces can also

be described as autobiographical, at least to the extent that they manifest in

sculptural form a tension, lodged within the artist himself, between his love

of the old parlance of figuration, on the one hand, and on the other, the

modern loss of faith in art’s efficacy.

Marini’s surfaces rarely bear the unmistakable signature of the sculptor’s

hand. He is creating marks, but they are not the marks of a “writing” hand, as

are Neri’s. Put another way, Marini’s material facility is committed to a thematic

necessity, and he does not need to claim the surface with the same declarative

energy. Still, if Neri is a more individualistic mark-maker, he and Marini do share

a feeling for the sculptural surface as a referent of time, not time as a concept

but as a substance, carrying with it all of life as it goes by. It is among Marini’s

intentions for his archaized figures that they demonstrate the loss of a supportive,

uninterrupted cultural tradition.

The modern condition, Marini infers, becomes quite clear when we contemplate

it visually, through the social and cultural values that once found unitary

form as art, the values we have freely chosen to abandon in our pursuit of

self-congratulatory fantasies of progress. No nostalgia is intended. In encounter

with the artwork, the viewer’s intuitive recognition of loss — a palpable loss,

beyond recovery — might lead further still, toward deeper insight into the

circumstances and implications of a culturally diminished present. Neri’s surfaces

are never as explicit. For him, surface is another vehicle of ambiguity, one that

succeeds by balancing figural scale and exacting formal accuracy with visual

textures that refuse the old sculptural illusion of skin, thus redirecting our

approach to the form as a whole.


133. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Pomona, 1941

Uffizi, Florence

134. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Pomona, 1941

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia

135. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Nudo femminile [Female Nude], 1932–34

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia



136–137. Rosa Negra No. 1 (Cast AP),

1982; Cast 1998

Private Collection


138. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Torso di donna [Female Torso], 1929

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia





THE SCULPTURAL FIGURES OF THE PAST are cloaked in a distinctly

human reality, the mark of their human origins. Neri studies them with care,

whatever their epoch, and he has turned to them on occasion, taking up forms

and poses that feel present to him, vivid, pertinent, useful. The untitled, headless/

armless figures of 1974 look at history in one way, as Neri examines with

increasing discernment the phenomenon by which complete formal communicability

resides in broken, incomplete forms: Neri uses only what is necessary,

nothing more, and indeed, a full body might articulate itself with less concision.

Their brokenness may for him suggest the spiritual terrain of modernity, its

losses and absences, which he wants to express and overcome. Other figures

investigate the functionality of prior forms. These would include three sculptures

done in the 1980s titled, Bull Jumper I, II, and III, that were based on a small,

Minoan ivory figure with moveable head, arms, and legs, The Bull-leaper, c.1600

B.C.; the Sancas partial figures of the early 1990s, and many of the serene, finely

harmonized standing figures in marble from the same period and later, many

heads and partial figures, often derived from sources in Classical antiquity.

139. Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1979


140–141. Colonata No. 1, 1982

Private Collection


In each of these series, the sources remain relatively undisguised, and Neri

seems to look not only at the sculptural form, but at his own relationship to

the past, what it is, its features and contours, what it means for him. He has an

enthusiasm for the figure, of course: it continually arouses his curiosity.

Sometimes he wants to study a pose through the form itself, at human scale,

with his own model and his own constructive gestures: he is a figurative sculptor

contemplating his tradition with his own hands. Elsewhere, he considers what

he has gained from this past, literally so, what he can use, what must be discarded,

what any historical form says about its own time and about the circumstances

of the present in which he now puts it to use. And always there is the artist’s

love of the motif as a personal, intrinsic form.

142. Pisano Marble Torso, 1985

Private Collection



143–144. Bull Jumper III, 1987

Yale University Art Gallery

145. Bull Jumper II, 1987

Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum, Clarinda, Iowa


146. Sancas I, 1991


147–148. Sancas Plaster Maquette, 1983

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art,

University of California, Davis



149–150. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Popolo (La couple) [People (Couple)], 1929

Museo del Novecento,

Collection Marino Marini, Milan

Certainly Neri was aware of how Marini had made use of historical sculptural

idioms at a time when much contemporary art wished only to leave

history behind. Although Marini was acutely conscious of the sculptural past,

that past was his own, and specifically Tuscan. His native landscape had been

inhabited more than two millennia earlier by the Etruscan civilization, and he

grew up there at a time when comprehensive excavations of some of the

great cities of Etruria were newly underway. Marini came to feel an unusually

intimate bond to his own place and its remarkable history, a sense of ineffable

connection at once genetic, cultural, and imaginative: he possessed that past,

and was, in turn, possessed by it — its glorious, ruined artifacts, the old walls

and ironwork and votive niches in the old hill towns, the houses and piazzas

piled one against the other along winding laneways, the enduring stone and

tile buildings, many of them still in use, almost monuments themselves, their

surfaces like geological textures, richly detailed — a tangible environment in

which past and present seemed to merge. For the artist, it was an experience

of site and situation inseparable from consciousness itself, and yet, as a modern,

Marini knew that he had been cast adrift from the kinds of cultural certainties

that once shaped and nourished the old sculptural forms. Still he loved them,

with a depth of feeling undisguised in his work — loved them as one who

knows them thoroughly, has always known them, cannot forget them and does

not want to do so. Thus he engages the shadow life of a history that has left

its lovely bones upon the land.

In this respect, Marini is more of a modern than a modernist. He feels no

need to submit his work to any strictly programmatic format, and as he takes

up the modes of the past, those figural motifs that once eased the passage of

societal values and ideals from one generation to the next, his visual language

remains personal, self-possessed, and modern because he is himself modern,

an artist of his own time. If the Pomonas evoke something of the idealism and

integrity that Marini has recognized in archaic sculpture, at the same time the

figures are, in a modern context, determinedly anti-idealist in form as well as

theme. And yet it is not quite enough to say simply that they constitute the

artist’s critique of a corrupted present: for him, those forms are not



Marini would achieve a unity of the aesthetic and the ethical as he contemplated

the cultural loss of confidence in the forms of art — the nature of that

loss as well as its consequences — the ethical as inextricable from his motif and

imparted aesthetically to the viewer. To accomplish this, he confined himself to

a narrow range of serial forms, forms attuned to a cultural history of immeasurably

greater length and breadth than Marini’s own moment, a sense of scope

that allowed him to absorb and utilize the archaic forms in a thorough, authentic

way. Elements of critique will be inevitable in such work, and they can hardly

help becoming thematic for us. Marini, however, had found a way to fuse a visual

present and a visual past in the figure itself, not just as idea but as a perceivable

sculptural form, and for Neri, that was an invaluable precedent.


151. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Giovinetta [Young Girl], 1938

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia

152. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Nudo femminile [Female Nude], 1932

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia

153. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Giovinetta [Young Girl], 1938

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia



154. Figurine of a Concubine,

Middle Kingdom, Egypt, XIIth Dynasty

(1991–1786 BCE)

Musée du Louvre, Paris

155. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Femme au chariot [Woman with Chariot],


Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti,



156. Fertility Figure, Middle Kingdom,

Egypt, XIth–XIIth Dynasty

Aegyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung,

Staatliche Museen, Berlin


Giacometti knew the figural past as well, and while his formal debts to

Egyptian, Cycladic, and Romanesque sculpture are by now well documented,

the studio research to which he submitted these antecedents would be

perceptual rather than historical. How is the figure, ancient or modern, seen by

the viewing eye? How do the senses gather information from the physical

world, that endlessly contingent experience of the relationships between space,

distance, and scale, and then resolve our encounters with it? Is the eye a reliable

source? Giacometti represents this, our situation in the world, as sculpture,

building figures that ask us to set aside acculturated assumptions about the

procedures of sight and how we know and understand the appearance of

objects in space. Giacometti longs to return viewers to the marvelous strangeness

of bodily experience as he knows it for himself, the truly remarkable

experience of inhabiting a human body in the realm of objects.

Giacometti had ruminated at length about the ancients. What did those

vanished civilizations seek in the rigorous stylization of their sculpture? What

were the intimate, interior connections of such forms to the peoples who

created them, their functions, their meanings? This became the process by

which Giacometti discovered how modern perception might be instructed

by similar kinds of forms, human, yes, but unmistakably sculptural, and capable of

speaking to the moment by moment conditions of existence in a real world

of spaces and objects.

To maintain the comparison with Marini’s work just a little further, Marini was

not concerned with the cognitive hazards entailed in occupying a fleshly body.

He believed that the Etruscans and Archaic Greeks had been striving for an

embodied, ideated form that would invoke a higher mode of realism — a realism

of aspirations, desires, dreams — and so he looked upon their forms as inventions

that in turn gave him permission to invent in his own way. Unlike Giacometti, or

Neri, for that matter, Marini did not typically work from the model. He composed

differently. His figures, whether the Pomonas or the Dancers, are unabashedly

thematic, addressing us in a manner that can be as literary as it is visual.

Neither Marini nor Giacometti expects us to confuse their figures with “real”

beings, of course, nor should we see them as surrogates of the human. Both

artists want their work to act upon us as art, setting us on our own paths of

inquiry, whatever they may be.

157. Photographer Unknown

Marino Marini in his studio


158–159. M.J. Series V, 1989

Private Collection

Neri has expended little effort on the problem of “how” we see. He

proceeds from the belief that visual encounter is neither elusive nor illusionary

in essence, nor inherently deceptive. Put another way, Neri does not

question physical reality as such, its existence or its appearance, and so —

crucially — he reverses Giacometti’s question. Rather than interrogate how

we see, Neri strives to understand how a figure expresses itself across, or

within, a site composed of continuously variable spaces, distances, scales, and


Or: Giacometti involved himself in the physical processes of cognition —

and hence, how we arrive at knowledge through the senses, that is, the extent


to which the sculptor’s formal “expression” can be said to reside in us, as the

agents of perception — while Neri investigates the ways in which form makes

itself known to other (human) objects in the spatial field around it, how it

communicates information and/or knowledge about itself. Thus Giacometti

embraces as inherently problematic the precariousness and variability of the

senses lodged in flesh as they pass through their surroundings — not just the

optical, but our entire experience of ourselves, our sense organs, and our scale,

as the inhabitants of bodies in space moving in relation to other bodies. Neri,

on the other hand, tests the projection of visual data rather than its reception,

how a figure makes itself apprehensible in a spatial world.

160. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

La forêt [The Forest], 1950

Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris



161. Ernst Scheidegger (1923–2016), Photographer

Alberto Giacometti working with plaster, c. 1960

162. Photographer Unknown

Marino Marini in his studio


163. Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 2003

164. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Tyler Street Studio, 2004

Giacometti’s constructive process was of great value to Neri, while Marini

offered the example of an unusually cordial relationship with the past. The

utilization of historical forms, Marini suggested — their assimilation and internalization

by the contemporary artist — should never be confined by the

artist’s own, perhaps rather specialized interests, and he himself demonstrated

some of the benefits entailed in opening the present to a dynamic, imaginative

conversation with the past. Neri seems to share something, too, of Marini’s

tender regard for the old traditions now closed off to him by the passage

of time — he is cut off, in other words, from the kinds of widely accepted

values and meanings that once enabled the forms of sculpture to converse

with viewers in a field of mutual understanding — but Neri realizes, too, that

he can do nothing to reverse the terms of historical change in the wildly

fragmented, media-saturated culture of late twentieth-century America, a

condition he considers indirectly, or metaphorically, through the material

fragility of plaster. Change will come.


In a sculptural sense, the female nude has provided Neri with a versatile

basis for his organizing instincts. At the same time, to return to an earlier point,

it is the point of departure in a drive to circumvent his abiding mistrust of

(verbal) language, giving him both a form and a constructive means with which

to establish his own alternative to the vagaries of the linguistic. It is language,

after all, whose own repetitions are put to the task of confirming and conditioning

our sense of experience as stable, containable, safe, accessible to the

tools of cognition. Neri wants desperately to avoid the impositions of language

and its dubious claims to mastery of experience, and he strives to elude its urge

to organize and tame the unruliness and joy and pain of existence. If Neri

cannot quite trust the word, he does trust the act, and here the past is important

as a source of continuity in an inherent communicability of form: statements

made through the figure a millennium, even millennia, ago, are perfectly

comprehensible to the present viewer, a phenomenon that guides Neri’s study

of the past. Is the human past really this close, as near to our own experience

as the sculpted form before us? While Neri is uninterested in simply imitating

or replicating the formal means of the past, he knows that he ignores them at

some peril. They are too rich.

In a straightforward way, the figure offers him the security of its gestures, the

body that cannot hide its intentions, which is the source of his faith in the

processes of sculptural building as a route of escape from the confusions instigated

by language and by the potential for misinterpretation that lurks within

the enclosures of verbal exchange. He wants his form to speak clearly, directly,

apart from language and its proclamations of authority, and to be understood

in just this way. His encounters with the figural past assure him that such “speaking”

is potential in the present, that the development of an authentic figural

language remains available to him.




AS NERI WAS BEGINNING HIS CAREER in the late 1950s and early

1960s, he could hardly have ignored the elements of uncertainty and paradox

simmering around him. There was a widespread feeling during those years that

secure social structures, combined with technological progress and material

comfort, would bring us happiness at last — a loosely assembled, eminently

saleable social theory that plenitude is the first step on the road to contentment.

But was it really true?

Anyone who cared to look closely could see that it was not, that burgeoning

American affluence was a solution stitched with dissatisfaction. Such was the

substance of the Beat/hipster critique, as well, though it would be articulated

more as attitude and lifestyle than as a manifest ideology. Further, there was

the lingering legacy of war, still active in global events: ongoing revelations of

the Nazi genocide; a continuation of nuclear testing by the American government;

the triumph of the Western technocracy and the accelerated industrialization

of capitalist society; Soviet totalitarianism; and the re-entrenchment of a

self-absorbed, materialistic middle class, and with it, the aggressive spread of

secular mass culture, technology’s most devout acolyte. Could the sculpted

figure truly engage this world, this setting, these issues, and the anxieties that

followed from them?

165. Makiko Nakamura, Photographer

Carrara Studio, 1983



166. Ernst Scheidegger (1923–2016), Photographer

Detail in Alberto Giacometti’s studio:

wall with sculptures, c. 1954

167. Ernst Scheidegger (1923–2016), Photographer

Detail in Alberto Giacometti’s studio:

sideboard with sculptures, c. 1954

In Europe twenty years earlier, Giacometti was witness to an unstable

economy, widespread political unrest, the rise of fascism, and all the cultural

tensions of modernity, and in the midst of it, he struggled to reintroduce a

naturalistic figure, as art, based on his conviction that it could be appropriate

in, and in response to, this setting. Surrealism had been the ground of his first

major sculptural campaign, but by 1935 he was heading towards an irreconcilable

conflict with progressive artists and critics disdainful of overt naturalistic

content. Yet he remained resolute, and before the end of the decade,

Giacometti’s decision to build from the model would prompt the public ire of

André Breton and the surrealist inner circle in Paris — it was of this work that

Breton famously pronounced that everyone knows what a head looks like, as

if to say that Giacometti had not only betrayed the surrealist revolution, he


had betrayed himself as an artist, that his return to the figure was an act of


At that point, however, Giacometti grasped something that Breton perhaps

did not, that visuality in a world of intricate spaces and objects is itself miraculous

and enigmatic, and the artist who attends to it with persistence need not

forage through the surrealist unconscious for imagery. As continuous motif,

the human figure could draw attention to the strangeness that coexists with

the familiar, a subject that might keep a sculptor busy more or less indefinitely.

The surrealist work of art may be a terrible and wonderful thing, but it is the

figure that brings the artist deep into the most fundamental conditions of

existence. Such was the basis of his sculptural response to the world as he

found it at mid-century.

168. Ernst Scheidegger (1923–2016), Photographer

Alberto Giacometti modelling, c. 1965



Neri never underwent an ordeal comparable to Giacometti’s disaffiliation

from the Surrealist program. In a way, the shape of his career is closer to that

of Marini, a figurative artist from the start, who, after spending the war years in

Switzerland, would resituate himself on his home ground as a matter of choice

and temperament. Neri, too, remained where he was, in the Bay Area, working

amid cultural conditions that bore little resemblance to those of postwar Italy

or France. Although he saw no reason to abide the more sinister preoccupations

of a social system so keen to promote its gospel of material satisfaction

and complacency, his decision to pursue a path of sculptural naturalism almost

guaranteed that he would have to go forward without critical or commercial

support, an outsider forced to struggle against the central currents of the art

world. Artists like Giacometti and Marini were now models of courage and


The situation posed an obvious but necessary question. In the self-conscious,

self-certain artistic environment of the period, did the figure, with its intricate

connections to the long trudge of Western history, have more to contribute to

the inner life of contemporary culture? Neri shared with his predecessors an

unswerving commitment to the sculpted figure, and in the end, he felt himself

at liberty to go his own way, making a virtue of his detachment from the

pressures that shadowed the New York scene. Still, if he wished to pursue the

figure as his sculptural form in a serious way, Neri saw that he would need to

demonstrate, through the work itself, that the business of being human was no

simple, ordinary matter.

As he began his career in the mid-1950s, the heavily worked plaster figures

were his initial means of negotiating this field, defiant, rebellious figures that

asserted themselves on a cultural landscape where, strictly speaking, no one

knew quite what to make of them and where they were not entirely welcomed

as a result. Coarse in form and posture, almost crude, made of mostly scavenged

materials, they were anything but precious or artful, traits that did indeed

accord with the Beat aesthetic: Beat art-making, like art brut in Paris, was carrying

on a romance with low materials, the discarded and abandoned, often materials

without prior art associations, but for Beat artists, these were vehicles of cultural

critique, while practitioners of art brut tended to view such materials as resistant

to artistic will, which invested them with a rather more philosophical ambiance,

at once uniting the artist with, and differentiating him from, the world of


Although plaster had accommodated Giacometti’s constructive strategies, as

a sculptor steeped in European traditions of presentation, he expected to

recreate the figures in bronze editions. Plaster was Neri’s chosen medium, and

in this sense, his plaster figures are finished works. Plaster had an extensive,

honorable history in art, of course, but for Neri at that time, its accessibility and

low cost were also great benefits. It was another modest material, available at

any hardware store for next to nothing. At that point, his material options were

dictated by economic necessity, but the choice proved fortuitous. As we have

seen already, plaster had assets beyond price alone, and the vivid physicality of

Neri’s building processes eventually earned him a reputation — echoing the

discourse around painting in New York — as an “action” sculptor. When he

added color to the distressed and textured surfaces, the figures took on an aura

of improvisation that seemed to infer a kinship with the programmatic demands

of both abstract expressionist painting and Beat assemblage.

If, for Neri, the idiomatic surface is inseparable from his constructive processes,

those processes never quite enclose the figure thematically. While his unification

of form and surface seems to want to attract meanings of its own,

meaning will fail to find a sure footing there. As a result, the proliferation of

readings, stimulated by different aspects of the total sculptural form, keep the

work from sitting for long in one interpretive environment or another, as Neri

intends. Thus, too, the myriad elements of touch, including color, would become

as crucial as the figure itself to the development of Neri’s sculptural vocabulary,

and from the vantage of the present, we can see the care with which he

avoided submitting his form to (localized) thematic statement.

Neri’s combination of naturalistic form and non-naturalistic surface — the

surfaces whose own “naturalism,” if naturalism it is, derives from their documentary

revelation of the artist’s very human hand — arouses our curiosity, and

because the figures share our scale as well as our form, they seem to beckon

from somewhere within their stillness and silence. Like Giacometti’s figures, they

invite commentary almost as a mode of communion, and they are similarly


169. Chula [Carla I], 1958–60

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

170. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Benicia Studio, 1988



distinctive for the ease with which they offer themselves to viewers — the ease

with which they accept interpretation from any number of interests, personal

concerns, and agendas, without endorsing any of them as final or definitive.

Such is their ambiguity, their mystery and allure. Indeed, these various readings,

taken together, comprise another history of sorts, one that verifies the unusual

openness of Neri’s formal language.

But of course meaning is itself highly voluble, and when Neri took up the

figure as his motif — a form that could not reasonably expect to escape its vast

array of historical and cultural referents — he had to accept that all such

meanings, whether intended or not, would be impressed upon his work from

the outside. As he was pleased to discover, however, their accumulation only

added to the density of the work, often in interesting, unpredictable ways.


171–172. Standing Female Figure No. 4, 1978

Private Collection

173–175. Posturing Series No. 5, 1978

Private Collection



IN L’ATELIER D’ALBERTO GIACOMETTI, Genet recalls an experience of gazing

at the sculpture that seemed to be everywhere around his friend’s studio:

“I know only the statues of women for which Annette has posed, and the

busts of Diego — and each a goddess and this god — here I hesitate: if, in

the presence of these women, I feel I am in the presence of goddesses — of

goddesses and not statues of a goddess — the bust of Diego never attains this

height.… Instead it might be the bust of a priest belonging to a very high rank

in the church. Not a god. But each very different statue still belongs to the same

proud rank and somber family. Familiar and very close. Inaccessible.” Genet

cannot quite resist the impulse to place a sacred overlay on these figures, and

maybe it was inevitable, given his rather ripe, rakish romanticism.

But if Genet stops short of the obvious conclusion to this view of the work,

we, certainly, are free to consider it: in an earlier time, Giacometti might have

been a religious artist, an insight that may be taken as an early, prophetic

recognition of the skill with which Giacometti recreated in modern sculptural

terms the enigmatic appeal of formal idealization that we often find in religious


176. Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1982


177. Ernst Scheidegger (1923–2016), Photographer

View of Alberto Giacometti’s studio with

unfinished sculptures, c. 1962


178. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Femme debout (Poseur II) [Standing Woman], c. 1954

Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris

As still another way of thinking about the humanist impulse in figurative

sculpture after the War, the point holds, and Neri, too, has permitted the entry

of a loosely religious ambiance into his work, a latent Catholicism that lies in the

background of his characteristic form: the real delicacy of standing figures that

can evoke the innumerable statues of Mary in Catholic churches the world

over, reminding the faithful of the spiritually obedient young woman on whom

has fallen the humbling, mysterious destiny of divine purpose. Here we return,

as well, to the desire of Giacometti’s figures, and Neri’s, to demonstrate the

persistence of a numinous presence in modern art, in the figure. In Neri’s case,

it is an additional element that distinguishes his handling of the motif from that

of the Bay Area figurative painters, whose use of the form is utterly secular and

oriented toward a sense of the necessities of painting at that moment.


Both Giacometti and Neri are now familiar enough that we accept without

question Genet’s invocation of the religious affiliations that adhere to their

work with such ease, associations that depend on the efficacy of cultural

memory. It is for this reason, surely, that when they are installed in museums, the

standing women — Neri’s as well as Giacometti’s — are almost always placed

with their backs to the gallery walls — whether by curatorial intuition, habit, or

conscious determination — thereby requiring that we enter their field frontally.

Giacometti might not have approved. Better that the viewer be allowed to

navigate around them, that our perspectives remain continuous and variable

from all sides, thus offering a more open-ended perceptual experience. On the

other hand, if this mode of display is routine enough that we no longer think

much about it, our very response may be a measure of Giacometti’s success at

reestablishing the figure as a modern sacral form, and Neri’s success at sustaining

this element in his own work.

Of course Genet may simply have been stating the obvious, acknowledging

that a frontal approach to the standing figure is in fact no more than a

well-conditioned cultural reflex whose deepest origins do indeed lie in religious

practice and spiritual need: when the form is figurative and female, frontality can

transform the (secular) space of modern sculpture into a site of (religious/

spiritual) encounter. Neri is sensitive to this response, and utilizes it with figures

of animate poise that stand as if awaiting the arrival of some precipitous event

or visitation. Frontality is effective because it does so readily invoke the isolate,

hieratic status of ancient religious and commemorative statuary, not as a

manifest religiosity, but with a suggestiveness, an ambiguity, that enables the

artist to address a human need that secular culture alone cannot quite satisfy.

The form of Giacometti’s standing women derives, as we know, from the

vertical filiform figures of ancient Egypt, Osiris in particular, though the artist’s

strategy crucially did not go as far as his source in the quest for formal purification.

His slender figures not only possess the general physical attributes of the

model, they are nudes. Giacometti never desexualizes the form, but attenuation

and terseness of pose relieve it of the delimiting obligations of sculptural

eroticism. The figures are released, in other words, from the traditional demand

that the sculpted female nude be displayed frankly before the (male) viewer,


179. Malcolm Park, Photographer

Alberto Giacometti sculptures in retrospective exhibition

at the Tate Modern, London, May 8, 2017


180. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Pomona, 1945

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia

and, at the same time, they are freed from related narrative exposition that

would bind the figure to any particular sculptural past. The work thus achieves

an undeniable formal objectivity, or objectness, and as scale shifts from among

figures almost always smaller than life, they are utterly concretized, above all

creatures of (our) perception.

Giacometti then forced the point with some of his most distinctive sculptural

tactics, not least of which was the rejection of contrapposto, one of the most

venerable techniques of Western sculptural realism, as a means of formal

enlivenment. Although this does not of itself generate an inherently “religious”

presence in the finished work, in practice it tends to act in that way upon us.


But this response may also signify our own desire, correspondent with that of

the artist, to grant a spiritual intention to contemporary figural sculpture. The

figures appear to have emerged from his hand in answer to an extra-artistic

necessity, seeking an existence independent of the secure means of traditional

sculptural depiction. Only a short leap brings us to Marini’s standing figures,

above all the Pomonas, which are similarly creatures of both history and


Sheathed in anonymity, and with the bodily composure we often find in

antique figures, the Pomonas also withdrew themselves from the tempests of

debate that commanded the attention of the postwar intellectual world:

because they have a character whose effect as sculpture is “archaic” in its

essence, they seem to us unbound by the tragedies of the twentieth century,

and perhaps by any topicality. Their otherworldliness belongs to the realm of

myth, free from the bondage of time and the inevitable limitations that define

a human (rather than a godly) existence. If the Pomonas are indeed goddesses,

their pearlike bodies and roughened surfaces gently tug them back in the direction

of the human realm, enabling us to accept them into our space, not as one

of us, perhaps, but as (sculptural) beings sympathetic to our circumstances.

“Pomona” is the goddess of gardens and cultivation, a deity indigenous to

Roman mythology, and in her traditional iconography, she often carries an apple

in her hand. But Marini’s invocation of the classical/mythic/cultural past — like

that of the Giacomettian figure, though here enclosed in local reference — is

also a way of mitigating against the intrusion of personal taste regarding female

appearance. This in turn releases the figures from the eye of (male) desire,

understood by the artist as a malign signifier of the implication of Eros in every

form of the (male) will to power. Marini typically presents her in a posture of

domesticity — humble, beneficent, self-possessed — a formal character that

further declines the voyeurism rampant in sculpture of the preceding century,

asking us to contemplate instead her identity both as a figure and as sculpture.

For all their human referents, these figures act in ways that never really require

the topical or historical as sources of meaning. Yet their appeal to ancient

traditions is surely empathetic with the spirit of humanism reemerging during

the postwar era.



Would Giacometti, Marini, and Neri have been religious sculptors in an

earlier time? It is an intriguing question, but any answer only points in the

general direction of ambitions that reflect a much broader background to their

work — their response to a problem that has haunted figurative sculpture in

the post-Enlightenment West, what could be described in simple terms as a

deterioration of the integration of religion and society that has occurred since

the eighteenth century, and some of its consequences for the life of culture.

The Enlightenment brought an end to sculpture’s long partnership with religious

representation, the great common ground enjoyed by religious belief,

society, and art. This shift would eventually require that sculptors seek their

own pathways through the thickets of modern insecurity and doubt, a challenge

heightened in the postwar environment by the questions impressed by

wartime events on philosophy, theology, and art. Artists could no longer

assume the absolute truth of anything, and in the twentieth century, art almost

necessarily takes up this quest for authenticity of experience and insight in

secular terms.

Still, even before World War II, that task had also presented figurative sculptors

with a truly open field. What form(s) would this “new” figure take? How

can personal truth be communicated sculpturally, with an efficacy and depth

that will justify its appeal to the viewer’s attention? What is the appropriate

setting for the “new” figure? And the status of the figure in that setting?

Although the Christian tradition was hardly dead, it had been jettisoned

from the main currents of European cultural life and practice. We are speaking

of formal modalities, in any case, and as Giacometti and Marini sought a sacral

ambiance for their work, the pre-Christian figure offered an escape from

unavoidable associations with the magnificent mausoleum of the Christian

sculptural tradition, an iconography and a history implanted in Western cultural

memory. But Giacometti and Marini were born at the very beginning of the

twentieth century, at a moment when Monet, Degas, and Cézanne were still

alive and working, when Rodin reigned over French sculpture, when Picasso

was just beginning his career. Their sense of the social possibilities of art,

sculptural or otherwise, differed from those of Neri, who, as a postwar American,

exercises an even less stable partnership with the past, art-historical or

otherwise. His work, once again, coexists with them in a situation of continuity,

not of direct discipleship or imitation.

Neri has no qualms, therefore, about allowing his figures to behave in ways

that Giacometti’s and Marini’s simply do not. They share our scale, and like us,

they may bend, kneel, twist, look aside, shrug, or gesture boldly. They belong with

us, among us, on the same ground, and as a result, they tend to operate most

effectively when they are installed in fairly open spaces, without the explicit

demarcations that insist on their separateness as “art.”

181–183. La Palestra No. 5, 1988

Private Collection



Although Neri also minimizes explicit facial features and expressions, the

details of identity and psychology, he departs from his predecessors by encoding

explicitly expressive information into the gestures of the sculptural figure in its

totality. Thus the model maintains her anonymity as an individual, while the

gestural body is highly communicative, assisted in its expressive capacities by

the artist’s own tracings and inscriptions across the entirety of the surface.

Because Neri’s constructive naturalism is so physically precise, he can abandon

the determinations of psychological and/or narrative content conveyed by facial

depiction without compromising the entirety of the form. Such figures provoke

a startling degree of empathy, a level of physical identification that enables the

work to grip us in the experience of immediate, bodily encounter.

At the same time, and this is true of all of the sculptors under discussion

here, the evocative nature of touch, as a material transcription of making itself,

suggests the creation of forms “in touch” with the fragility of the human spirit

as it confronts the situations of modern life. Touch becomes a token of individual

commitment placed on the surface of the figure for all to see, the assertion

of an essential human identity in objects that, as a result, tend to become

talismanic as well as sculptural. Neri could not have expected to repeat the

tactics of his predecessors, nor did he want to, especially as his work matured

during the 1970s and 1980s in the long series of standing figures and figural

reliefs. The individual utterance demonstrates its own necessity, and thus he was

able to incorporate surface as a constructive element, available to his use, one

that, in combination with the motif, answered his need to speak truthfully on

his own behalf, through the hand.

It is on these grounds that Neri declares himself the final source of authority

in the work and so makes his own assertions regarding the place of the

contemporary sculptural figure. If his ties to postwar European figuration

remain important to his development and indeed to his position in the trajectory

of the naturalist figure during the latter twentieth century, Neri’s sources are

many, and can come from almost anywhere, not just the art museum. In his

engagement with the formal vocabulary of the sculptural past, he has also

discovered that distance in time from an earlier sculptural form does not

exclude or deny his sense of its relevance. Quite the opposite. Temporal


184–185. Kneeling Figure, 1991

Denver Art Museum

186–187. Annunciation No. 1, 1982

Yale University Art Gallery



distances often unloosen a form from its original application or setting, giving it

a freedom and objectivity of its own, which in turn may amplify Neri’s affinity

for it. If he can draw such information into the present, he knows that he has

uncovered a crucial vein of continuity, a durable human theme, still viable as a

sculptural resource. Even as this becomes a substance inextricable from all the

other formal transactions occurring in his work, its unaffected absorption

assures us that certain human traits, expressed by the physical body, are indeed

fundamental and always have been.

Whatever Neri can use is useful, a drive that shows itself as early as Beach

Figure (1958), which interrogates the walking man of Rodin. In those years, Neri

would have known the pose only from books, yet he made it his own by altering

gender, adding an atmospheric setting, and applying paint. During the 1970s and

1980s, the Bull Jumper and La Palestra series tested ideas drawn from Cretan

and Mycenaean sculpture, and during the same period, Neri also worked with

poses that had originated in pop culture and advertising, poses with which he

evoked the presence of (absent) props. By the mid-1980s, when Neri began


188–189. Armless Figure III, 1970

Private Collection

190–191. La Palestra No. 6 (Cast AP), 1988;

Cast 2007; Patina 2016

University Museums,

Iowa State University, Ames


192–194. Prietas Series II (Cast 1/4), 1993; Painted 1994

Private Collection

the large Arcos de Geso and Mujer Pegada relief panels, series embedded with

references, his formal colloquy with the past had achieved remarkable density,

as if he wished to take up the whole history of the form in a single sweeping

embrace. When these kinds of visual echoes occur in the individual figures, they

are normally fluent, unforced, inexplicit, sensed rather than seen in the course

of our encounters with them. It is an intimate relationship with the form, based

on the artist’s faith in the kinds of human concerns that reappear in art,

sustained through time, or by time. But continuity with the sculptural past, as

Neri knows, cannot be sustained by the manipulation of form alone, whether

as reference or quotation. It must be integrated into the modalities of artistic


Much of the mid-twentieth-century figurative sculpture of humanist orientation

is similarly synthetic, typified to one degree or another by a receptive

attitude towards the canons of the form. Aspects of the past are reoriented

through the means of the individual artist, and thus borne into the present.

This seems almost definitional, insofar as this group of sculptors has striven to

reinstate a recognizably human creative spirit in their work as an expression of

affirmation and renewal during the postwar era.

Yet the presence of the distant past suggests that these sculptors also yearn

to somehow situate their work outside the accelerating tattoo of action and

reaction in modern art. This need governs the very choice of the human form

in a postwar setting not entirely hospitable to it, just as it governs their handling

of the form. A relationship with sculptural pre-modernity allows each artist in

turn to invoke the originative energies of the figure, that in doing so the figural

body may reveal a reality more enduring than the cycles of call and response

that have become so familiar, all the spinning cogs of novelty, ideology, visual

pleasure, plurality, fragmentation.

But the humanist sculptors in postwar Europe — and Neri, too — were

working, once again, in an ostensibly post-Christian world where the spiritual

resources of the past — the commonly understood images of Presence, the

visual vocabulary of divine revelation, the iconography of spiritual order —

were no longer suitable to their enterprise. Sculptors of humanist orientation

were almost necessarily required, therefore, to reinvigorate the connection




etween art and hope, or something like it. To do so, they had to address

themselves to the same feeling of spiritual absence at the heart of the society,

with all the attendant, insatiable anxieties, that the merchandisers of capitalism

and technology were learning to exploit so efficiently.

They would ask of the figure that it serve as a carrier of some of the oldest,

least acculturated mysteries of human existence — mysteries older than

memory — and so offer itself as an alternative to the platitudes of the age. To

accomplish this task, Marini turned to the recuperative serenity, or sanity, of

the Pomonas. Giacometti’s figures, too, might be tattered goddesses, icons of

adaptability, their very survival a cause for encouragement, however guarded.

Such figures can easily become metaphorical objects, not “likenesses” as such,

and indeed they now seem less concerned with disturbing the familiarity of the

motif than with de-familiarizing the stance of the form within the field of

sculpture itself — with, that is, loosening reflexive views of the figure as knowable

or secure, bolstered by cultural assumptions about representation that willingly

accommodate the viewer’s delectation.

As Neri continued to develop and expand the means of gesture — the

figure’s and his own — his sculptural figure became the material projection of

his “speaking” voice. His subject, we might say, is not really the figure as such.

The figure is simply the form that provides him with a just, reliable vehicle for

exploring and communicating subject, and his treatment of the form draws him,

paradoxically, into a history that, as it turns out, is not actually past and never

entirely lost.

In an interview with curator Jan Butterfield in 1981, Neri observed: “I’ve

always been intrigued with the spirit that the figure conveys. Not necessarily in

Christian terms, but in relation, for example, to the Greek heroes with their

dirty feet and curious morals — they were heroes just the same. It is this

God-spirit that I think is the real God for us. It is this thing inside of us that I

want to talk about in the figure. I can deal with it only through the work.”

Almost twenty years later, he returned to the idea in another interview:

“The first sculptors made use of the figure for a reason, which is because it has

so much power.”

195–197. On the Up No. 1, 1992

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University





NERI’S ACTIVITIES AS A PAINTER before the sculpted form and his

idiomatic colorism are both distinctive traits, and we can now see him as a

builder who paints and a painter who builds. Although he does not paint every

figure, he has been putting color on his sculpture, on plaster, bronze, and marble,

throughout his career. The practice would achieve something like culmination

in the Arcos de Geso and Mujer Pegada relief series that began in the mid-1980s.

In these works, life-sized standing or kneeling figures are incorporated into large

plaster walls whose surfaces are themselves inscribed and painted. They are

relief sculptures, to be sure, but descriptive terms such as “painted sculpture”

or “sculptural painting” are inadequate. In their wake, as if the demands of the

project had conferred upon him an absolute freedom, his subsequent use of

paint would attain a visual poetry of often exquisite beauty. Indeed, nothing

resembling the spread of Neri’s painted figures can be found in the work of his

immediate predecessors, and nowhere else in contemporary American art.

Thus Neri found a means with which to surmount habituated ways of seeing

the differences between these mediums, differences that still shadowed the art

world during his early career, an obstacle he found needlessly divisive and finally


198. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Tyler Street Studio, 1997



Painted sculpture was nothing new in modern art, of course, and would be

common by the 1960s, in nonobjective sculpture especially, but those sculptors

shied away from obvious associations with the depictive loyalties of realism.

Giacometti added paint to some of his plaster figures near the end of his life,

but his interest in sculptural color seems to have been just getting underway,

and the application of black lines and forthright primary hues does not feel fully

realized sculpturally. Here, then, Neri makes his advance, successfully extending

the communicability of the standing female figure without relying on descriptive

color and its narrative obligations. Or: Neri’s color refers to the requirements

of the artist rather than the requirements of figural realism, and his achievement

emerges from the skill and originality with which he integrates his figural

naturalism with a highly evolved color sense and a level of painterly gesture that

show a comprehensive understanding of the most advanced art of the period

of his emergence. Thus he unifies two ostensibly disparate media with a visual

logic that never slips into material or conceptual discord. The tone of the work

is, indeed, specific to him.


199. Caryatid I (Cast 1/4), 2008

Private Collection

200–201. Seated Figure Maquette, 2007

Private Collection

202–203. Torso (Cast AP), 1978

Private Collection


204. Seated Girl II (Bather), 1963

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Some interpreters have seen Neri as an abstract expressionist sculptor for

whom paint simply extended his way of working with the plaster surface, but

this is too mechanistic a reading. From the start, he embraced paint as another

component of his visual vocabulary, as important to him as any of his other

visual means, and over time he has used color to enhance the latent ambiguities

and nuanced speaking capacity of the reiterative, serial form. In practice, the

visual effects of color on the figures are themselves enigmatic, compelling,

evocative, but difficult to articulate or explain easily: although paint can instigate

and/or call attention to the fundamental visual operations that occur on a

volumetric form, including its surface textures and the interaction of its constituent

elements, Neri never treated color in a strictly functional way. It is

functional, and then it does something else.

To the extent that color can be approached as a source of narrative, the

narrative, once again, is interior to the artist, and therefore resistant to external

reference or summary interpretation. The efficiency with which Neri’s color

refutes cognitive reading as a reliable or self-contained approach to his figures

can also be taken, perhaps, as an admission of the limits of the eye as a source

of information about the world and its meanings, or at the very least, it admits

that the eye is not the final arbiter of the real. Better that we dream as we stand

before the work. Neri’s color requests that we do so.

Some hues undoubtedly have associations in the artist’s memory — the

bright reds, yellows, and blacks, for instance, could derive from the lavish hues

of vernacular art or processional statuary — while the bold reds may refer in

a general way to blood, the force of life, the sangre brava of music and dance.

Or not. One is as likely as another. In the studio, Neri saw no inherent divisions

between genres, or even between colors. Such distinctions are imposed from

without by criticism, theory, and precedent. Art does not need them. So Neri

invents. Because his color always exists outside the realm of familiar modes of

representation the figure does not resemble anything we might otherwise see

or imagine as a “real” being in the world. Neri’s combinative reflexes direct us

past the physical and sculptural alone, back in the direction of the psyche of

the maker, and as a colorist, he has learned to produce effects at once personal

and poetic, often through the use of unusual or unexpected mixtures and


combinations, giving the painted figures — the bronze editions especially — a

kind of unaffected grandeur. Such work asks that we rely on our imaginative

resources — also poetic in essence — which will carry us into a substantially

widened field of response.

With the first full-sized figures of 1957 and 1958, Neri handled paint in a

loose, energetic, but organizational way, placing it as if on a canvas for the

purpose of moving the eye around the work, or to focus attention on particular

areas of the form. Clearly, however, he recognized the greater possibilities for


205. Female Torso III [Untitled Torso III], 1960

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art,

University of California, Davis

206. Female Torso II [Untitled Torso II], 1960

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art,

University of California, Davis



sculptural color almost immediately, and so he did not tarry for long in this

rather schematic mode of application. He wanted to press his colors harder

still, and after the early 1970s, paint exists more completely in terms of its visual

properties — the complex color relationships, intricate layering and glazing

effects, and the shifting qualities of illumination. It is lyric color, and as the years

passed, Neri learned to use this aspect of his vocabulary with increasing skill.

During the late 1970s — as an example of the thoroughness with which he

conducts his research — Neri began mixing dry pigment into his wet plaster

as he built, producing works that recall Marini’s use of surface tints as an evocation

of the abraded surfaces of old polychrome figures. Here, colors are

added like tinctures into the plaster itself, and they tend to be quite soft, Indian

reds, serene yellows, and dovelike grays that create an even body tone. These

hues enabled Neri to study the ways in which opaque, all-over color is seen in


207. Two Figures (Bather Series), 1964

Private Collection


208. Seated Female Figure III, 1979

Private Collection

209. Seated Female Figure IV, 1979

The Oakland Museum of California


210. Blue Blond, 1979

Private Collection


a variety of spatial settings and conditions, and how it interacts with light. Again,

he is interested chiefly in clarifying by every possible means the articulation of

the figure, its ability to express, and how its expression is affected by the subtly

altered appearance of the plaster as a field/surface. As a comparison, the

surfaces of Marini's Pomonas also tend to be quite calm, and their mild color,

as soft as a whisper, enhances their atmospheric silence and formal balance;

but they have a thematic component, as well, as the artist contemplates the

fragility of any artistic reconciliation in a historical period typified by imbalance,

dysfunction, and violence of every sort.

For Neri, then, color — regardless of its particular mode of application — is

another legible gesture upon the form, orchestrated in conjunction with his

surface markings. Just as he has taken up many kinds of mark-making tools for

the purpose of varying appearance and defeating surface refinement, his use of

color generates tension with the form on which it appears. The colors can be

unusual, striking, at times declarative, at times beautiful, at times unsettling or

garish, disruptive, with the intention of upsetting assumptions regarding what

the figure ought to be, or how it should look, without upsetting the form of the

figure itself. They may attain a feeling of harmony, or not. They may soothe, or

not. They may delight the eye, or not. They may arouse, or not. But the colors

are never static.


211. Seated Figure Study No. 28, 1981

212. Seated Figure Study No. 31, 1981

213. Seated Figure Study No. 30, 1981

Bound in the artists’ book Tristezas/Songs of Sadness;

Yale University Art Gallery


214–215. Standing Figure

No. 3 (Cast AP-II), 1980;

Painted 1992

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas


216–217. Isla Negra Series I

(Cast AP), 1989; Cast 1993;

Patina 2016

218. Catun No. 1 (Cast 4/4),

1986; Cast 2003; Patina 2016


During the 1980s, Neri also began painting the bronze editions of his figures,

which required that he switch from oil or water-based media to enamels — a

medium he had used years earlier on some of his first plaster figures. He approached

metal much as he had approached plaster, treating it as a surface —

not, that is, as a “precious” art material — but here the surface is impermeable,

reflective, the opposite of plaster, which remains an aqueous medium at heart.

As always, Neri wants to test materials, in order to discover how he can use

them to extend his expressive means. A patina may be applied to the bronze

before he paints, giving it a surface tone, and the enamel then lies “on” the

surface like a film or a skin, an effect that Neri may modulate by applying some

of his paint with tools such as whisk brooms or bundled twigs, or by layering

many thin glazes (as with the surface treatment he calls Alborada, layers of white

paint and yellow glaze, which emphasizes surface textures and gesture and

enhances the natural glow of the bronze). Such color can have an effect of

modesty, like a veil draped over the figural “body,” and although the paint does

not produce a “skin color” or “flesh tone,” nor does it disguise the material

personality of metal, it will alter our perception of the figure as a form in space.



219. Seated Woman [Squatting Woman]

(Cast 1/4), 1981; Cast 1982

Private Collection

220. Seated Woman [Squatting Woman]

(Cast 4/4), 1981; Cast 1982

Private Collection

For Neri, paint has its own beauty, and he loves its sensuousness, its fluidity,

every aspect of the application process, all the endless prospects entailed in

mixing, combining, and collocating hues. But it is not an end in itself, nor is Neri

using it to simply counteract common modes of conveying content through the

motif. Color is always asked to press the communicability of the figure in some

way. If his seemingly arbitrary, non-descriptive, or intensely poetic color depersonalizes

the model as the psychological basis of the figure, it utterly personalizes

Neri’s investiture in the form. If he wishes to convey a narrative — and

surely he does — the narrative is his own, with the figure as a document of his

engagement with the model and pose.


Although color is not only a visual experience in Neri’s work — reception

tends to be more fully physical — our visual reflexes will soon be set in motion

by the vacillation between sculptural and painterly seeing. Needless to say,

Neri’s color assures that we never mistake his figures for real human beings, and

yet, because their formal basis is naturalistic, a decidedly human reality comes

forth from them. Or: paint is among the means with which Neri asserts its

sculptural identity as an (art) object whose origins lie in the humanity of both

artist and model and can never be entirely separated from them. All such effects

also tend to destabilize the potential for summary interpretations of figural

meaning. The painted figure enters the world of objects, seeking a place among


221. Seated Woman [Squatting Woman]

(Cast 2/4), 1981; Cast 1982

Private Collection

222. Seated Woman [Squatting Woman]

(Cast 3/4), 1981; Cast 1982

Yale University Art Gallery



us, in our space, where we find that its operations are vividly distinguished from

those of the two-dimensional figure, whose home is on the canvas, in a “space”

fashioned by the painter for its habitation. Neri’s color is never set to the task

of bringing the sculpted figure closer to the circumstances of the narrative


On the other hand, paint has enabled Neri to challenge the compliance with

which we tend to accept the material differences between genres as irreconcilable.

In its ability to overcome the compartmentalizing of genres, his painted

figure, at its most effective, frees itself from its specific past as a medium/genre/

motif and, indeed, its past as an art-historical tradition. Yet the motif belongs to

history, is inextricable from it, and so the painted figure discovers fresh ways of

participating in a free discourse with that past and that tradition, and with the


223–225. Annunciation No. 1 (Cast 3/4), 1982;

Cast 2005; Painted 2006

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC



DURING THE MID-1980S, Neri began building large-scale sculptures based

on the integration of his plaster figures with a materially substantial vertical

ground, a format that evoked the relief carvings and architectural friezes of

antiquity. Although he had done something remarkable, his accomplishment

was not immediately apparent. At that moment, he had been building from

the figure for more than twenty years and was identified with the freestanding

female form. Although the single figures had indeed provided an exemplary

document with which to record Neri’s struggle for self-description and

self-authentication, less obvious at the time was the amount of art-historical

knowledge that flowed into their construction, and the degree to which such

utterly modern forms opened themselves to a nuanced play of these kinds of

associations. The life-sized relief works represented a major advance in both the

application and expansion of these aspects of Neri’s practice, but given the

efficacy of his single standing figures, their clarity, their reliability, and the ease

with which they accommodated his invention, the appearance of large relief

works in plaster seemed sudden, unexpected, digressive, a kind of aside.

Some of the reliefs were exhibited in the late 1980s. As reviews at the time

indicate, they were generally taken at face value, as though Neri had done little

more than place his figure against, and partly absorbed into, fractured, irregularly

226. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Benicia Studio, 1985



227. Arcos de Geso Plaster Maquette XI, 1984

228. Arcos de Geso [La Figura/

Escalieta Study No. 10], 1987

Private Collection


shaped walls: sculpture of imposing presence, yes, but a variation on an otherwise

familiar form. Because Neri made no effort to interpret this work publically,

the relief format gave the impression of being a material rather than thematic

extension of his figural imagination. Its lively, sophisticated play of referential and

inferential indices, so evident to us now, generated little critical excitement, and

because the series were never shown in their entirety at the time they were

made, the ingenuity and sheer breadth of their thematic conjugations remained

hidden. The decade drifted to a close, and the reliefs would not be shown again

for many years.

Our interest now lies precisely with the elements then unapparent: (1) the

intricate, fully realized relationships among the reliefs themselves, carefully

developed within webs of formal and poetic information that drew them from

their isolation as individual entities and onto a ground of familial intimacy; (2)

the fluent conjunction of inter-textual episodes that mark them as a purposeful,

fully unified body of work; (3) the various ways in which the reliefs advanced

and solidified ideas that had been emerging in Neri’s drawings and paintings

during the prior decade; and (4) the underlying relationship between the reliefs

and Neri’s single figures, precisely the field in which we uncover his profound

understanding of the history and the traditions of the sculpted figure, and their

formal absorption into an unequivocally contemporary sculptural language. We

can finally acknowledge the true value of these series to the artist. Not only do

they represent a pinnacle in his career, they are a pinnacle in postwar American

figurative sculpture, and in postwar sculpture generally.

As an architectural format linked by its figural components to Neri’s previous

work and, at the same time, inflected by its various historical affiliations, the

reliefs provided the sculptor with a durable foundation for the release of

immense amounts of personal information into his constructive process. This

in turn would enable him to instate a complete, remarkably rich emotional

environment as the comprehensive effect of the work itself, one that draws on

a past synthesized into, and through, the artist’s own hands, as personalized

narrative material readily available to his use in the present. As the relief series

continued to develop, Neri would begin applying atmospheric color with a level

of refinement well beyond that of his previous work, which led him to an

229. Arcos de Geso [Carrara IV], 1984

Private Collection



230. Arcos de Geso Plaster Maquette IV, 1984

Yale University Art Gallery

231. Arcos de Geso Study No. 4 (Diptych), 1984

Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum


232. Arcos de Geso Study [Amalfi No. 4]

(Diptych), 1984

University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames



233. Arcos de Geso II, 1985–89

Private Collection

234. Arcos de Geso Plaster Maquette V, 1984


235. Mujer Pegada Series No. 1

(Cast 1/4), 1985; Cast 1986

Private Collection


236. Arcos de Geso V, 1985

Yale University Art Gallery

237. Mujer Pegada Series No. 1

(Cast 4/4), 1985; Cast 2005; Patina 2016


238. Mujer Pegada Series No. 1

(Cast AP), 1985; Cast 2005; Painted 2006

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University

unusually poetic mode of figural building, not entirely new to his work, certainly,

yet rarely stated as openly, or with such confidence and depth.

The origins of meaning and sculptural presence in Neri’s work have always

been located in the making process, and in this context, too — the context of

the studio — the relief format was a huge advance. As a physically expansive

structure, its capacity to absorb a tremendous amount of sculptural information

would offer him tremendous potential for formal variability and complexity. Put

simply, the relief enlarged his field — the surfaces available to the mobile,

building hand — by enabling him to weave filaments of personal, cultural, and

historical detail as they passed back and forth over both the sculpted body and

the wall of the relief itself. Neri had done something similar with the single

standing forms, but as full-sized, naturalistic figures that occupy our space, with

us, and “like” us in appearance, they inevitably remind us of ourselves, as the

artist intends. The relief changed all that. It was a different kind of object, and its

habitation of space required more of the viewer, too.

Let us pause to define the scope of the relief project. By the end of the

1980s, the format had coalesced into four series: the bronze Arcos de Geso and

Mujer Pegada, titles that, in these series, refer to casts of the Arcos de Geso

plasters; and the Maha series. Although the expense of production meant that

the bronze editions often required periods of several years or more to complete,

nine of the full-scale plaster reliefs were eventually cast, and these were

either painted by the artist or given a patina at the foundry, recreating them as

unique works. Maquettes accompanying each of the series were also cast and

subject to additional finishes.

While the Mujer Pegada bronzes and the Arcos de Geso plasters can be

regarded as both individually identical forms and parallel series, Neri comes

to each material as a paint ground, and with this in mind, they generate very

different effects. Bronze has an adamant surface, and paint tends to adhere to

it like a skin. Yet the surfaces permit an inventive application of color: patches,

broken layers, paint wiped away to leave networks of color in the surface

abrasions, and glazes. The material nature of metal — its impenetrability and

dull, reflective gleam — can transform the artist’s color handling into a drama

enacted in patterns of texture and shadow, soft-glowing highlights, and solid




239. Omaha No. 5, 1986

Private Collection

240. Omaha No. 4, 1986

Private Collection


shapes. A silver-nitrate patina, a muted, ghostly chalk-white, or the Alborada

patina of white with a yellow glaze, can create an intense, dreamlike silence

around the work, especially in low light. Here the figures might be fugitives from

the subconscious.

Taken together, the relief series yielded an immense outpouring of work.

Each series was preceded and often accompanied by a substantial number of

drawings, many of which refer to specific sculptures. The Arcos de Geso series

proved especially fertile in this respect; in the drawings, Neri considers figural

positioning, posture, and gesture, sometimes from a lateral perspective, or he

studies color possibilities in sculpture already underway. Other drawings —

Omaha No. 4; preparatory studies, Arcos de Geso [La Figura/Escalieta Study No.

11] and Pisano No. 48 (Preparatory Drawing for Arcos de Geso Reliefs); as well as

a large number of untitled sheets — investigate the figure in a position against,

close to, or partly subsumed in the relief plane, typically utilizing a language of

evocative color.


241. Omaha No. 1, 1986

Private Collection

242. Omaha No. 8, 1986

Private Collection

243. Omaha No. 3, 1986

Private Collection



244. Pisano No. 48 (Preparatory Drawing

for Arcos de Geso Reliefs), 1982

Private Collection

245. Arcos de Geso [La Figura/Escalieta Study No. 11], 1987

Private Collection


246. Arcos de Geso Plaster Maquette XII, 1984

Private Collection

247. Arcos de Geso Plaster Maquette X, 1984

Private Collection


248. Arcos de Geso Plaster Maquette VII, 1984

The relief series included a number of maquettes, including three sets of

Maha maquettes. One group, done in 1986 and comprised of ten plasters

roughly twenty inches in height, is typified by a rectangular relief shape and it

extends the format of the earlier Mujer Pegada maquettes. The second, eleven

stoneware pieces of similar size, was done the same year, during Neri’s residency

at the Bemis Project in Omaha; these tend to be irregularly shaped, like broken

walls, while the figures, almost notational, molded in flurries of thumbprints and

indentations, lie outside literal resemblance. They share a kind of ritual urgency

with some of their predecessors among the Mujer Pegada maquettes, evoking

an archaism emphasized by their earthen surfaces and subdued glazes. The third

includes the bronze Maha maquettes, cast from the ceramic and stoneware





249. Ree Schonlau, Photographer

Bemis Project, Omaha, Nebraska, 1986

250. Maha – Ceramic Relief I, 1986;

Re-worked 2010

Racine Art Museum

251. Maha – Ceramic Relief II, 1986;

Re-worked 2010

Racine Art Museum


252. Maha – Ceramic Relief III, 1986;

Re-worked 2010

Racine Art Museum

253. Maha – Ceramic Relief IV, 1986;

Re-worked 2010

Racine Art Museum


While he was at Bemis Project, Neri also built six larger Maha stoneware

sculptures, each approximately forty-eight inches in height. Although they

resemble the life-sized works, at three-quarter scale their articulation of the

relationship between parts has particular clarity. Three are still intact. These have

been cast, and uniquely painted by the artist. Indeed, many exceptional examples

of Neri’s use of bronze as a paint ground are to be found among works of

this period: a further selection would include Mujer Pegada Series No. 3 (Cast

2/4), Mujer Pegada Series No. 4 (Cast 3/4), or Arcos de Geso (Cast 4/4). In many

of them, Neri applied color in processes of addition and removal, often exposing

areas of metal below and creating intricate surface textures. A coloristic

atmosphere of age and use emanates from the lacework of incisions, the carved

lines and irregular surfaces, marked by broken, fragmented, overlapping, and

non-local hues that survive in unexpected pockets, patterns, and combinations —

such surfaces have the appearance of old walls, the beauty of seemingly random

episodes of color and texture, a cooperative handiwork of time and weather

and human encounter.


254. Maha – Bronze Relief No. 1

(Cast 2/4), 1986; Cast 2006

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art,

University of California, Davis

255. Maha – Bronze Relief No. 5

(Cast 1/4), 1986; Cast 2006

Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum

256. Maha – Bronze Relief No. 6

(Cast 2/4), 1986; Cast 2006

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art,

University of California, Davis




257. Relief Study No. 15, 1983

Private Collection

258. Mujer Pegada Study [Gustavo No. 11], 1985


259. Maha Study – Carrara I, 1984

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art,

University of California, Davis

260–261. Mujer Pegada Series No. 5

(Cast 1/4), 1985; Cast 2005



262. Arcos de Geso Plaster Maquette XIII,


Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas

263. Arcos de Geso [La Figura/

Isla Negra Study No. 9], 1987

Private Collection


264. Arcos de Geso (Diptych) (Cast 4/4),

1985; Cast 2005; Painted 2006




The plasters were painted, too, though not in the same way. The Arcos de

Geso series is, for example, an early instance of Neri’s use of dried pigments

mixed into the wet material during construction, a technique that permits the

ephemeral volumes of Arcos de Geso VI and Arcos de Geso X.

Although a general history of the sculpted figure had always been crucial to

Neri’s sense of the form and its operations — the ubiquity of the upright pose

means that his standing figures will naturally seek some level of contact with

this past — his interest in art-historical form normally arises from a direct

response to individual moments or instances in which he has discovered an

affinity, a specific facet or detail to which he finds himself responsive. They are

not arbitrary. Neri’s interest, always, is located in those sculptural moments that

continue to communicate humanness, a connectivity with the contemporary

present, those properties of gesture and form in which we continue to recognize

ourselves, a sculpturally embodied humanity that reaches across and collapses


Once Neri has assimilated a form — absorbing it into his hands, initially

through his drawing practice — it will eventually find its way into his building

process, though its appearance is idiomatic and not always immediately apparent.

It has the flow of speech. But Neri never incorporates historical information as

a way of supporting some conceptualization of the figure, or as quotation: as,

that is, an associative form affixed to the work for the purpose of bulking out

its thematic substances. Neri may not care particularly if its appearance can be

identified by the viewer. It is information now, distilled into his own idiomatic

naturalism as a way of looking at, thinking about, or expressing human gesture

that, apart from its other sculptural functions, bears the energy of its human

address in, or into, the present.

Neri knows, of course, that the cultural memory of the viewer may intercept

an embedded historicized form — that referents will be felt bodily, however

altered or personalized by the artist — but he has made a virtue of this situation

by refusing to treat it as a problem. The history of the figure is such that a

comprehensive “originality” might not even be possible. For Neri, “originality”

tends to reach in the direction of “origins,” not toward novelty as such. Or we

might say that when he took up the figure, Neri did not go in search of the past,


265. Relief Study No. 3, 1983

Bound in the artists’ book Ode to a Beautiful Nude;

Private Collection

266. Arcos de Geso X, 1985

Yale University Art Gallery


267. Relief Study No. 1, 1983

Bound in the artists’ book Ode to a Beautiful Nude;

Private Collection

268. Buddha No. 8, 1984

Private Collection


269. Mary Julia, 1973

Yale University Art Gallery

but neither, as it turned out, could he entirely elude it. The form inhabits tradition,

and is inhabited by it. This is a fact for him. Through his own repetition of

address, tradition takes a place among his visual resources, which allows him to

turn his imagination in any direction he chooses, toward historical motifs as near

to him in time as Degas, Matisse, Giacometti, Marini, Manzù, or Aristide Maillol,

and as distant as the Etruscans and the Egyptian dynasties — as well as from

his own past, the early plasters in which he tested the use of props, multiple

figures, and environmental configurations, works such as Seated Girl II (Bather)

(1963). As Neri knows, there are figural continuities that have never ceased to

attract the interest of sculptors; and once again, internalization of form allows

him to examine experientially the ways in which a figural past can cooperate

with the contemporary form and at the same time, it is a way of insuring that

references enter his building process without overwhelming or interrupting the

sculptural entity as a (figurative) whole. Invested meaning ultimately comes

from the present, and speaks of present needs and desires.

Intimations of the relief form would appear in Neri’s work at least as early

as 1976, in the Emborados series, eighteen drawings absorbed in pictorial issues

to which he would give more exhaustive attention in the sculptural walls. The

Emborados drawings take up, in a direct way, the peculiar kinds of ambiguities

that arise from collisions between spatial representation and its depictive evocations.

At first glance, they might be field-based abstractions, compositions

based on combinations of blocky forms rendered in delicate, transparent

watercolor and areas of textured color in pastel, raw pigment, and charcoal. In

fact, they emerge from Neri’s long interest in the ancient architectural sites of

Mexico and other parts of South America, and their imagery is based on old

walls in the towns and villages there. In actuality, then, the Emborados series

approaches literal depiction. As a representation of intricate, visually intriguing

surfaces, Neri’s broken, irregular, overlapping forms, as well as his patterns,

textures, and colors, transform their visual source into sign. It now seems but a

short step from the Emborados series to the relief walls, and another to the

addition of figures.

Although we can distinguish conceptually between the implied spaces

created by open, spacious surfaces (those of the world) and surfaces whose


spatial tropes are intentional and controlled (those of art), in practice, both can

be and often are read in much the same way by the perceptual imagination.

With the Emborados series, Neri attempts to undo such familiar spatial distinctions

by failing to disclose the basis of the imagery: if they are seen solely as

artworks, the drawings point toward a well-trodden path of interpretation that,

in actuality, bears no connection to their actual genesis. It is an ambiguity that

wants to counteract critical assumptions regarding the nature of the image as

readily apprehensible.

270. Emborados Series XV (Diptych), 1976

Private Collection



271. Mary Julia – Side I, 2001

272. Arcos de Geso VII, 1985


Neri does something similar in the relief sculptures. These sculptural “walls”

never insist on an explicit meaning or affiliation, or on any reliable cluster of

references. Nor do the titles provide descriptive information that might locate

their origins as spaces or sites, or even the artist’s intended effect. At full scale,

their material nature is specific and concrete, and as ostensible “backgrounds”

to the figures, their very materiality asserts the ambiguity of their relationship

to the figure, spatial or otherwise. Many of the walls from the Arcos de Geso

series are marked by an elegant embroidery of linear incisions, as well as intricate

patterns of inscriptions, fissures, indentations, breaks, splatters, buttons,

depressions, hairline cracks, and the “ghosts” of figures: thus Neri activates and


273. Relief Study No. 11, 1983

274. Relief Study No. 12, 1983


275–276. Mujer Pegada Series No. 3 (Cast 2/4),

1985; Cast 2006

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University


enlivens the sculptural surfaces in ways that recall his drawings, and yet, as solid

surfaces from which the figures advance physically into our space, their function

is not so obvious. With the addition of non-descriptive, often lyrical color —

color that speaks on behalf of the artist, autobiographically, and, at the same

time, stimulates the viewer’s imagination — the relief here seizes a broad terrain

of emotional and/or psychological expressivity.

The Arcos de Geso sculptures are distinguished thematically by the presence

of the figure, which occupies (our) space at life size and in three dimensions, a

figure whose unmistakable human appeal is excited rather than inhibited by the

addition of poetic color. Still, the Emborados series drawings do not simply

recede from view at this point. When the figure enters drawings of the same

period and family, Neri tends to treat drawn space very much as he treated the

spatial wall in the Emborados series — as, that is, readily available to color, but

nonspecific and free of narrative detail. Almost any pictorial setting, however

“nonrepresentational,” launches a response that differs from our sense of

the solitary figure as a formal vehicle whose gestures bear particular kinds of

narrative content. What is this “place” in which the figure finds itself? Why is

the figure there? From this perspective, the relief form entails much risk for a

contemporary artist, for it necessarily bears traditions of use, meaning, and

association, ancient as well as modern, civic as well as religious.

Because the imagery of the Emborados drawings is not perceived in terms

of mass, it performs spatially as a matter of course, but, once again, the slippage

that occurs around its representational “identity” does not transfer to the relief.

Here, mass tends to be perceived as literal, and cannot guarantee a similar kind

of reading, even when Neri uses paint to subdue some of its strongest material

effects. The relief is a (literal) wall of signs, but rather than denoting spatiality, it

displaces (real) space physically and encloses the figure within its assertion of

mass. The wall will continue to exert at least some domination over the figure,

and because its materiality resists the spatial readings that come so readily to

drawing, we cannot quickly grasp the nature of the exchange between the

physical and spatial identities of the wall, or between the wall and the figure

contained by it. Figure and relief can never be completely separated, must

forever coexist, wedded in a kind of eternal unity. 277. Mary Julia, 1999


278. Arcos de Geso [Pisano No. 53], 1982;

Re-worked 1984

Neri was aware, of course, that the relief walls would ultimately resist spatial

readings, even when a relationship with drawing was implied by the proportions

of the “flat” surface around the figure. We might say that the relief wall no

longer signifies the spatial as such, but instead implements the withdrawal of the

dedicated notational spaces of drawing and painting: it forces the work to first

perform sculpturally. Its relationship with the figure is unitary, and if the wall

confers meanings on the figure, so, too, does the figure confer meanings on it.

Yet the relief, as a ground for the figure, tends to problematize this exchange

by materially absorbing potential meanings related to the presence of the figure

as a figure, and as it does so, it begins to expand the figure’s physical and

conceptual fields.

Such issues do not arise among the single standing figures, which necessarily

enter our own space as figures, and when they do, they behave in ways readily

comprehensible to us. As a figural environment, the relief mass imparts the

impermeability of surface, opacity, and obstructive scale, and even flatness

cannot simply be accepted as a trait somehow required by the figure as a

source or explanation of meaning. It is for this reason that Neri refrains from

further literalizing the already literal wall. He does not build the “wall” from

brick, which would overly determine interpretation, nor does he add other

architectural features.

To the extent that the wall can be perceived as a “background” to the figures,

it may of course imply certain common forms of presentation, but even though

it provides a perfectly viable structural solution to the real difficulties posed by

the combination of material and scale, it is not truly architectural. Its proportions

bring to mind a stage, as well, which gives the relief form a certain theatricality

that the figures, in spite of their apparent indifference to the performative

nature of the tableau, never quite contradict, but this is probably built into the

history of the relief. When we encounter a single figure, we are free to circle it,

to interrogate its human affiliations from our own sense of self; the relief, on

the other hand, insists that we position ourselves before it, that we study it from

a perspective established by the artist, and because we must account somehow

for the wall, our response to the figure as a figure is bound to proceed along

different lines.



279. Arcos de Geso III (Detail), 1985

Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum

280. Recuerdo Benicia No. 8, 1993

Private Collection


281. Arcos de Geso I (Diptych), 1985

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas


282. Arcos de Geso Study [Rock No. 48], 1984

283. Arcos de Geso Study [Rock No. 47], 1984

Still, the wall does carry out a number of duties. It is: (1) a material analog

to the drawing sheet; (2) a contained, internally integrated structural field that

simultaneously contains and isolates the figures, cloaking them in a mysterious

atmosphere of hiddenness or interiority; (3) an enclosure that shelters the

figures from the surrounding world; (4) a barrier that prohibits us from seeing

“beyond” the figure, whether literally or as interpretation; and (5) a framing

device that reorients the figure as a presentational form. Similarly, associations


generated by the relief as a historical genre establish affiliations with (human)

time, including its numerous connections to art history and the uses to which

the sculptural figure has been submitted in many different periods, cultures, and

locations. We soon discover, too, that these networks of association and connection

are cooperative. None struggles for dominion, and as they seek each

other, we have difficulty extricating them, one from another, as discrete


Thus Neri uses the relief to shift the figure from the communicative

(freestanding and humanized in open, variable settings) to the dramatic (the

historicized genre that situates the form in a controlled setting). Although the

dramatic can easily resolve in the direction of artifice, Neri resists this movement,

which further explains why he never added details or props to the wall as a

way of setting a stage. By treating the wall as a sculptural entity integrated with

the figure and susceptible to his gestures as a builder, Neri’s strict management

of visual features yields a closed frame of the privately significant and personally

symbolic. As effect, this heightens the atmosphere of (personal) ritual as an

aspect of the (his) sculpted figure: the relief is a vehicle with which the artist

ritualizes, dramatizes, and symbolizes his autobiographical, self-descriptive drives

in a manner that is more distinctly presentational than the single figure.

Neri’s decision to work with the relief may also be connected to stone

sculptures that he began in 1983, full-sized figures partially submerged in, or

appearing to emerge and assume form from the material itself. These had in

fact started earlier that year as a sequence of nine maquettes that Neri called

the Mujer Pegada series, each a small plaster figure set against a plywood wall.

These were shipped to the artist’s studio in Carrara and provided the formal

basis for his subsequent Mujer Pegada marbles, which cannot really be called

wall or relief works in the fullest sense, not as Neri would develop the format

in the large plaster Arcos de Geso reliefs of 1985 and after. The remnant

material that constitutes the figural “walls” does not have nearly the same

sculptural prominence, and in any case it points toward different inquiries

around form and material. Nonetheless, the Mujer Pegada marbles are sufficiently

companionable with the relief to suggest a significant role in Neri’s

subsequent expansion of the wall form in plaster.


284–286. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Benicia Studio, 1988





287. Mujer Pegada – Maquette for Marble Relief I, 1983

Yale University Art Gallery

288. Mujer Pegada – Maquette for Marble Relief II, 1983

Yale University Art Gallery

289. Mujer Pegada – Maquette for Marble Relief III, 1983

Yale University Art Gallery


290. Mujer Pegada – Maquette for Marble Relief V, 1983

Yale University Art Gallery

291. Mujer Pegada – Maquette for Marble Relief VI, 1983

Yale University Art Gallery

292. Mujer Pegada – Maquette for Marble Relief VII, 1983

Yale University Art Gallery


293. Mujer Pegada – Maquette for Marble Relief VIII, 1983

Yale University Art Gallery

294. Mujer Pegada – Maquette for Marble Relief IX, 1983

Yale University Art Gallery



295. Mujer Pegada – Maquette for

Marble Relief IV, 1983

Yale University Art Gallery

296. Mujer Pegada No. 4, 1985

San Francisco International Airport


297. Mujer Pegada No. 8, 1985;

Re-worked 2012

Private Collection


At that point in the 1980s, he was giving a great deal of thought to the nature

of stone — its unique properties, as well as the ease with which material and

form combined to evoke prior modes of figural sculpture as a valuable site,

securely lodged in cultural memory. In essence, the stone carvings blur the

figure/ground relationship, and in this sense, are crucial to Neri’s transition from

the single figure to the relief. Modernism had challenged the idea that figure

and ground are intrinsic to the production of art; this was an especially important

issue for painting, as figure and ground became a site of struggle against

perspective, the pseudo-science of representation that had satisfied the

rationalist instincts of Western culture in art since the Renaissance. Though

sculpture would not be exempt from these same questions, they were never

entirely settled for the figurative sculptor, nor could they be, for the presence

of a ground of some kind — even real space — is inevitable.

Neri’s devotion to the single figure tells us that his understanding of ground

was defined largely by his own experience as a body moving through the

spaces of the physical world, and as a body engaged in the interconnected

procedures entailed in perceiving, looking, touching, learning, thinking, and making.

The figure/ground relationship had never been unduly troublesome among the

standing figures, insofar as it was conceived in terms of sensible, empirically

verifiable distinctions as clear as up and down, here and there, this and that.

Neri’s work in marble, in which ground was inseparable from the figural body

as a loosely columnar, affiliate shape, would agitate against old sculptural

certainties as partial figure and rough stone vied for the viewer’s interest, with

the result that the surrounding space could no longer be regarded as ambient

or neutral, as if simply awaiting the arrival of the sculpture into its precincts.

Among the Mujer Pegada marbles, there are instances in which Neri abbreviates

the figure to the point that it truly blends into the stone. He then takes

another step, chiseling sheets of texture that erode lingering demarcations

between material and form to the point that a conventional figure/ground

relationship ceases to exist. The figure is now inextricable from its formal

integration with the slab — it is a presence — and our perception shifts from

the familiar, generally secure procedures of looking to a reliance on a more

intuitive kind of perception. This figure passes into the relief sculptures, where



it will become most apparent among the double figures and silhouettes. It is the

form that appears alongside the sculpted figure on Arcos de Geso II and Arcos

de Geso VI. It also inhabits some of the Maha – Bronze Relief maquettes, where

the “second” figure is either a silhouette — a rough sort of bas-relief related to

the contour in Neri’s drawings, raised slightly from the relief surface but essentially

flat — or a fragmented form that scatters and dissolves as it descends

along the relief surface from head to ledge.

Even when the figures seem to come forward from the relief wall to enter

our space, and our world, the relief in its entirety continues to fulfill its formal

identity as a figure or figures on flat surfaces proportionately consistent with

those of Neri’s common modes of drawing, and indeed, such explicit sculptural

references to the figural occupation of the drawing sheet would seem to

confirm that he is assembling a legible relationship between otherwise dissimilar

mediums. Although the figure and wall are collaborative, and advance the

inherently sculptural issues of visibility, accessibility, and display, their material

unity proposes ambiguities, as well. Neri does not simply “place” the figure, or

join it “to” the wall, and while the volumetric extension of figure from surface

is spatial, the figure belongs to the wall as completely as it belongs to real


The contour line, where the “edge” of the figure meets the wall, rarely

articulates the figure/ground relationship with the clarity of the artist’s drawings.

The line of contact can be more like a smear of material uncertainty. Because

Neri never quite defines its exact nature as a boundary or even as a transitional

zone, the line refuses to provide an outright explanation of its duties, or to

actualize an explicit role of its own with either the figure or the relief surface;

figure and wall are neither exactly one object, nor explicitly two. While the basis

of formal connectivity is, once again, material and literal, its literality is simultaneously

disallowed as the interpretive basis for a formal relationship. Just the

opposite — everything is implication and suggestion.

When the reliefs are inscribed in ways that evoke the artist’s drawings, they

maintain a body of recognizable signage that we can link to the drawings, as

Neri’s visual grammar slides back and forth between mediums. A fundamental

identity will hold, and in this sense, Neri’s handling of the relief as a surface is a

point of junction with the larger body of his work, affirming the relief as

an extension of (rather than a digression from) his need for self-telling, the

ambition to depict autobiographical content that is by nature incorporative,

self-descriptive, and non-narrative, an outpouring of personal detail. In sculpture

and drawing alike, the figure remains the constant.

At a scale close to one of Neri’s common drawing formats, the sculptural

maquettes seem especially keen to dwell on the exchange between mediums.

Their rough, handmade quality, whether in ceramic, stoneware, or cast in bronze,

and apparent in Maha – Ceramic Maquette I, seeks the speed and direct

contact we associate with drawing, and as a result, the smaller figures have a

beguiling individuality, a quality of personality that emerges in contrast with the

rhythmic textures of the relief surfaces. Although the maquettes lack the bodily

presence of the full-size sculptures, they do display Neri’s translational activities

at the level of process, as he explores the intimate permeability of texture and

form (in a way that the larger sculptures do not) as a readily apprehensible

unification of figure and ground. The low-keyed glazes and earthen character of

the stoneware maquettes clearly support this effort, as do the plaster surfaces

left bare to enforce an association with paper. Additive color can be a factor in

the relief sculpture at this scale, but it is a limited one. Neri focuses instead on

discovering more about the operation of the figure in this format. In Arcos de

Geso Plaster Maquette IX, for example, he positions two kinds of figures — a

frontal and a lateral — into a simultaneously formal and inferential relationship,

a configuration he never duplicated at full size. The smaller works answered his

inquiries satisfactorily.

In some instances, differentiations are created by formal and textural dissimilarities

between the figure and the relief structure. Although the depth of the

relief may shift from bottom to top behind the figure, the most common

distinctions between figure and ground are textural. When the textures differ

in perceptible ways, the figure seems to advance from the wall in a vivid spatial

effect. Color or the reduction of figural volume introduces other effects, sometimes

blending figure and wall by lessening sensations of figural dimensionality.

When Neri uses similar or related textures on both, tightening the proximity

of figure and ground, the maquette clearly recalls his drawn figure.


298. Mujer Pegada No. 7, 1996

Private Collection

299. Maha – Ceramic Maquette I, 1986

Private Collection



300. Relief Study No. 9, 1983

301. Arcos de Geso Plaster Maquette IX, 1984


302. Carrara No. 5, 1984

303. Carrara No. 6, 1984

Private Collection


All such techniques can be transferred to the format at life size, but the

maquette scale is more sensitive to nuances of material handling. In both stoneware

and bronze, the smaller size soon exposes the way in which an alteration

to any single aspect of form affects all others, a tendency that reinforces the

logic behind Neri’s limited palette: earth-based pigments give a uniformity to

the surface textures, which, in conjunction with scale, means that the entire

work can be perceived quickly, an effect that tightens its various internal relationships,

while the surfaces, which retain the sandy texture of the clay, tend to

unify our perception of light and shadow, weight and density, and by extension,

our sense of formal organization. Needless to say, the stoneware maquettes

also give high value to their elemental material personality and its association

with archaic sculpture.

Among the freestanding figures, gesture is typically ordered around a length

of rebar that replicates the human spine as its central structural component,

and as an aspect of the form crucial to expressivity of gesture. This is a standard

solution to the material necessities of construction in plaster, but at the same

time, it connects Neri’s single figures to the history of naturalistic sculpture, all

those figures for which the spine is the organizing principle in the handling of

communicative form. Once the architectonic function of the spine has been

transferred to the relief wall, figural gesture begins to seek other modes of

projection. Although the figure never surrenders its naturalism, neither can it

ignore the encroachment of the wall as a form. That Neri immediately grasped

the sculptural implications of this shift is evidenced by the degree of figural

mobilization among the maquettes. Wherever he places the figures, their

upright posture accepts and accommodates the actual presence of the wall, and

a unique perspective is brought into being by the figure-as-axis, characterized

in part by the ability of the wall to defeat the kinds of spatial depths that settle

so easily around the single standing figure, or around the drawn figure.

Still, the dimensions of the relief surface cannot quite release their association

with the artist’s drawings, and so the comparison needs further adjustment.

Because Neri’s drawing fields tend to be nonspecific, we naturally see them as

spatial, while the relief surfaces, objects of physical mass, will not permit an

identical response. Depth fails to conform to the familiar logic of pictorial


304. Pisano No. 17 (Preparatory Drawing

for Arcos de Geso Reliefs), 1982

Private Collection

perspective, and should be recognized as something other than “space,” and

other than, or more than, a visual geometry based on width, breadth, and depth.

The inscriptive nature of the surface, as Neri uses it, also argues that the relief

be regarded as a linguistic format whose decoding must be undertaken through

our participation in the artist’s formal language. When two figures appear conjunctively,

either in the maquettes or the full-sized reliefs, the absence of explicit

narrative between them can be disconcerting. If the material field unites them

metaphorically, they are nonetheless depicted as separate, isolated, self-enclosed.

Each may wish simply to be regarded in terms of a specific kind of occupation

of sculptural space, or as a kind of submerged narrative that wishes to return

us to a realm of dream in which many stories now become possible.

Lastly, even when the proportions of many of the Mujer Pegada, Maha and

Arcos de Geso reliefs echo those of the drawings, the full-sized sculptural reliefs

disable direct correspondence. The reliefs are sculpture, unequivocally. Neri

inscribes their surfaces with marks that may recollect those of his drawing fields,

thus suggesting the potential for a spatial dimension, and for a translation across

mediums, yet the marks do not overcome the materiality of the relief itself.

This situation recalls an earlier question: can the sculptural object ever reenact

the mark-based evocation of an internal spatiality that comes so effortlessly in

drawing? Perhaps Neri believed initially that it could, and if this belief informed

his drive to test the sculptural relief as an environment for the figure, one that

might also have the effect of separating it from an uncontrollable world beyond

its borders — only to discover the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of achieving

this type of space in plaster or bronze.

Consequently, while the relief form provides the figure with a domain of

sorts, a habitat related to and yet separate from its structural function as a

ground, it lacks roominess, the felt sensation of a depth that envelops the figure

in a field we perceive as spatially related to and coextensive with our own.

Neri’s deployment of sculptural marks can certainly animate the surface, but

the material alters the nature of the mark, as it must, transforming to one

degree or another its role as a signifier. At full size, the reliefs are monumental

enough to maintain the idea that they also be seen as enclosures, contained

environments that preserve the figure within.


Here, then, the sculptural surfaces at last surrender the lingering tokens of

depictive space. Flatness, as well as mass, opacity, imperviousness, and weight,

are now submitted to the organization of the relief as a form metaphorically

descriptive of a condition that concerns the figure. Neri has indisputably created

a unique kind of environment for it, and in doing so, a unique kind of figure

belonging to that site. We find ourselves asking once again: should the wall be

properly regarded as a ground, or as a background, or as an environment, or as

form only, privately inscribed and referential? Or is it all of these things, and

more? The figure, caught between the freedom of emergence from the wall

and submersion into the material that continues to hold it in place, gives a

powerful impression of striving to articulate layers of meaning unavailable to

the freestanding form alone.

305. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Tyler Street Studio, 2006



The standing figures of the 1970s openly admit Neri’s obsessions with the

act and processes of building, with (re)making the body at his own scale. He

was invested in the physical demands entailed in making a certain kind of naturalistic

figure in plaster, and among the single figures, physical empathy between

the viewer and the sculpted human form provided an imaginative field in which

to consider questions related to the gestures of the figure and the artist alike.


306–307. Standing Figure I, 1982

308–309. Standing Figure No. 6, 1978

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas



310–311. Arcos de Geso XI, 1985

University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames


The relief format stood differently, in a different relationship with the viewer,

while the wall enabled Neri to integrate a rich vocabulary of mark and allusion

into the work. For that very reason, the relief continues to raise a question of

crucial significance to the artist: at a time when the nature of the human, as

it has been understood at least since the Renaissance, is under duress, can

figurative sculpture sustain a meaningful interrogation of selfhood, human

purpose and fulfillment, individuality of spirit? Will inscriptions from the past

assist him in his undertaking, or do they rebut the demands of modernity? Even

before the Renaissance, those were among the questions that contributed to

the development of a sculpted figure still familiar to us historically. Such questions

still cling to the naturalistic figure, and remain all but unavoidable here.

Once Neri began loosening received definitions related to sculptural formats

and genres — definitions contained and stabilized by the procedures of art

history — he scrambled some of the very signifiers that might have guided us

through his intention for these works, a strategy that tells us once again how

explicitly his thematic concerns remain bound to the currency of the contemporary

art world. The figure, again, is the constant, and as it continues to

confront the communicable possibilities of the modern form, his visual ideas

cross one another like filaments within the material body of the reliefs, the

tracings of intrinsically synthetic imagination. When these ideas draw upon the

art-historical, they assume features so deeply settled in a form that we find

ourselves ranging over references without alighting for long on any single one.

We may be barely aware of them, or they may startle us like a suddenly

remembered scrap of a dream. To some extent, Neri’s recovery of visual forms

— his own as well as those of art-historical origin — represents an act of

remembrance, of rescue, resurrection, renewal, preservation — even of liberation,

as they burst upon the present — not as reminders of what was but as

embodied elements whose vitality refers to that which is most durable in the

nature and construction of our humanness.

312. Mary Julia Standing VII, 2009





DURING THE LATE 1950S, Manuel Neri began making life-sized plaster

heads. His preoccupation with the sculpted figure was comprehensive and, we

might say, devotional. For him — as for Marini and Giacometti — the head

represented an important precedent form, and as such, it asked for his consideration.

He knew the work of his predecessors, and wanted to learn for himself,

in the studio, with his own hands, what they had gleaned from this ancient motif.

The production of heads paused in the early 1970s, when Neri turned his full

attention to the standing figure after he began working with the same model

on a regular basis; although he did at least a few heads based on her features,

clearly they are digressions from their other work together. But Neri is restless,

compulsively so, and he returned to the head in the early 1980s, undertaking a

sequence of portraits in plaster, bronze and marble based on a Japanese artist

he had met in Carrara.

Those thirty-two heads, a unified group known as Makiko, occupied Neri off

and on for the next fifteen years. For us, their often luminous surfaces and

barely audible features — at times, the hint of features — may be more likely

to call to mind the Sleeping Muse (1909–10) of Brancusi than Marini’s gruff,

heavily-worked heads, but neither comparison is adequate to Neri’s achievement.

The Makiko heads advance an array of the artist’s ongoing interests,

313. Joanne Leonard, Photographer

Benicia studio, 1972



including the evocative nature of his materials and how they can be inflected

by handling, particularly when his constructive techniques move against art-historical

convention — in this case the application of non-descriptive color on

materials as characterful as stone and metal. And Neri is concerned, as always,

with the communicative capacity of the partial form, advanced through the felt

effects of scale, proportion, and nuanced formal distortion.

The Makiko heads are portraiture, though resemblance, to speak in a general

way, is really Neri’s starting point. When he resumed his use of the head in the

1980s, he faced the challenge of investing his mature sculptural concerns in a

motif whose formal self-containment would continue, once again, to resist his

experience and technical facility — as much a virtue for Neri as it was for

Giacometti before him.

Amid the wildly divergent forms of sculptural redefinition in the postwar era,

the portrait head — like the sculpted female nude — never quite surrendered

its old historical and cultural associations. Because such forms will always

maintain their identities as forms, they offer stability to the artist sympathetic

to them, a condition that inflects the work of both Marini and Neri. In the

atmosphere of anxiety, crisis, and enforced change that typifies modern art,

their indifference to self-conscious reinvention or transformation of this basic

sculptural format seems almost radical. At the same time, the head makes few

concessions to art’s familiar advocacy and marketplace systems, and so the

common modes of modern critique fail to provide satisfactory explanations for

its contemporary use — another situation that has affected both Marini and

Neri. Past and present converge in the portrait head, often in unpredictable

ways, and it is on this ground that we come to their work.

Marini’s portraits — unlike those of Giacometti — are unequivocal sculptural

and/or figural masses, and he can embed his own humanity in the heads

because he maintains a steadfast belief in art’s principles and their foundation

in human experience. He finds no salvation in an outright rejection of tradition.

Innovation and novelty do not necessarily coincide. Mastery is important.

The sculptural head was not excluded from the early campaigns of visual

modernism. By Giacometti’s time, some entirely new questions were gathering

around the head. As a motif, the portrait head was so referential, so evidently

itself, and so stable that it could easily become as much an illustration of the

formal advances of modernity as it was a revelation of them. Its very stability

seemed to assist in codifying the uses to which it was put: when it was applied

to the head, style had a way of appearing deliberate or self-conscious. Did this

mean that the portrait head should simply be jettisoned from the repertoire

of available forms, as a mode that refused to comply with the goals of modernity?

Had it passed into obsolescence in this respect? Or could it still be transformed,

in ways that had not yet been achieved by any modern sculptor?

In the late 1950s, the sculptural head was, for Neri, a natural aspect of

his work with the figure. The head had no presence in progressive American

art during those years, and its very irrelevance was among its appeals. He could

do with it as he wished, and as a form, it suited his needs — it was small,

self-contained, required only a simple armature, and was accessible to building

with plaster. A head could be produced quickly, as well, revealing the success or

failure of the ideas brought to it without the preparation and labor entailed in

a full figure, and it accepted paint, as an element of sculptural making that had

emerged in congruence with Neri’s other figural practices.

The portrait head entered Neri’s repertoire around 1958, and he built many

of them over the next twelve or fourteen years. How many is unclear. They

were dispersed almost as quickly as they were made. Nonetheless, the documented

heads of this period show that Neri was alert to many of the formal and

communicative issues he would continue to explore for the rest of his career.

Portrait Series I (1959) is a larger than life-size male head that depicts one of

the denizens of the North Beach bars and coffee houses in those days. It is

vividly painted, and as a personality, it is characterized by its sleepy eyes and

bulbous red drinker’s nose, and by its enameled black hair, glistening as though

with fresh brilliantine. The surface marks call to mind the wide, wiry, textured

brushstrokes of Bay Area figurative painting, but Neri also removed patches of

color, exposing the white plaster beneath and highlighting particular areas of

the form — in effect, pushing the nose forward, toward even further protuberance

— an integration of color and sculptural material advanced in combination

with the freedom of his additive and reductive methods, submitted to a quest

for full expressivity of form.


314. Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957)

Muse endormie I [Sleeping Muse I], 1909–10

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden,

Smithsonian Institution

315. Makiko IV, 1980

316. Portrait Series I, 1959

Private Collection


317–318 . Mi China, 1969;

Re-worked 1974

Private Collection


The bulging, pinkish nose returns in Mi China (1969; re-worked 1974), but

nothing else suggests that this head was made from the same subject: although

spots of color and tone occur elsewhere on the head, the features are indistinct

or eliminated altogether. In Neri’s hands, it is a true partial, a figural fragment

that wants to discover the point at which minimal means and maximal expressive

effect coincide, another question that has haunted much of his subsequent


But let us return for a moment to Portrait Series I, and some of the other

heads of the same period — Dr. Zonk (1958) and the Head of Joan Brown

(1959), in which the use of dark pencil lines on white plaster evokes a kind of

three-dimensional drawing. Their hewn features bring to mind the imagery of

319–321. Dr. Zonk, 1958

Private Collection


322–323. Head of Joan Brown, 1959

Private Collection


324. David Park (1911–1960)

Couple, 1959

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

325. Plaster Mask I, 1960

Private Collection


326. Plaster Mask III, 1960

Private Collection


the Bay Area figurative painters, David Park especially, and indeed the early

heads rise out of the milieu in which Neri worked at this time. Neri assimilates

the flat, masklike appearance of the painted faces, as he assimilates visual ideas

from many sources, in order to see how they perform in space.

Once Neri shifted his attention to the standing figure in the early 1970s, he

began to eliminate facial expression altogether. The faces of those works really

are closed off and largely without features, demanding that Neri locate his

communicative information in the unified gestures of the figural form in its

entirety. For Neri himself, the gestures of the body are more authentic than the

expressions of the face, which can be manipulated easily by subject and artist




327. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Head of Father (Mask), c. 1927–29

Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris

328. Untitled Male Head, 1958

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

With that said, Neri’s early work with the head readily conveys his pleasure

in the processes of making as well as his delight at discovering his ability to

construct persuasive forms with motifs from the great figurative tradition. And

the tradition is on his mind as he begins moving decisively away from local ideas

in, say, Untitled Male Head (1958), whose mild color fields and incised features

recall Giacometti’s techniques in several of the portraits of his father, or Male

Head No. 4 (1969; re-worked 1974), another instance in which direct, minimal

means, scraped, hewn surfaces, and color tints bring forth a mood that feels

complete in itself.


329–330. Male Head No. 4, 1969;

Re-worked 1974

Private Collection


331–332. Markos, 1958; Re-worked 1963

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


The most striking portraiture of this period, however, is a series of heads of

the sculptor Mark di Suvero. He and Neri shared a studio under the Caffè

Trieste in North Beach and occasionally worked together on sculptural projects,

but familiarity may have less of a factor in the choice of subject than di Suvero’s

appearance — the tall, narrow head, the strong, straight nose, forceful chin, long

facial planes, and flattop haircut — a head that seemed to be all structure, tailored

to Neri’s constructive interests at the time. Markos (1958; re-worked

1963) is almost a bust, but the upper body fragment, which supports and gives

a slight tilt to the head, yields no additional information about the subject. Its

innate materiality may be its most obvious quality. Although parts of the head

— sections of the cheeks, forehead, and cranium — are smooth and skin-like,

the hacking and sawing of Neri’s further surface work produces severe disturbances.

The ears are gone, and the beard and parts of the hair are painted

silvery grey, a color like raw aluminum.

Neri continued working from his colleague, refining the head, though hardly

along a conventional path, and his further disruptions chart a radical testing of

the head as a communicative human motif. Head of Mark di Suvero (1958;

re-worked 1963) is unambiguously a head, but other than the strong nose and

the suggestion of a beard, this reduced form lacks the identifying details of the

prior portrait. With Head of Markos (1963), Neri affirms his early preoccupation

with the additive and reductive possibilities of plaster. The head appears to

have been completed and painted, but then Neri returned to it with his tools,

gouging, scraping, and chipping. Amid these embattled surfaces, we see patches

of disconnected, seemingly arbitrary colors that can only infer what might have

existed at some previous point in time. With its tattered neck, the head looks

as though it was torn from its body, giving the form a mood of savagery or

primal rite: this is enforced by the hollowness of the head, the dark eye holes,

the masklike ferocity.

At first glance, we might think of these heads as anonymous, but in fact Neri

has not forgotten the fundamental task of portraiture. Sculpture is the most

primitive of mediums, and he seems to want to reinstate something of this

elemental energy in his own work. Here is a subject whose features are capable

of enduring his concentrated attack on the portrait form, his fierce physical

333. Head of Markos, 1963

Yale University Art Gallery



struggle to maintain a tightrope balance between resemblance and personally

communicative form.

For Neri, then, portraiture is not synonymous with exacting physical replication

of the subject: as if to force the point, when Head of Markos was cast in

bronze in 1980, his application of paint and patina would push it even further

from obvious resemblance.

We, on the other hand, conditioned by the tropes of artistic modernity,

might be inclined to regard Neri’s treatment of the head as a contemporary

mode of “expressionistic” representation. The artist “expresses,” that is, gives

personal form or style to an underlying instinct for pictorial accuracy, creating

the idiomatic textures and formal distortions that become points of meaning

for him, and potentially for us. Such work can be approached, perhaps, as a

mode of controlled interpretive representation, with the serial form itself —

whether figure or head — as the “control” element, the form on which the

artist relies as a kind of “standard.”

This occurs both in connection with and apart from its basis in human

content. Although Neri had been working with a model from the start, he was

discovering that sculptural mimesis asks for further relationships between the

work and the subject that go well beyond the conventional requirement of

looking more or less alike. The work should also be “about” the motif — not

just the subject, but the motif itself, as an art form. Thus the sculptural object

becomes a thing in itself, not a replication of vision or of the observed subject.

As Neri’s full-sized figures continued to unfold in collaboration with a single

model over a lengthy period, they, too, were unquestionably “portraits” —

portraits of the model, and of the artist — though these figures also tell us that

regardless of his interests in the appearance of the human subject in a spatial

world, Neri also is at some pains to show himself as conscious of that world,

or of being in that world, bearing the forms and activities of (his) consciousness

into the work, as the material is brought to “life.”


334. Mary Julia Head (Cast 2/4), 1980;

Re-worked 1994

Private Collection

335. Mary Julia’s Head II – Cast Paper (Black) and

Mary Julia’s Head I – Cast Paper (White), 1975


336. Mary Julia Head I, 1974

Private Collection

337–338. Untitled Head IV, 1976

Yale University Art Gallery



339. Makiko I, 1980

Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum

340. Makiko Drawing I, 1980

Private Collection


341–342. Makiko I, 1980

Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum

Neri’s return to the portrait head might not have occurred without the

intervention of another model. He had been making regular working trips to

Carrara since 1976, in order to facilitate his increasing commitment to building

with stone. That summer, he met a Japanese artist named Makiko Nakamura,


who also had a studio in the town, and she agreed to model for him: it was a

relatively brief collaboration that produced four plaster heads in 1980, each

developed from a distinctive coiffure. Two casts of each head were made at a

foundry in Carrara. Between 1994 and 1997, he also produced three oversized

heads in marble, based on the plasters rather than the presence of the model

herself, as well as a sequence of eleven life-sized marble heads. Almost ten years

later in 2007, Neri brought the plaster heads to his studio in Benicia that were

subsequently re-worked. Molds were taken in 2008 and they were cast in

bronze at the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington. To distinguish between the

original plaster heads and bronze casts, Neri used variations, diminutives of

“Makiko”. The three large marble heads were titled Makida and the smaller

marble heads were titled Maki. All of the large Makida marble heads were

painted, as well as several of the life-size marble heads.

If the plaster heads of the 1950s and 1960s are cloaked in an aura of exhilaration

and discovery, the development of the Makiko heads is consistent with

the methodology of Neri’s late career. They evolved systematically, in series,

an approach that enables the artist to work out a variety of color-based ideas

on a fixed form. As he applies color, Neri unfixes the form through the act of

returning to it and altering it with paint — therefore denying its identity as an

unchanging object of metal or stone, establishing it instead as variable, and open

to an unexpectedly wide range of moods and effects. In the editions especially,

Neri draws heavily on the color lessons he had been acquiring in his large relief

series of the 1980s.

With these series of portrait heads, Neri treats the model as a depictive

figure finally unknown and unknowable as a personality: the head, that is, as

a visual referent of an actual and specific subject whose personality remains a

cipher nonetheless. He advances in a direction opposite that of Marini, who

adhered to resemblance as the basis through which he strove to capture and

communicate a discernible “essence” of the sitter. Neri withdraws those kinds

of details, and in doing so, he creates an identifiable “portraiture” while at the

same time erasing the physical markings of wear and tear, age, time, experience

the details that, for Marini, contributed to the visible formation of the “self”

of the subject.



Compared to Marini, Neri is exceedingly ambitious in his use of the portrait

head as a vehicle for complex, non-localized, non-descriptive color: color as a

crucial element in the overall production of the work as portraiture and, at

the same time, apart from it, as a trait belonging wholly to the artist and only

inferentially to the model. If the heads evoke the forms of antiquity, particularly

in marble, this is an additional effect, not unimportant, but not primary.

Makiko assisted in this project, if tacitly, with the placidity of her pose and by

altering her hair from work to work. She never enforces an active or assertive

character of her own, instead encoding a Japanese identity in her hair, which

she treats as a form in itself. Each coiffure “means” something, a signal from

the wearer to observers privy to its cultural significance, a signifier of some

quasi-public communication. Neri never learned what those “meanings” were,

and probably he did not care, preferring instead to let this level of absence

enter the textures of his process. If he does not know, he can treat the model

chiefly as a form.


343. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Marina, 1940

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia

344. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Marina, 1940

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia


345. Marino Marini (1901–1980)

Ritratto di America Vitale

[Portrait of America Vitale], 1938

Museo Marino Marini, Pistoia


346–347. Makiko II, 1980

Private Collection

348. Makiko III, 1980



349. Makiko No. 1 (Cast 1/4), 1980;

Cast 1981; Painted 1983

Private Collection

350. Makiko No. 2 (Cast 2/4), 1980;

Cast 1981; Painted 1983

di Rosa Collection, Napa, California

Neri does not come to Makiko with the idea of reinvigorating the portrait

head, nor does he find a sculptural charge in the exoticism beloved by early

visual modernism. Instead, this “foreign” head provides him with an opportunity

to circumvent the (his) habitual reflexes of familiarity — the model he has

come to know extremely well, what we might call his “native” subject — and

he can now concentrate on form.

By 1983, when he began painting the first bronze Makiko editions, the

quietude of the model assists in amplifying the effects of the color by shifting

our attention from her features — our tendency, that is, to read the work as

psychological narrative — to the paint itself. Neri might use color to formally

separate face and hair, or he might not. As we continue to study the bronze

heads, we will become more inclined to attend to the artistic choices entailed

in the colors than to the subject on which they have been placed.



351–352. Makiko No. 3 (Cast 1/4), 1980;

Cast 1981; Painted 1983

Private Collection

353–354. Makiko No. 4 (Cast 1/4), 1980;

Cast 1981; Painted 1983

Private Collection



These concerns become all the more apparent in the three heads of the

Makida series. They are larger than life, cut from veined white marble, and

mounted on black marble bases. The scale of these heads, in combination with

the East Asian features derived from the model, evoke the feeling or mood of

temple statuary. For Neri, none of this has anything to do with cultural stereotype.

As a comparison, we might think again of Marini’s postwar portrait

sculpture. It is a commonplace in the writing about Marini that his work was

irrevocably altered by the war, that it became more somber, and took on a

depth and breadth of feeling that is not evident in his prewar work. We can

begin, therefore, to view this portraiture as an expression of his wartime

experiences, and the shadow cast by the war over his generation: the troubled

upward gaze of his subjects, the scarred surfaces, the dark patinas, the kinds of

marks left by the hand — taken together they formulate a story of the spiritual

struggles of the European twentieth century.

355–357. Makida III, 1997

Anderson Collection at Stanford University


358–359. Makida II, 1994; Re-worked 1997

Private Collection


360–362. Makida I, 1994; Re-worked 1997

Private Collection

This is not Neri’s world, and yet, as an artist of postwar America, he could

look back across the history of the sculpted figure in the West and feel the

disruptions that had occurred in the twentieth century, the breakage, and the

lost cultural securities. He did not expect to recapture them in his work, no

more than did Marini. These marble heads might be Neri’s dream in, and for,

the present, embodied in the formal order of a head that, as portraiture, also

appears to dream, so enclosed and withdrawn does the model seem to us, so

disinterested in the world outside herself.

Neri seeks and for the most part achieves a quality that glances toward

Western classicism and its sculptural imperatives — the head as both organic

and abstract, dynamic and stable, present and eternal, a formal embodiment of

the harmony of the inner and outer selves of its (human) subject — not a quest

for order so much as a quest to place the (his) form of order within the world’s

unruly spaces.



363. Makiko I (Cast 2/4), 1980; Cast 2008

Private Collection


With that said, Neri is not illustrating ideas. He works as an artist first and

foremost, and knows that he must fulfill the conditions of art if these other

voices in the sculpture are to be heard. Thus we arrive at the Makiko heads as

they were cast and painted in 2008, when Neri himself was approaching the

age of eighty and looking at them with the experience and authority of a long

career. Neri had made some breakthroughs in his ability to integrate paint with

metal, and it no longer sits “on” the surface like a skin, but now gives the

impression of having been sunk into the material. Here, he leaves intact the cuts

and textures of the original plaster heads, but the features feel even more

withdrawn than before, less engaged with the world, less concerned with the

presentation of an individual personality. In some of the heads, slight disruptive

textures around the mouth give the face a bit of a frown, as if to counter the

364–365. Makiko IV (Cast 4/4), 1980;

Cast 2012; Patina 2016


366–367. Makiko II (Cast AP-I), 1980;

Cast 2014; Patina 2016

eyes that feel eroded, hardly more than indentations. The coiffures are accentuated

by this mood of withdrawal, and accentuate it. One, seen frontally, creates

a kind of semicircle broken by cuts in the area of the temples. Another leads to

a strong, solid, sloping shape projected along the top and back of the head. At

this point, the model has become at once subject and form, and for us, there is

a powerful ambiguity in the blending of functions.

The colors are generally soft — a mild, flowerlike yellow, or powdery blues

and whites — and amid this palette, the vermilion hair on one of the heads is

dazzling and strange, unnatural as realistic portraiture, yet controlled by the

composed countenance of the model. On occasion, the metallic surface is also

apparent, a contrast to the whisper of the paint, and yet the overall atmosphere

is one of placidity and caress, a gentleness.


368–369. Makiko I (Cast 1/4), 1980; Cast 2008

Private Collection



370. Mary Julia Klimenko, Photographer

Benicia studio, 1995

371. Photographer Unknown

Marino Marini in his studio


372. Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1993

After looking at the work of these three sculptors, we can better understand

the interest in the portrait head during modernism’s first decades. The artists

of that period felt the proximity of the Western visual tradition, right at their

backs, closer than we may be able to fully appreciate now, and there was a need,

even an obligation, to demonstrate the value of the new ideas by applying them

to the various figural forms, as the motifs at the center of the tradition. If the

head was not quite a dominant form historically, it had the security of its

prestige within that history, while its insistent referentiality challenged the ideas

that were being brought to it. For artists committed to introducing these fresh


developments into a visual narrative they knew well, the portrait head was, if

nothing else, a symbolic contest, a rite of passage at the gates of art history.

If they met its demands successfully, their ideas were sound.

As we turn back to Giacometti, Marini, and Neri, their attendance on the

portrait head can seem idiosyncratic, at the very least a mark of their determination

to maintain an independence from the dominant movements of their

time. They are outliers. Progressive visual ideas are not unimportant, of course,

but the humanist impulse, the very thing that drew them to the figure in the

first place, is always paramount. The figure would be their test, regardless of

the particular form it took in their sculpture. Neither Giacometti, Marini nor

Neri can presume the traditional artist’s role as a spokesperson for the culture,

the one who gives visual expression to its foundational values. They share

instead the modern artist’s disjunctive relationship with society: they do not

speak for the culture, but to it, voices of inquiry and conscience, and to accomplish

this as art, they must establish for themselves the authority that approbates

their speech.

During the postwar years, Giacometti’s busts pull away from portraiture as

such to a more declarative view of the human as a being under pressure — an

atmospheric pressure of space and distance — and he was able to recreate the

stresses entailed in this condition, in his work, as a metaphor of the situation of

modern social alienation. The portrait heads, on the other hand, demonstrate

the limits of (his) facility as the basis for modern sculptural building.

Marini and Neri tread a different ground. For them, the studio process

became a lifelong methodology based on the expansion of the range of the

information that can be applied to their basic motifs — including the head — a

trajectory advanced by faith in those forms, what they represent, and what they

might tell us about ourselves.




BECAUSE THE SCULPTURAL FIGURE occupies our space even as it

stands apart from us, bidding us to approach, to step forward and meet it face

to face, our encounters with it are ultimately confrontational, regardless of its

scale. Extreme formal stylization would be Giacometti’s means of amplifying the

effects of this situation for the viewer: however benign its intentions, confrontation

is active and experiential as a matter of course, and Giacometti clearly

hoped that it would prompt an active response from the viewer. Such operations

are not mechanical nor, strictly speaking, within the artist’s control.

The standing figures can seem quite animate, alert to our presence, as if they

really do wish to extend the possibility of incipient exchange. But what are they

really asking of us? What will happen if we accept their invitation? Here, once

again, we can see the success with which Giacometti reinstated the frontal

format in all its affective power and with a seductive presence that endures

even in a contemporary museum environment — a stylized, hieratic figure,

quasi-religious in its command of site.

Neri began exploring stylization at length in the 1970s, when access to the

same model in the studio allowed him to begin treating his motif as a repeatable

form: whatever its gestures, the figural “body” was now consistent from work

to work. Neri continued his practice of barricading the face behind a mask of

373. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Benicia Studio, 1983


374–376. Prietas Series VI, 1993

Private Collection


plaster, more determined than ever to eliminate the calculated indicators of

personality, psychology, and narrative that are normally encoded into facial

expression. By blocking off this information on a reiterative form, he forces us

to look more carefully at the gestures of the figure in its entirety as the basis of

communication. With a radical shift in emphasis from eye to hand during the

constructive process, Neri would thus declare his desire to convey what might

be called the experience of experience. If he mistrusts language as an exact or

truthful mode of communicability, neither does he have much confidence in any

acculturated hierarchism of the senses that would privilege vision, especially as

it plays out in art, and in his treatment of the formal gestures of the model, he

reveals his will to communicate what he knows with his hands. He trusts what

he can touch with his body, literally so.

Like Giacometti, Neri treats the sculptural figure as a (his) talisman of

confrontation and exchange, with a crucial difference: their figures often seem

to “stand” in much the same way, forthrightly, but for Neri, touch additionally

upholds the fullness of identification between figure and sculptor, as, we might

say, mirrors of one another. Here, “identification” refers to Neri’s deepest feelings

for both model and sculptural figure as images of the (his) self. Those

feelings imbue his transaction with the model, and he brings them into material

formation in the studio as he labors with plaster and paint. Within this process,

however, Neri is not inhibited by Giacometti’s reticence before the model.

The intimacy and sheer force of his identification with his subject generate a

vivid atmosphere around the sculpture, one that can strike us as unabashedly

sensuous and, at the same time, without contradiction, metaphysical. Because

Giacometti takes the experiential procedures of sight as a basis of his constructive

activities, the expressive force of his identification with the human model

breaks down when sight is rendered as distance, as he obviously intends. Hence

the mood of spatial/spiritual isolation that seems to envelop his standing forms.

Neri, again, has no interest in the effects of attenuation, or in a surface

characterized by mostly similar types of marks. What seems to worry him is the

modern cultural habit of interpreting surface disruptions as little more than

constitutive features of an “artwork,” the distinguishing autograph of the builder,

inscribed for all to see. Simply put, this view would be too limited, or it would


377–379. Kneeling Figure, 1991

(Cast 1/4), 1991

Private Collection

accept too limited an array of meanings. Yet Neri was never tempted to turn in

the direction of a conspicuously narrative figure, either, not in the manner of a

Rodin or Bourdelle, and certainly not in the manner of those figurative sculptors

of his generation affiliated with photorealism, pop, and their various derivatives,

George Segal, say, Duane Hanson, or John De Andrea. Nothing could be further

from Neri’s objectives. His figures possess reality rather than realism. He wants

us to “feel” the figure in the fullness of its communicability, and so he does not

want viewers to be distracted by illusionism’s glossy craft or its proximity to the

intentions of an unambiguous realism.

This was hardly an arbitrary issue for modern sculpture: we might say instead

that it has been crucial to the fate of figurative sculpture in the modern period.

Industrialization in the West brought with it an increasingly humanized landscape.

Cities expanded upwards and outwards, and in the modern cityscape,

the mounting scale, density, and complexity of the visual field inevitably began


to overwhelm the sculptural object, which, even before the mid-twentieth

century, faced the diminishment of its old cultural status, its prominence of

display in open civic spaces, the gravity it once brought to the service of social

and political stability. This situation was further abetted by a steady assault from

advances in modern painting, widely regarded by the end of the nineteenth

century as the medium central to the trajectories of progressive art.

How, then, was sculpture to recover its place in such a fluid, visually demanding

environment? And if it could not, might it then be utilized as a vehicle of

discourse with those surroundings? To what purpose? The figures of Giacometti

and Marini had to find their home here, in this world. The situation was even

more emphatic for Neri a half-century later, when public and corporate spaces

were increasingly populated by large non-objective sculptures that negotiated

their relationship to contemporary architecture with an ease the figure could

not hope to equal.


380. George Segal (1924–2000)

Walk, Don’t Walk, (1976)

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

381. Duane Hanson (1925–1996)

Rita the Waitress, 1975

Courtesy of Van de Weghe, New York

382. John DeAndrea (b. 1941)

Three Versions of Ariel

[Ariel I, Ariel II, Ariel III], 2011

Courtesy of Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, New York



As Giacometti confronted these changing conditions, the representational

legacies of likeness, mass, scale, measurement, and proportion that had descended

from antiquity and the Renaissance, all the significant traits of sculptural

rationalism, would be of less importance than a totality of impression dependent

on space and distance — in the spatial environment that had come to

characterize the modern city, all the spaces and distances and proportions that

shifted continually, sometimes unexpectedly, as the sojourner passed among its

buildings, streets, alleyways, and parks. Thus Giacometti turned from likeness as

such to scale, or literal height, as a decisive factor in his rendering of form, and

necessarily withdrew it from the traditional sites of display. His figures would

thus advance the critical argument that scale was no longer a standard of

sculptural significance, even among the smallest works, nor was location. His

standing figure did not want to be a reproduction of visual reality.

If we look back from Giacometti’s solution, we can see which issues were

most problematic for him, and how they have inflected Neri’s work. The

management of the field in sculpture, as in painting, can easily become absorbed

in the business of producing visual hierarchies, those valuations regarding which

objects are significant (and why) and which are not, arranged through the

means of scale, placement, and so on. Giacometti rejected the notion that such

questions could be satisfactorily answered by the preoccupations of rationalism.

Because he was so immersed in questions of how we acquire knowledge,

particularly as it comes through the senses, and most especially through the eye,

he could not accept comforting but thoroughly conventional assumptions

about the stability of knowledge or even our capacity to know things in a

definitive way.

Giacometti had recognized that because the sculptural figure must operate

in the disorganized precincts of real space — that is, without the aid of painting’s

self-enclosed spaces — its submission to the ordering logic of perspective,

scale, and so on can appear willful, arbitrary, artificial. His sculpted figure needed

to be completely itself in the midst of any and all visual conditions, fixed in its

setting but capable of registering ambient changes as they occur around it,

which are then registered in turn by the mobile viewer, whose passage through

time and place is variable as well. Needless to say, conventional figuration would

not serve this purpose.

Giacometti was hardly oblivious to the potential for commentary in his

work. As a metaphor, severe material attenuation could, by the mid-twentieth

century, suggest, for example, a whittling away of the sheer, exhausting weight

of the Western sculptural tradition, an effort to release the figure, and its maker,

from the obligations of a venerated but burdensome legacy. Would he forge

a path to freedom at last? Certainly the sculpture can be understood as a

revelation of the struggle itself: to demonstrate its difficulties materially was to

express the situation of the modern sculptor who looked at a history that must

have seemed unsurpassable on its own terms. But what are the new terms?

Will the artist be liberated by submission to the making process, or subjugated

to it? Such is the ambiguity of the Giacomettian figure, which feels almost

weightless before the eye, and, at the same time, remains grounded by its


383. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Simone de Beauvoir, 1946

Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris

384. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

Walking Quickly Under the Rain, 1949

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

385. Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004), Photographer

Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti in his studio, 1945–46.

Paris. The 14th arrondissement.

Rue Hippolyte Maindron


386. Inge Morath (1923–2002), Photographer

Studio of Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, 1958

oversized feet, subject to forces of gravity that are at once visual, sculptural, and

metaphorical: evidently the tradition cannot bear complete effacement, for the

figures are connected to the Western sculptural past even as the artist differentiates

them from it. Or: they are descendants of that tradition, and stand

apart from it, on their own ground, critiquing the encumbrances of the past

from the vantage of an unsettled present.

Stylization enabled Giacometti to vary figural scale more or less at will, while

severe material reduction gave the individual work a formal unity that can be

perceived in a glance. The figures are never quite self-evident as formal signifiers

of human consciousness and its operations. They are referentially human, yes,

but if their overall structural integrity can be discerned quickly, their surfaces are

too complicated to decipher easily. To go a further step, the standing women

are neither inventions, nor are they not inventions, another ambiguity. Thus the

stiff, compressed postures and kneaded surfaces convey the sculptor’s sense of

the difficulties entailed in seeing the world and in representing that seeing, by

showing what the processes of seeing are like, however imperfectly. The

Giacomettian figure, we might say, exists to be looked at.

Giacometti did not wish to eliminate altogether the feeling of empathy that

typically occurs when we approach figural sculpture. His course of defamiliarization

required, once again, that the work be at once associative as a form and

clearly separate as an object. His involvement with surrealism had demonstrated

the shortcomings entailed in realizing (his) psychology in viable physical form,

quite literally a translation problem, and while the figure could never quite

elude its history as the most ubiquitous of cultural subjects, Giacometti’s close

study of perception enabled him to develop, as content, the existential experience

of inhabiting a physiology, a condition laced with uncertainty.

This opened the figure to some of the artist’s most distinctive visual effects,

which, as it happened, had the additional virtue of allowing him to address, if by

inference, the matter of separateness as the spiritual situation of the modern

century. These forays into sculptural meaning were motivated by an excruciating,

intrinsically human sense of (his own) isolation and individuation. Giacometti’s

primary means of articulating an otherness not only sculptural can be found,

then, in the manner in which he recreated the traditional sculptural transaction



387. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

L’Homme au doigt [Man Pointing], 1947

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

388. Gordon Parks (1912–2006), Photographer

Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966)

surrounded by sculptures in his studio, 1952


389. Ernst Scheidegger (1923–2016), Photographer

Alberto Giacometti painting in his Paris studio;

in the foreground is La Grande Tête, c. 1960

between volume, surface, and ambient space, his insistence that we experience

the figure as a multitude of irregular surfaces liberated from narrative duties of

figural “skin,” mass, and gesture.

It may well be, as many commentators have suggested, that every mark of

the hand was for Giacometti a metaphor of the glance, a way of documenting

materially the processes of seeing and then transferring visual information onto

the form as a rendition of perception — a sculptural equivalent of Cézanne’s

taches, or color patches, the rhythmic, stitch-like brushstrokes that build towards

pattern and image on the canvas — a material rendering of the combination

of anxiety and excitement that arises from the sculptor’s commitment to living


with the strangeness of the world, among all its endless, endlessly shifting spaces

and surfaces. As an enactment of the problems entailed in representing visual

instability as sculpture, Giacometti’s surfaces necessarily want to avoid the

sculptural production of the figure as a creation “like” us, formally and spatially,

comprised of predictable characteristics that are replicated by the artist and

observed by the viewer through a lens of conditioned perception — it is a

figure that wants to avoid being “seen” in the mind rather than by the eye.

Non-descriptive texture is a thickness we must traverse as viewers, another

obstacle to the mechanisms of routine vision, as the moment-to-moment

actuality of contact begins to unbind habituated cultural attitudes that want


390. Ernst Scheidegger (1923–2016), Photographer

Alberto Giacometti with two sculptures, 1954

391. Rene Burri (1933–2014), Photographer

Rue Hippolyte Maindron. The studio of

Alberto Giacometti, Swiss painter and sculptor



to restrict the figure to a passive, routine, or secondary role in its spatial


By the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Neri began working in bronze and

marble, taking advantage of the approximate, open-ended historical references

offered by various combinations of materials and poses, he had given careful

study to the handling of similar kinds of visual information among his predecessors.

With that said, Neri was finally less concerned with demonstrating what

has been lost to the culture — thus separating himself from Marini’s project, as

well — than what can be saved and, more importantly, what endures. He

comes to the figure with a sense of what is at stake in a lifelong engagement

that placed his sculptural form at the crux of an encounter between self and

other — or self and culture — an encounter that might go on and on, without

prospect of a definitive end.

Still, in a climate of modernist triumph, it is an aspect of his originality, and his

courage, that Neri never makes an effort to refute or avoid positioning the

naturalistic figure as a cultural object loaded with associations past and present.

Whatever happens to adhere to it will adhere. Such is the artist’s choice — not

a failure of nerve, certainly not a retrogression — and because his figures so

willingly accept this fundamental identity, Neri has been able to embed the form

with an unusual array of operations — sculptural, painterly, autobiographical,

expressive, perceptual — that continue to draw upon its innumerable associations,

sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes not. His figure is, in a sense, a “still”

(or more properly a “stilled”) life, and we feel neither discord nor collision as

its naturalistic and metaphorical components slide into one another.

Neri accepts that at least some degree of perceptual accuracy is available to

him, and to us. It must be. Could we endure our lives otherwise or, for that

matter, negotiate the world successfully? He begins from there. Our consideration

of his figures turns, then, on their ability to speak, or to speak for the artist.

How do we receive their (his) speech? Is it self-evident or inferred? A species

of poetic information? In Neri’s hands, the human form catalyzes an exchange

between figural depiction and the artist’s own narrative, or something like

narrative. This further explains the drive behind Neri’s surfaces, as well. They are

his gestures, a mode of textural marking, inventive, essentially non-repetitive,


392. Julia (Cast 1/4), 1976; Cast 1998

Private Collection

393–394. Carrara Figure No. 1, 1979–80

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art



integrated with the figure’s gestures. To go another step, they connect naturalistic

figurative sculpture to developments that were taking place among Neri’s

contemporaries, in abstract expressionist circles in particular, related to the

language of the mark and its ability to visually objectify the structures and

workings of consciousness. Not that Neri can or should be seen as an “abstract

expressionist” sculptor — his work, again, does not trade in gesture as a kind

of constitutive calligraphy — rather that he was attuned to issues in the art of

his time. Even when the surfaces perform in a quasi-linguistic manner, their

beauty, so irresistible to the haptic eye, is thoroughly personal.


395–396. Carriona Figure No. 1, 1981

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University,

promised gift of Thomas J. Davis and

Shirley Ross Sullivan, L.37.1.2004

397–398. Etrusca, 1989

Private Collection



In his study of Giacometti, David Sylvester noted the sensitivity of the sculptor’s

attention to the spaces around the figures, although Sylvester, rightly, was

less interested in the question of whether or not Giacometti had extended the

vocabulary of sculpture than he was in the ways in which the figure expanded

the effects of sculpture in its own space, that is, the paradox by which the figures

simultaneously dominate their space and are absorbed into it. Neri, too, continues

to grapple with this complex figural/sculptural presence, and like Giacometti

and Marini, his figure must resolve the matter in the face of larger questions

regarding the stability of the figure as an efficacious contemporary form in

contemporary settings. With this in mind, he embraces the textural mark as

figural in essence — insofar as it originates in the active body of the artist, and

is a token of that body — and as yet another layer of figural signification on the

surface of the form, where it joins with the whole of his visual vocabulary.

Still, the extent to which any figure succeeds as a viable modern format is

also the extent to which the sculptor can satisfactorily answer questions

surrounding the cultural efficacy of the motif with the work itself. Does the

figure still matter to us? On this point, there is little left to say about Giacometti

or Marini. They have done their work well. Neri, meanwhile, persevered in his

efforts to “advance” the figure in every sense: he evolves its means, uses it as a

form with which to meet viewers on their own ground, and presses its utility

in a wary cultural environment. At the same time, the autobiographical nature

of his figure can also suggest the kind of self-motivated, self-authenticating

practice that pursues its ends outside the evolutionary trajectory of the

modern visual mainstream. From this perspective, Neri’s surfaces are variations

on a theme of self-projection, a mode of free speaking characterized by its

dense linguistic texture.

The liveliness and variety of the artist’s touch are remarkable, and bring the

surfaces to life by creating passages for the viewer’s eye to follow, like roadmaps

across the form itself. At the same time, manipulation of surface insures that no

sculpture duplicate itself. Every square inch will be topical and documentary,

a material signifier of the artist’s activities before the work, always reminding

us that process lies at the core of Neri’s undertaking. No figure is or can be

definitive. One leads to the next, and along the way, textural discontinuity resists

399–401. Re-making Mary Julia No. 1

(Cast AP), 1976; Cast 2006; Painted 2008



our desire for a visual site of ease and rest. Even the smoothest areas want to

lead the eye somewhere else, mitigating against the stillness, silence, and material

solidity of the figure as a sculpture, and giving the form a visual charge — an

aura of animation — that supports its communicability as a dimensional


Neri avoids extreme distortion or disintegration for just this reason. Not

only do such techniques disturb our sense of correspondence with the form,

they can by now appear to the viewer as chiefly formal strategies, intended to

attract our curiosity or to implicitly connect the figure to practices going on

elsewhere in contemporary art — and so the artist’s most urgent concerns

might remain hidden. Giacometti may well have provided a cautionary lesson

on this point. Whatever else it might achieve for the work as sculpture, the

radical elimination of mass, the stripping away of the outermost body of the

figure, poses the risk that aggressive disruption of form will become its most

compelling aspect.

It may go without saying that Giacometti never wanted to establish exact

physical equivalence between work and viewer: his handling of scale tells us

that. But once the artist’s mark begins to dominate the form, the figural basis

of the work surrenders some significant element of its bond with us — with

humanity — and for Neri, such an effect would be needlessly problematic and

finally counterproductive. His form must, therefore, remain indisputably empathetic.

As he knows, the sheer disunity of modern culture agitates against the

kinds of vivid, commonly held beliefs that once gave reliable thematic substance

to the sculptural figure in Western art, and against the possibility of encoding

cultural belief into a more or less universally apprehensible artistic form. Can

he create a figure unencumbered by this baggage from the past, all the old

associations that no longer apply? Can it speak from its essential humanity?

For Neri, art does not compete with the built world, but enters it, participates

with it, negotiates its spaces, and lives in it, as do we ourselves. In that

world, the most readily available site of cultural commonality is the body, as

an actual, inescapable condition, or situation, of existence. Whatever else

Neri might do with the figure, this one fact cannot be ignored. His fidelity to

the expressible grows from it, as he offers himself to others through the

(correspondent) body, his own and that of the sculpted figure in which he has

invested himself. And yet, even though its physical body is real, Neri’s reality, his

sense of the body’s communicative identity — his/its sculptural recourse —

develops dialogically. Formation occurs in contact with the other, represented

by the model. The artist goes to her, and then returns to the sculpture with

further definitions or expressions of his own humanity. Each work is an image

of self-creation.

402–403. Standing Figure No. 4

(Cast AP), 1980; Cast 1982

Private Collection






CONTEMPORARY SCULPTURE HAS GONE its own way and with its

extravagant formal and critical inventions, its innumerable passages and transformations,

it can confidently claim parity with painting in the discourses of

contemporary art. Figural naturalism has been among the beneficiaries of this

development, but any account of the re-legitimization of the figure must also

acknowledge Neri, and behind him, the surge of humanist figural sculpture in

Europe after World War II. Neri’s career by now bears some resemblance to

that of both Marini and Giacometti: his output has been so inimical that he has

garnered no disciples, founded no group or school. By the same token, the

evolutionary narrative of modernism, still favored by many art historians, does

not provide a suitable perspective from which to view his work, or theirs. Even

the affiliations that have attached themselves to Neri most strenuously, whether

the San Francisco art scene of the 1950s and 1960s, or postwar figuration in

Europe, may be little more than suggestive and contextual in the end. The very

ambiguity of Neri’s relationship to other, now-institutionalized movements in

contemporary sculpture requires that we come to his work more or less as it


404. M. Lee Fatherree, Photographer

Tyler Street Studio, 1992



Or perhaps we should approach Neri’s career as a contemporary instance

of art’s alternate history, one that attends to the cyclical reoccurrence of

particular forms in different places and over great spans of time. If his figures

are responsive to the conversations around modernity and indeed modernism

in art, they also declare, once again, the endurance of the human form as a

sculptural subject. It is a form whose necessity in art has never disappeared.

From this perspective, Neri is a contemporary sculptor whose work affirms the

power and durability of the figure after eons of visual making, not simply as a

motif, but as (a) presence. Such a history would assist in accounting for Marini

and Giacometti as well.

By the 1980s, in the climate of postmodernism, critical emphasis began to

turn from the “body” as “figure” to the “body” as “system” or “organism,” a turn

in the direction of those dilemmas originating in the systemic operations of the

actual, individual body and the paradoxes that can arise in the corporeal being

as a consciousness-bearing organism. This represented a shift in the cultural

understanding of the figure in art and our expectations for it, one that returns

us to an issue as relevant to Neri as it was to Giacometti or Marini as a way of

thinking about their work in its specific historical setting: modernity’s identification

of figural sculpture with generally conservative, retrospective values — a

narrative at least partly contrived, but one that affected cultural and critical

views of the sculpted figure through much of the twentieth century.

Postmodernism brought relief from this straitjacket of historical legacy, and

the subsequent developments of the figure/body within the critical arena of

postmodernism show Neri to be something of a transitional artist. Although he

is tied to some of the key issues of late modernism, his period of emergence,

at the same time he often looks in the direction of developments to come,

having spent his career treating the figure as an expressible body that speaks

for its altogether human maker — this tentative, uncertain, always limited creature

of flesh and blood.

If Neri appears to stand apart from other art movements that were pushing

towards the threshold of artistic postmodernism during the 1970s and 1980s,

one reason may be his acute awareness of the breadth and vitality of the figure

as an extraordinary network of histories stretching back through time. As a

405–407. Carriona Figure No. 2, 1981

Harold Washington Library, Chicago


408–410. M.J. Series II (Cast 2/4), 1989;

Cast 1990; Patina 2016


figurative artist, Neri knows that he cannot escape them entirely, but as a

matter of far greater importance for him, he does not want to. History is not

a resource for quotation, reference, or visual bibliography. History bears the

heat of life. The makers of the past, his real and actual predecessors, were

exactly like him, as he well knows, taking into their hands each day the same

kinds of tools as they pursued their own interrogations of some of the most

challenging problems of human existence.

Yet Neri must have had moments of doubt. During the mid-twentieth-century

decades that are at once background and prelude to his work, the sculpted

female nude survived only at the fringes of progressive art, having been excluded

from its major cultural campaigns by the notion, a legacy of eighteenth-century

critical theory, that painting is privileged by its emphases on visuality, color, and

poetic or literary ideation — that painting offers a more appropriate visual

forum in which to engage philosophical and social values separate from art as

a production of images. Under those terms, sculpture would remain bound to

its relationship with the physical body, to high craft, and to the antique.

Figurative sculpture was caught in this tangle of received doctrine, as we

have seen, a view that lingered into the postwar decade as an issue that still

required definitive address. Enlightenment theorists and their inheritors linked

sculpture to touch, objective autonomy, and durability, and painting to sight,

imagination, the effervescence of moment-to-moment experience. In effect,

this narrative positioned sculpture and painting as antagonists in a seemingly

irresoluble struggle between ancient and modern, between the public and

private spaces and functions of art, and between the physicality of the

three-dimensional figure and the poetic interiority of painting.

Such ideas were part and parcel of the intellectual life of the Enlightenment

epoch, and as they continued to develop, they elevated the viewer to the role

of perceiving subject who would henceforth determine the meanings of the

artwork, rather than being determined by them. The shift was congenial to an

increasingly secularized, humanistic cultural environment and, needless to say, it

had immeasurable consequences for art. In the viewer-centered relationship, a

painting stimulated the imagination and was then “completed” by observers

who kept their distance, an operation that flattered the autonomous viewing


411–412 . Cipolina No. 1, 1983

Private Collection

consciousness. Painting, of course, was not only very good at accomplishing this,

the canvas at any scale knew its place — the wall — where it did not compete

with the space of the viewer, who could now take (imaginative) control of the

image through the eyes. Sculpture’s solidity and its identity as an implacable

spatial object, especially at human scale, presented a literal obstruction to the

Enlightenment’s visual fetishes. The standing female nude, whether carved,

modeled, or cast, bearing the implications of its allegiance to unrecoverable

traditions, seemed escapist by comparison, a wistful distraction from the

discomforting realities of the modern (urban, industrial) world.


Sculptors working in Europe in the mid-twentieth century were fully aware

of these historical circumstances as a significant and finally unavoidable background

to their work. But by the time Giacometti committed himself to his

postwar style, he also knew that neither cubism nor surrealism could provide

him with the resources he needed to reinvigorate the figure. However expansive

or influential the movements themselves, the sculptural formations that

emerged from them had grown directly out of advances charted by painters,

and such work tended to be unpersuasive as sculpture. The three-dimensional

figure had to be reinvigorated from within, by means not yet established.


413. Ernst Scheidegger (1923–2016), Photographer

View of Alberto Giacometti’s working desk,

detail, c. 1952

414. Ernst Scheidegger (1923–2016), Photographer

View of Alberto Giacometti’s studio with sculptures,

Paris, c. 1955


415–416. Carrara Figure No. 3, 1979–80

Honolulu Museum of Art


417. Carriona Figure No. 3, 1981

Private Collection


Thus Giacometti formulated an efficacious sculptural claim to the (painting’s)

modern realm of sight, one that sought no rivalry with painting, first

by remaking the figure in a form compatible with viewer-based physical

correspondence, and then, with that figure, by transforming its traditional

duties in the realm of cultural objects into a phenomenological situation.

Marini, with his frank embrace of native forms, further proposed that the

legacies of a historical and/or sculptural past could not be argued away or

objectified, not, at least, by theory or critical exposition. Rather than battle

critical restraints on their own ground, Marini and Giacometti went about

altering figuration in ways that answered the crisis of the present without

denying or betraying the sculptural past.

Neri, on the other hand, negotiates a modernism terrain that, by the late

1950s, was itself codified as doctrine. His solution — only loosely following his

predecessors — would include a syncretizing (rather than an appropriation) of

figural history. Although he looks at the carvings of the past for the ways in

which they communicate complex information about the human form, they are

not tokens of a lost world: the sculptural past, whether recent or ancient,

provides him with real information, still vital and available to use. Thus he gazes

across the entire field of figural sculpture with the purpose of strengthening his

own language. For him, the various figurative traditions, taken together, establish

an atmosphere, a kind of habitation, one that has continued to nourish his faith

in the human form as a speaking object.

When Neri turned to non-naturalistic, ostensibly abstract sculptural

construction during the late 1960s, even those twisting, torso-like blocks

have an evident figural bias. He soon left them behind, in any case, and went

about ridding himself of modernism’s formal distillations. He had studied

early twentieth-century predecessors like Jacques Lipchitz and Raymond

Duchamp-Villon, and found that they offered little assistance. Their lessons had

limited value for a sculptor uninterested in modes of building whose relation to

the human form focuses on some purely artistic business or on a self-conscious

deviance from “traditional” figuration. When the sculpted figure reflected

advances in painting, imposed on it as a formal ideology, it surrendered its vivid

connections to lived experience.


418–419. Aurelia No. 3, 1995

Private Collection

Human beings are drawn to forms and objects that resemble themselves

— that is axiomatic — and the immediacy of a felt, bodily empathy can be

crucial to an encounter with the work of art. Attempts to reduce figural

sculpture to networks of signs or art-historical codes must be secondary,

partial, or contingent, insofar as they discount its most penetrating level of

reception, that of physical affinity. For Neri, who begins from this assumption,

the sculpted figure is not life, but certainly it is more than an image of life.

With this in mind, we can see that all of the artists under discussion here have

asked similar kinds of questions of the motif, and about its relationship to the

art-historical past. What are the deepest, most unequivocal sources of empathy?

What, exactly, is the nature of its power over the viewer? Where is this

power actually located in the work of art? How does it reveal itself physically?

What sustains it from past to present? What endures, and on what terms?


And how, finally, can such information be transmitted to the contemporary

figure as the sculptor strives for the expression of human continuity that only

the figure can provide?

Neri never ritualized the procedures of building as an avenue for interrogating

those kinds of concerns, not as Giacometti did, certainly. For Neri the

building process can be more accurately characterized as a path of continuing

re-evaluation of the formal and its communicable possibilities. If his form remains

more or less consistent, based on the actual body of the model before him, the

details of his making process remain non-repetitive from work to work, as his

mode of discourse with the motif. The surface never undermines our sense of

the gestural accuracy of the overall form. It records, rather, the sculptor’s

passage across the figural body, a detailed, inquisitive conversation conducted

throughout the course of its construction.

420–421. Aurelia No. 2, 1992;

Re-worked 1998

Private Collection


422–423. Re-making Mary Julia No. 8, 1976

Private Collection


True, Neri is interested in particular sculptural effects, effects that, he knows,

would not be enhanced by formal ritualization. His figure stands with us, cloaked

in the irrevocable humanness of our own size. For Neri, human scale, as an

irrefutable assertion of the correspondent nature of the (his) figure, insists

upon the (shared) condition of inhabiting a fragile, or mortal, body, the physical

body that exists in a (spatial) world of things in which it, like us, must make its

way. Thus the kneeling figures, the Penance and Annunciation works of 1982–83,

for example, need no gallery riser to assert themselves. Every twist of musculature

feels visceral, alive. On the floor, at our feet, the pose, at once submissive

and resistant, achieves a condition of shocking vulnerability, an effect of

emotional and spiritual tension that is especially pronounced in the bent arms

and clenched hands of Annunciation No. 2.

At the same time, such figures also advance Neri’s interest in a phenomenon

that echoes another idea articulated in modern terms by Merleau-Ponty, that

perception begins as, or takes place as, the experience of a figure in a ground.

Perception goes about organizing itself from that point, although the inherent

subjectivity of any single view means that our experience of the form will be

always variable, contingent, and above all individual. When the figure shares our

scale and our gestures, the absence of a conventional base reduces our sense

of its identity as an “artwork.” It seems to join our own spatial arena — our

world — much like any other human presence. Any further interaction of

Neri’s visual and referential elements only expands the liveliness of its


Great historical transitions always entail some loss or abandonment of prior

cultural traditions, and in our own time, general awareness of such losses has

been debilitated, or trivialized, by a postmodern sensibility in which historical

motifs are more likely to survive in a realm of style, quotation, add-on, or

pastiche — and so contemporary Western life drifts a little further from its

sturdiest, most nourishing taproots. Such is the triumph of a consumerist

culture indifferent to all but the most ephemeral of desires, values, and

memories. We may know some of the older visual histories that guided sculptors

less than a century past, or know of them, and yet lack a clear sense of

their relevance in their own time, or their potential relevance for us. Still, even

424. Annunciation No. 2 [Penance No 3], 1982;

Re-worked 1984

Private Collection



425. Escalieta, 1989

Private Collection

426. Odalisque I, 1989


427. Escalieta, 1989

Private Collection

as contemporary life continues to erase our ability to grasp the poignancy with

which twentieth-century sculptors yearned for the lost security of an authentic

connection with the past and its availability to art, we can certainly recognize

the lingering, underlying uneasiness in their work, the statement of an existential

loss from which few escape.

Neri does know the history of his form, and he is sympathetic to the issues

that surround its loss without quite submitting his work to them. As a builder,

he is also involved in the question of how things take form. That these “things”

are sculptural and figural leads him back in the direction of how human expression

comes into being, how communication formulates itself, configured in or

by the body, whether art-historically or in the present: this begins to explain

why he has never made a project of working with strict canonical forms that

may only “speak” from somewhere beyond the immediacy of the sculpted

figure itself — indeed, Neri has used his surfaces to loosen the referential

correspondences that might otherwise draw attention to themselves in a

particular pose or gesture, thus reestablishing any such figure as the means by

which he formulates and shares a (his) visual language. His figures evoke rather


than mimic humanness. In doing so, they also enact Neri’s own reconciliation of

their dualistic nature as invention and representation, recreating them as a

synthetic, continuously evolving embodiment of a struggle to communicate

clearly and accurately. In this sense, his figure is a model of the expressible, of

order created out of the material disorder of raw plaster.

Because Neri is involved in sculptural formation, in the emergence of the

material figure before him in the studio, his sources, whatever they might be,

must be in his hands, with real depth of reflex, or they will enter his work as

interruption rather than presence. They are fully assimilated into the sculptor’s

vocabulary by the time this seepage occurs, and can be spoken without

self-consciousness. Thus Neri takes up the challenges entailed in guiding the

naturalistic figure over an uncertain territory between the history of the form

as an inescapable background to the work, on the one hand, a history whose

meaning in the present is by now inexact, and on the other, the array of

contemporary demands upon it, particularly that of abstraction, whose position

in art culture rebuts the relevance of formally referential sculptural building.

Neri’s borrowings, when they occur, have an effect on us whether we are able

to locate them art-historically or not. He has made them anew.

As one example, Neri’s periodic references to the formations of Classicism

imply a desire for a quasi-archetypal modality that will draw upon our deep

cultural memories. As he has learned from his experience as a builder, however,

the lingering difficulty of Classicism is embodiment, the (cultural) assumption

that whatever constitutes our sense or understanding of the human, at any

given moment in history, can in fact be expressed in sculptural form. Perhaps it

cannot, or it no longer can, not as it once could. Neri never attempts to evade

this problem. Giacometti, too, regarded sculptural embodiment with skepticism,

and he turned to the forms of an even more remote past, forms that had

become sufficiently generalized to provide ways of demonstrating the power of

the figure without insisting that we know or acknowledge the specific historical

affiliations of his formal references. Giacometti rejects correspondent scale on

related grounds. Isolated, smaller than life, profoundly silent, his figures might be

vibrations in space. The artist means for us to feel their human origins, but once

again, the figures are not “like” us.



428. Escalieta No. 2, 1988

Private Collection

429. Odalisque IV, 1994

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park


430. Seated Marble Figure [Mujer Pegada No. 5], 1985

Private Collection

431. Escalieta No. 2, 1988

Private Collection

Here, with this issue in mind, Neri invests tremendous faith in activity, in the

ongoing activity of building in the studio, in a struggle to clarify the figure as (his)

voice. He makes no effort to invoke familiar, perhaps threadbare notions of

(Classical) timelessness, which in any case might be misconstrued as an artistic

conceit. Although his figures are inseparable from time — it is the air they

breathethey have a quality that might instead be called “timeness,” and their

immersion in it is also their freedom.

Even when the forms and gestures of his figures recall a sculptural past,

color and surface texture, once again, personalize those formal details and

generate further personal ambiguities around their ancestries. Thus Neri separates

them from easy interpretive affiliations as well. For this reason, his addition of

non-descriptive color is never an effort to make the sculpture act “like” painting,

in imitation of painting, or even in competition with painting: rather, that


sculpture, as Neri understands it, lives in the same realm and enters the same

fields of sight and visual imagination claimed by modern painting. Color, after all,

does not “belong” to painting in some innate or inviolable way. Or: sculpture

does not belong solely to the realm of touch any more than painting belongs

to sight alone.

If the figures dwell in the field of the expressible, what, then, do they express?

Neri’s many commentators have considered this question at length, and their

answers mark him as an artist of the twentieth century: fragility, contingency,

temporality, a capacity for endurance and survival, and the physical wear and

tear that is the toll of survival in the contemporary world — traits that Neri’s

figures do indeed seem to share with Giacometti’s standing women, standing

as if squeezed nearly to the point of disappearance, their shoulders taut, arms

close at their sides, legs rigid, eyes fixed on vistas that only they can see.


432–433. Bardilia No. 3, 1983

Private Collection


434. Escalieta No. 4, 1987

Private Collection


But Neri goes further still. He has devoted a lifetime to the innumerable

difficulties of communication — the human need to be known to and to

know another, and to discover how and even if a comprehensive exchange of

experience and knowledge is finally achievable — and so the spread of work

constitutes his response to the inquiries bequeathed to figural sculpture by the

Enlightenment. Over and over again, he labors to build the forms that capture

the simultaneously heroic and anti-heroic condition of the figure/artist striving

to make itself/himself known in a world where space and time will always

intervene to one extent or another in our reception of the sculptural object.

Can we reveal ourselves through our traditions of expression? Can we?

The figure merges with the artist’s gestures on it, urgently pressing towards

revelation. Does he achieve it? Those are among the most urgent questions we

can bring to the work, Neri’s, and that of his predecessors.


Butterfield, Jan, “Ancient Auras — Expressionist Angst: Sculpture by Manuel

Neri,” in Images & Issues 1:4 (Spring, 1981), 38–43.

Genet, Jean, “The Studio of Alberto Giacometti,” in Edmund White (ed.),

The Selected Writings of Jean Genet (Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press, 1993.)

Richard Howard, trans.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, “Eye and Mind,” in John O’Neill (ed.), Phenomenology,

Language and Society: Selected Essays of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. (London:

Heinemann Educational Books, 1974.) Carleton Dallery, trans.

Neri, Manuel, interview with the author, Benicia, CA, November 6, 2000.

Raverty, Dennis, “Critical Perspectives on New Images of Man,” in Art Journal

53:4 (Winter, 1994), 62–64.

Selz, Peter. New Images of Man. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1959.

Exhibition catalog.)

Sylvester, David. Looking at Giacometti. (New York: Henry Holt and Company,

Inc., 1996.)






SEPTEMBER 14, 2017 – FEBRUARY 12, 2018

NOTE: Exhibition checklist is arranged alphabetically.

Unless otherwise noted, drawings and sculptures are

from the Anderson Collection at Stanford University.

Japanese Dancer Series No. 12 [Makiko], 1980

Charcoal, water-based pigments on paper

41¾ × 29¾ in.

106 × 75.6 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust, 2017.2.08

Collage and Ink Figure Study No. 35

[Joan Brown], 1963

Ink, collage on paper

25½ × 22 in.

64.8 × 55.9 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust, 2017.2.04

Japanese Dancer Study (Makiko) No. 5, 1980

Ink on paper

11 × 8½ in.

27.9 × 21.6 cm

Courtesy of The Manuel Neri Trust

Female Figure I, 1958

Plaster, oil-based pigments, mixed media

38 × 11 × 6½ in.

96.5 × 27.9 × 16.5 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust

Japanese Dancer Study (Makiko) No. 7, 1980

Ink on paper

11 × 8½ in.

27.9 × 21.6 cm

Courtesy of The Manuel Neri Trust

Japanese Dancer Series No. 2 [Makiko], 1980

Charcoal, water-based pigments on paper

41¾ × 29¾ in.

106 × 75.6 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust, 2017.2.07

Japanese Dancer Study (Makiko) No. 9, 1980

Ink on paper

11 × 8½ in.

27.9 × 21.6 cm

Courtesy of The Manuel Neri Trust


Japanese Dancer Study (Makiko) No. 10, 1980

Ink, pastel on paper

11 × 8½ in.

27.9 × 21.6 cm

Courtesy of The Manuel Neri Trust

Joan Brown Seated in Studio 13, 1958

Ink, water-based pigments,

graphite on paper

25½ × 24 in.

64.8 × 61.0 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Japanese Dancer Study (Makiko) No. 11, 1980

Ink, pastel on paper

11 × 8½ in.

27.9 × 21.6 cm

Courtesy of The Manuel Neri Trust

Joan Brown with Neri Sculpture I, 1963

Water-based pigments, mixed media

on paper

23 1 ∕8 × 17 7 ∕8 in.

58.7 × 45.4 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Japanese Dancer Study (Makiko) No. 12, 1980

Ink, pastel on paper

11 × 8½ in.

27.9 × 21.6 cm

Courtesy of The Manuel Neri Trust

K.C. No. 1, 1982

Water-based pigments on paper

41½ × 29½ in.

105.4 × 74.9 cm

Courtesy of The Manuel Neri Trust

Joan Brown Seated, 1959;

Unique Cast 1963; Patina 2016

Aluminum, oil-based pigments

30¼ × 12½ × 27 in.

76.8 × 31.8 × 68.6 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


K.C. No. 2, 1982

Water-based pigments on paper

41½ × 29¾ in.

105.4 × 75.6 cm

Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret

Anderson, 1984.013


Makida III, 1997

Marble, oil-based pigments

24 × 16 × 22 in.

61.0 × 40.6 × 55.9 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Marble Relief Maquette No. 3 (Cast 1/4),

1983; Cast 2013; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

27½ × 9¾ × 4 in.

69.9 × 24.8 × 10.2 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Male Figure I, 1958

Plaster, oil-based pigments, mixed media

37¼ × 10½ × 6¾ in.

94.6 × 26.7 × 17.2 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust

Marble Relief Maquette No. 4 (Cast 1/4),

1983; Cast 2013; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

26 3 ∕8 × 9¾ × 3 3 ∕8 in.

67.0 × 24.8 × 8.6 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Marble Relief Maquette No. 1 (Cast 1/4),

1983; Cast 2013; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

27½ × 9 × 3 3 ∕8 in.

69.9 × 22.9 × 8.6 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Marble Relief Maquette No. 5 (Cast 1/4),

1983; Cast 2013; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

27½ × 9 7 ∕8 × 3¾ in.

69.9 × 25.1 × 9.5 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Marble Relief Maquette No. 2 (Cast 1/4),

1983; Cast 2013; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

21½ × 7 × 2½ in.

54.6 × 17.8 × 6.4 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Marble Relief Maquette No. 6 (Cast 1/4),

1983; Cast 2013; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

27½ × 9 7 ∕8 × 3¾ in.

69.9 × 25.1 × 9.5 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,



Marble Relief Maquette No. 7 (Cast 1/4),

1983; Cast 2013; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

23¾ × 7 3 ∕8 × 3 in.

60.3 × 18.7 × 7.6 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Mujer Pegada Study No. 2, 1984

Oil-based pigments, charcoal, graphite

on paper

13 5 ∕8 × 10 5 ∕8 in.

34.6 × 27.0 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Marble Relief Maquette No. 8 (Cast 1/4),

1983; Cast 2013; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

23 × 9 × 3½ in.

58.4 × 22.9 × 15.2 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Mujer Pegada Study No. 7, 1984

Oil-based pigments, charcoal, graphite

on paper

13 5 ∕8 × 10 5 ∕8 in.

34.6 × 27.0 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Marble Relief Maquette No. 9 (Cast 1/4),

1983; Cast 2013; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

21 5 ∕8 × 7 × 2½ in.

54.9 × 17.8 × 6.4 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Standing Figure II, 1982

Plaster, water-based pigments, mixed media,

steel armature on wood base

69¼ × 17 7 ∕8 × 19½ in.

175.9 × 45.4 × 49.5 cm

Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson,

and Mary Patricia Anderson Pence, 2014.1.059

Mujer Pegada Study [Gustavo No. 12], 1985

Oil-based pigments, charcoal,

graphite on paper

13 5 ∕8 × 10 5 ∕8 in.

34.6 × 27.0 cm

Gift of The Manuel Neri Trust,


Standing Armless Figure, 1974

Plaster, water-based pigments,

oil-based pigments, mixed-media

64½ × 20½ × 20 in.

163.8 × 52.1 × 50.8 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust



Anderson Collection at Stanford University

MANUEL NERI: Assertion of the Figure

October 2017 – December 2018

Annunciation No. 1 (Cast AP),

1982; Cast 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

46¾ × 22 × 24¼ in.

118.7 × 56.0 × 61.6 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust


Bull Jumper III (Cast 4/4),

1987; Cast 1989; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

29½ × 47 x 19 in.

75.0 × 119.4 x 48.3 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust

M.J. Series V (Cast 2/4),

1989; Cast 2001; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

44½ × 19½ × 29½ in.

113.0 × 49.5 × 74.9 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust

La Palestra No. 5 (Cast AP),

1988; Cast 2001; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

29 × 47 × 18½ in.

73.7 × 119.4 × 47.0 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust

On the Up No. 1 (Cast 1/4),

1992; Casta 2002; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

69½ × 19¼ × 16¼ in.

176.5 × 48.9 × 41.3 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust

La Palestra No. 6 (Cast 4/4),

1988; Cast 2007; Patina 2016

Bronze, oil-based pigments

32 × 44 × 21 in.

81.3 × 111.8 × 53.3 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust

Standing Figure I (Cast AP-I),

1982; Cast 2005; Patina 2016

69 × 18 × 20½ in.

175.3 × 45.7 × 52.1 cm

Courtesy of Hackett Mill, San Francisco

and The Manuel Neri Trust







1930 Sanger, CA


1949–50 San Francisco City College, San Francisco, CA

1951–2 University of California, Berkeley, CA

1951–6 California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA

1956–8 California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA


1959–65 California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA

1963–4 University of California, Berkeley, CA

1965–90 University of California, Davis, CA


1953 Oakland Art Museum, Oakland, CA. First Award in Sculpture

1957 Oakland Art Museum, Oakland, CA. Purchase Award in Painting

1959 Nealie Sullivan Award, California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA

1963 San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, 82nd Annual Sculpture Award

Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1982


1965 National Art Foundation Award

1970–5 University of California, Davis, CA. Sculpture Grant

1979 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, New York, NY.

Artist Fellowship

1980 National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC. Individual

Artist Grant

1982 American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York,

NY. Academy-Institute Award in Art

1985 San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco, CA. Award of

Honor for Outstanding Achievement in Sculpture

1990 San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA. Honorary

Doctorate for Outstanding Achievement in Sculpture

1992 California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA. Honorary


1995 Corcoran School of Art, Washington, DC. Honorary Doctorate

1999 Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach CA.

Distinguished Artist Award

2006 International Sculpture Center, Washington, DC. Lifetime

Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture

2008 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA.

Bay Area Treasure Award


1980–2 Office of the State Architect, State of California. Marble

sculpture Tres Marias for The Bateson Building, Sacramento, CA

1987 North Carolina National Bank. Marble sculpture Española for

NCNB Tower, Tampa, FL

The Linpro Company. Marble sculpture Passage for Christina

Gateway Project, Wilmington, DE

U.S. General Services Administration. Marble sculpture Ventana

al Pacífico for U.S. Courthouse, Portland, OR

1994 Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, MO

2003 Iowa State University, Ames, IA. Marble sculpture Escalieta I

for the Gerdin Building

St. Anne’s Church, Seattle, WA. Bronze sculpture Virgin Mary


1957 The 6 Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri, June

1959 Spatsa Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri

1960 Dilexi Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri, June 20–July 16

1963 New Mission Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Neri Sculpture, July 20–

August 17

1964 Berkeley Gallery, Berkeley, CA, Manuel Neri

1966 Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Neri Sculpture

1968 Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri

1969 Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, Manuel Neri

1970 St. Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, Manuel Neri

San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri

1971 Art Gallery, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, Manuel Neri

San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA, Arts of San

Francisco: Manuel Neri, August 6–September 5. Brochure

Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri at Quay, November


1972 Sacramento State College Art Gallery, Sacramento, CA, Work by

Manuel Neri, March 22–April 18

Davis Art Center, Davis, CA, Manuel Neri: New Sculpture, October

27–November 16

1974 Art Gallery, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, Manuel Neri,

February 13–March 8

Davis Art Gallery, Stephens College, Columbia, MO, Manuel Neri:

Sculpture and Installations, October 3–23

1975 Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri: Sculpture and

Drawings, April 1–26

1976 Braunstein/Quay Gallery, New York, NY, Neri Sculpture, March

16–April 10

80 Langton Street, San Francisco, CA, The Remaking of Mary Julia:

Sculpture in Process, May 4–15

The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, Manuel Neri, Sculptor,

September 21–November 28. Travel: Utah Museum of Fine Arts,

Salt Lake City, UT, March 12–May 1, 1977. Catalogue


1977 ArtSpace/Open Ring, E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, CA,

Manuel Neri: Recent Sculpture and Drawings, July 22–August 20.


1979 Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri, May 15–

June 9

1980 Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, Manuel Neri: Sculpture and

Drawings, April 1–30

Richmond Art Center, Richmond, CA, Manuel Neri: Drawings, July


Grossmont College Gallery, El Cajon, CA, Manuel Neri, November

10–December 10

1981 Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Manuel Neri, January 15–March 1.


Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri, February

7–28. Brochure

The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri: Sculpture/

Drawings, May 7–June 5

The Art Museum Association, Manuel Neri: Drawings and Bronzes.

Travel through 1983: Redding Museum and Art Center, Redding,

CA; Fresno Art Center, Fresno, CA; Gardiner State University Art

Gallery, Stillwater, OK; San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA;

North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND; Arkansas Art Center,

Little Rock, AR; Abilene Fine Arts Museum, Abilene, TX; Art

Museum of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz, CA; Florida

International University, Miami, FL; Springfield Art Museum,

Springfield, MO; Honolulu Academy of Art, Honolulu, HI; Laumeier

International Sculpture Park, St. Louis, MO. Brochure

John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri, November

17–December 19

1982 Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri, November


1983 Middendorf/Lane Gallery, Washington, DC, Manuel Neri, Sculpture

and Drawings, January 26–February 22

1984 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri, Sculpture

and Drawings, February 23–March 24

Middendorf Gallery, Washington, DC, Manuel Neri, March 10–31

Art Gallery, California State University, Chico, CA, The Human

Figure: Sculpture and Drawings by Manuel Neri, March 26–April 13

Gimpel-Hanover & Andre Emmerich Galerien, Zurich, Switzerland,

Manuel Neri, April 16–June 7

1985 Robert Else Gallery, California State University, Sacramento, CA,

Manuel Neri: Sculpture and Drawings, October 15–November 12.


1986 Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri, February 1–

March 1

1987 Fay Gold Gallery, Atlanta, GA, Manuel Neri: Sculpture and Drawings,

March 14–April 22

San Antonio Art Institute, San Antonio, TX, Manuel Neri, November

24–December 22

1988 College of Notre Dame, Belmont, CA, Manuel Neri, A Personal

Selection, April 14–May 21. Brochure

John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri: Recent

Sculpture and Drawings, April 28–May 28

James Corcoran Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, Manuel Neri, October

29–November 27

1989 Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery, University of Nevada, Reno, NV,

Manuel Neri, March 10–April 3

Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri, New Works:

Marble and Plaster, April 29–May 27

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, Manuel

Neri: Plaster, May 25–July 23. Catalogue

Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, WA, Manuel Neri: Sculpture and

Drawings, June 1–July 9

Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Manuel Neri: Sculpture of the

1980s, November 18–December 25. Catalogue

1990 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri, March

21–April 21

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA, Manuel Neri: Bronzes,

August 10–October 21. Catalogue.

Bingham Kurts Gallery, Memphis, TN, Manuel Neri: Works on Paper,

October 19–November 13


San Marco Gallery, Dominican College, San Rafael, CA, Manuel

Neri, November 15–December 15

Margulies/Taplin Gallery, Coconut Grove, FL, Manuel Neri,

December 28, 1990– January 23, 1991

1991 Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri, February


Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA,

Manuel Neri: Drawings, Part I. 1953–1974, April 7–May 19

Eve Mannes Gallery, Atlanta, GA, Manuel Neri, April 12–June 15

Riva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, Manuel Neri, June 1–August 31

Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA,

Manuel Neri: Drawings, Part II. 1974–1991, October 13–

December 6

1992 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri, March

5–April 4

Morgan Gallery, Kansas City, MO, Manuel Neri, March 27–May 2

Margulies/Taplin Gallery, Boca Raton, FL, Manuel Neri, May 7–

June 11

Fresno Art Center, Fresno, CA, She Said: I Tell You It Doesn’t Hurt

Me, June 5–August 16

1993 Bingham Kurts Gallery, Memphis, TN, Manuel Neri, January 8–31

Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri, New Work:

Marbles, Bronzes and Works on Paper, January 28–March 6

Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Manuel Neri, February 11–

March 9

University of Alabama Art Gallery, Tuscaloosa, AL, Manuel Neri

Drawings and Sculpture, March 26–May 2

Dia Center for the Arts, Bridgehampton, NY, Manuel Neri: Painted

and Unpainted, July 31–September 19. Catalogue

Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri:

Recent Work, August 31–October 2. Catalogue

1994 Margulies/Taplin Gallery, Boca Raton, FL, Manuel Neri, February


Hearst Art Gallery, St. Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, Manuel Neri:

Master Artist Tribute III, November 11–December 23. Catalogue

Morgan Gallery, Kansas City, MO, Manuel Neri, December 2,

1994–January 15, 1995

1995 Galerie Claude Samuel, Paris, France, Manuel Neri: Sculptures et

Dessins, January 21–February 28

Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri, March 11–

April 15

Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri:

Recent Drawings, May 23–June 24

Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO, Manuel Neri: Bronze Sculpture and

Drawing, November 10, 1995–January 6, 1996

Nevada Institute for Contemporary Art, Las Vegas, NV, Manuel

Neri—Classical Expressions: Sculpture and Drawings, November

16–December 31. Travel: Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ,

February 15–March 16, 1996; Riva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, July

5–30, 1996. Catalogue

1996 Lisa Kurts Gallery, Memphis, TN, Manuel Neri: Recent Drawings and

Sculpture, February 9–March 7

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Manuel Neri: A

Sculptor’s Drawings. Travel: Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, MO,

June1–August 11; Academy of Art College, San Francisco, CA, April

12–May 17, 1997; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture

Garden, Lincoln, NE, August 22–October 26, 1997; The Hyde

Collection, Glens Falls, NY, February 1–March 29, 1998; Fresno Art

Museum, Fresno, CA, April 24–June 21, 1998. Catalogue

1997 The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Manuel Neri: Early

Work, 1953–1978, February 1–May 5. Travel: San Jose Museum of

Art, San Jose, CA, June 7–September 14; Orange County Museum

of Art, Newport Beach, CA, January 10–May 3, 1998. Catalogue

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Manuel Neri:

Recent Marble Sculpture, February 1–May 5. Brochure

San Marco Gallery, Dominican College, San Rafael, CA, Manuel

Neri, March 3–29

Galerie Claude Samuel, Paris, France, Manuel Neri: Sculptures et

Dessins, March 18–April 25

Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri, March 22–

April 26


Campbell Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri,

May 27–June 28

Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CA, Manuel Neri: Recent

Works, June 15–September 7

Anne Reed Gallery, Ketchum, ID, Manuel Neri, June 30–July 31

Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO, Manuel Neri: Recent Drawings,

Bronze and Marble Sculpture, November 8, 1997–January 3, 1998

1998 Galerie Simonne Stern, New Orleans, LA, Manuel Neri: Sculpture

and Drawings, March 7–31

Loggia, 1998 Decorators’ Show House, Crosby Estate, Hillsborough,

CA, Manuel Neri, April 26–May 24

Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville, CA, Manuel Neri, May 3–July 2

Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA, Manuel Neri,

October 21, 1998–January 24, 1999

Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Manuel Neri, November 14–

December 31

Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri: Recent Work,

December 1, 1998–January 9, 1999

1999 Galerie Simonne Stern, New Orleans, LA, Manuel Neri: Sculpture,

February 6–March 2

Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA, Manuel Neri:

Sculpture & Drawings, May 19–June 19

Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO, Manuel Neri, September 11–

October 16

Stremmel Gallery, Reno, NV, Manuel Neri: Drawings and Sculpture,

October 14–November 6

2000 Campbell Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri,

February 15–March 20

Anne Reed Gallery, Ketchum, ID, Manuel Neri: Recent Works,

July 7–August 1

Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri: Recent

Bronzes, Marbles, Plasters and Drawings, September 5–October 26

2001 Galerie Simonne Stern, New Orleans, LA, Manuel Neri, April 7–

May 1

Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri,

Paintings and Sculpture: 1958–1970, October 4–27. Catalogue

2002 Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Manuel Neri: White Sculpture

and Dream Drawings, February 9–March 4. Brochure

b. sakata garo, Sacramento, CA, Manuel Neri/Japonais: Sculpture

and Paintings on Paper, May 2–June 1

Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO, Manuel Neri: Sculpture/Drawings,

November 1–December 28

2003 Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri

Metamorphosis: Recent Figurative Sculpture, February 6–March 29.


Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Manuel Neri, March 22–

April 19

Anne Reed Gallery, Ketchum, ID, Manuel Neri: Sculpture and

Drawings, June 29–July 28

2004 San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA, Collaboration

and the Creative Process: Artists’ Books by Manuel Neri and Mary

Julia Klimenko, April 16–June 4

Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri: Recent

Marble Sculpture, June 3–July 31

Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, Manuel Neri: He

Said, She Said, October 2–November 13

2005 University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, Collaboration

and the Creative Process: Sculpture and Artists Books by Manuel

Neri and Mary Julia Klimenko, January 18–May 15

Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Manuel Neri: 50 Years of Work,

March 3–April 4. Travel: Riva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, May 27–

June 27. Catalogue

Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri: Painted

Bronzes and Plasters, April 7–June 3. Catalogue

Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, CA, Manuel Neri: Palpable Tensions,

June 21–August 21

Reva and David Logan Gallery, Palace of the Legion of Honor, Fine

Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri:

Artists’ Books/The Collaborative Process, June 28–November 27.


2006 Ameringer Yohe Fine Art, New York, NY, Manuel Neri: In the

Classical Tradition, February 23–March 25. Catalogue


Gallery Camino Real, Boca Raton, FL, Manuel Neri, March 9–April 3

Grounds For Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ, Manuel Neri: The Figure in

Relief, October 7, 2006–April 29, 2007. Catalogue

Gerald Peters Gallery, Dallas, TX, Manuel Neri, November 17–

December 23

2007 Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Manuel Neri: The Figure in Relief,

January 13–February 12

Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri: Painted

Sculpture and Reliefs, March 8–April 28

Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, Manuel Neri: The Figure in

Relief, March 18–July 8

b. sakata garo, Sacramento, CA, Manuel Neri, April 3–28

Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO, Manuel Neri, May 12–June 16

Anne Reed Gallery, Ketchum, ID, Manuel Neri: The Figure In Relief,

August 1–29

Anne Reed Gallery, Ketchum, ID, Manuel Neri, November 22–

December 27

2008 San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA Manuel Neri:

The Figure In Relief, November 8, 2008–January 17, 2009

2009 Maisonry, Yountville, CA, Manuel Neri at Maisonry, September 11–

November 30

2010 Hackett Mill, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri: Collage, 1958–1960,

October 8–December 23

Hackett Mill at Art Basel Miami, Miami, FL, Manuel Neri,

December 2–5

2011 Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, Novato, CA, Legends of the

Bay Area: Manuel Neri, October 1–November 13

2012 Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO, Manuel Neri, January 26–March 10

Stanford University Libraries, Green Library, Stanford University,

Stanford, CA, Things that Dream/Cosas que sueñan, April 19–July 8.


2013 Yares Art Projects, Santa Fe, NM, Manuel Neri: Mujer Pegada Series

1983–2013, July 5–August 24

2014 Hackett Mill, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri, Working in Marble:

A Selection from the Carrara Studio, February 7–May 9

2016 Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO, Manuel Neri: FIGURA|Form +

Fragment, February 11–April 2

Yares Art Projects, Santa Fe, NM, Manuel Neri Bronzes: Singularity

of Form and Surface, July 29–September 17

Hackett Mill, San Francisco, CA, Bronze: Recent Works by Manuel

Neri, October 27–December 16. Catalogue

2017 Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, TX, Recent Acquisitions from the

Manuel Neri Trust, February 18–July 16

Yares Art, New York, NY, Manuel Neri: Singularity of Form &

Surface, February 23–April 8. Catalogue

Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum, Clarinda, IA, Manuel Neri: The

Modernist Figure, June 18–December 3. Catalogue

Anderson Collection at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, Manuel

Neri: Assertion of the Figure, September 14, 2017–February 12,

2018. Catalogue

Anderson Collection at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, Manuel

Neri: Outdoor Sculpture Installation, October 2017–December


2018 Christian Petersen Art Museum, Iowa State University, Ames, IA,

Manuel Neri: Ambiguity, Mystery and Allure, January 18–May 18

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, Manuel Neri: The

Human Figure in Plaster and on Paper, March–July


1955 The 6 Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1957 The 6 Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Bruce McGaw/Manuel Neri,


1959 San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA, Paintings by

Sam Francis, Wally Hedrick, and Fred Martin, Sculpture by Wally

Hedrick and Manuel Neri, February 3–22

1960 Batman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Gang Bang, December 4,

1960–January 1, 1961

1961 Staempfli Gallery, New York, NY

California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA,

The Nude, September


1962 Stanford University Art Gallery, Stanford, CA, Some Points

of View–’62, October 30–November 20. Catalogue

Houston Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, TX, San

Francisco 9

Primus-Stuart Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, Joan Brown and Manuel


San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, Works in Clay

Staempfli Gallery, New York, NY

1963 San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, Some New Art in

the Bay Area, March–April

The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, California Sculpture Today,

August 4–September 15

San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, 82nd Annual


1964 Stanford University Art Museum, Stanford, CA, Current Painting

and Sculpture of the Bay Area, October 8–November 29.


David Stuart Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, Joan Brown/Manuel Neri,


1965 San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA, Bay Region:

Prints and Drawings by Manuel Neri and Wayne Thiebaud, January

12–February 21

1966 University of California, Irvine, CA, Abstract Expressionist Ceramics.

Travel: San Francisco Museum of Art

Berkeley Gallery, San Francisco, CA, The Slant Step Show,


1967 University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA, Funk Art, April 18–May 29.


California State College, Fullerton, CA, Recorded Images/

Dimensional Media, October 20–November 12

1968 Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, The West Coast Now,

February 9–March 6. Travel: San Francisco and Los Angeles

San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA, On Looking Back:

Bay Area, 1945–1962, August 8–September 8

University of Nevada, Reno, NV, Sculpture Invitational. Catalogue

1969 Worth Ryder Gallery, University of California, Berkeley, CA,

Visiting Artists: Leonard Edmondson, Joseph Raffael, Manuel Neri,

August 8–31

Reed College, Portland, OR, Six Bay Area Artists

1970 University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA, The Eighties, March 17–

April 12

San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, Manuel Neri and

William Geis, September–October

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, Annual

Exhibition: Contemporary American Sculpture

1971 The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, Sculptured Lines, July 27–

September 5

University of Nevada, Reno, NV, Manuel Neri and William Wiley,


St. Mary’s College Art Gallery, Moraga, CA, The Good Drawing

Show, October 30–November 26. Catalogue

1972 E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, CA, Sacramento Sampler I,

April 1–May 7. Travel: The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA

1973 Artists Contemporary Gallery, Sacramento, CA, A Ladder Show,

October 6–31. Catalogue

1974 San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA, A Third World

Painting and Sculpture Exhibition, June 8–July 28. Catalogue

1975 The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, Public Sculpture/Urban

Environment, September–December

JPL Gallery, London, England, Sculptors as Draughtsmen

JPL Gallery, London, England, California Gold (Sponsored by the U.S.

Information Agency), October 15–November 21. Travel through

1978 to Museums in Europe, the Middle East, and India. Catalogue

1976 Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, NY, Graphics from the

International Institute of Experimental Printmaking, February 12–

March 6

San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA, California Painting

and Sculpture: The Modern Era, September 3, 1976–January 2,

1977. Travel: National Collection of Fine Arts, Washington, DC.



San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, Other Sources: An

American Essay, September 17–November 7. Catalogue

Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA, The Handmade

Paper Object, October 29–November 29. Travel: The Oakland

Museum, Oakland, CA; Institute for Contemporary Art, Boston,

MA; Johnson Museum at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Jacksonville

Museum of Art, Jacksonville, FL. Catalogue

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, The Biennale

of Sydney, November 11–December 19. Catalogue

1977 Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL, California Bay Area

Art—Update, May 6–June 15. Catalogue

Kenmin Prefecture Hall, Tokyo, Japan, Tokyo/Bay Area Exchange

of Contemporary Art: Kenmin Prefecture Hall, Tokyo/80 Langton

Street San Francisco, October 25–November 12

Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Washington,

DC, Paper as Medium. Travel. Catalogue

Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina,

Greensboro, NC

1978 University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque, NM, Bay

Area Art of the 60’s and 70’s, The Gift of Dr. Sam West, January

8–March 19. Catalogue

Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY, A Century of Ceramics in

the United States 1878–1978. Catalogue

1979 Independent Curators, New York, NY, Masks. Travel in US through


The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, 10” x 10”

1980 San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA, Sculpture in California

1975–1980, May 9–June 22

International Sculpture Center, Washington, DC, The Eleventh

International Sculpture Conference Exhibition, June

Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, Roslyn, NY, Contemporary

Naturalism: Works of the 1970s, June 8–August 24. Catalogue

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, 20

American Artists, July 24–September 7. Catalogue

1981 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, San

Francisco Art Institute Alumni: Selections from the Permanent

Collection, January 8–March 8

Sierra Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV, Davis School: Prints

and Drawings, January 24–February 22

Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, MA,

The Sun Gallery, July 24–August 30. Catalogue

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, Variants: Drawings by

Sculptors, October 15, 1981–May 30, 1982

American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York,

NY, Hassam Fund Purchase Exhibit, November 16–December 20

1982 American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York,

NY, Paintings and Sculpture by Candidates for Art Awards,

March 8–April 4

American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York,

NY, Paintings and Sculptures by Recipients of Art Awards, May

19–June 13

The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, 100 Years of Sculpture,

August 7–October 17. Catalogue

Fresno Arts Center, Fresno, CA, Forgotten Dimension: A Survey of

Small Sculpture in California Now. Travel by the Art Museum

Association: San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, CA;

Center for the Visual Arts, Illinois State University, Normal, IL; Aspen

Center for the Visual Arts, Aspen, CO; Florida International

University, Miami, FL; Laumeier International Sculpture Park, St.

Louis, MO; Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, Northwestern University,

Evanston, IL; Colorado Gallery of the Arts, Littleton, CO. Catalogue

Richard L. Nelson Gallery, Memorial Union Art Gallery, and Pence

Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA, Sculptors at UC Davis:

Past & Present, September 20–October 29. Catalogue

DeSaisset Museum, University of Santa Clara, Santa Clara, CA,

Northern California Art of the Sixties, October 12–December 12.


1983 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA,

Resource/Reservoir, CCAC: 75 Years, January 13–February 27.



Sarah Lawrence Gallery, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY,

The United States of the Arts, February 1–March 13. Brochure

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Recent West Coast Acquisitions,

February 12–April 26

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA,

Selections from the Permanent Collection/Sculpture, April–June 5

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, Bay

Area Collects, April 21–June 26

Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Monterey, CA, California

Contemporary: Recent Work of Twenty-three Artists, May 1–29.


Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, The Sixth

Day, May 8–June 15. Catalogue

Institute of Contemporary Art of the Virginia Museum, Richmond,

VA, Sculpture Now: Recent Figurative Works, October 11–

November 13

1984 Spokane Center Gallery, Eastern Washington University, Cheney,

WA, Figurative Bronze Sculpture, January 13–February 23

Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA,

Painters at UC Davis, Part I: 1950s–1960s, January 23–February 21

California State University, Long Beach, Figurative Sculpture: Ten

Artists/Two Decades, March 13–April 29. Catalogue

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC,

Drawings Since 1974, March 15–May 13. Catalogue

Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA,

California Sculpture Show (Organized by California/International

Arts Foundation), June 2–August 12. Travel: CAPC (Musee d’Art

Contemporain de Bordeaux), Bordeaux, France; Stadtische

Kunsthalle, Mannheim, Germany; Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West

Bretton, England; Sonja Henies og Neils Onstads Stiftelser,

Høvikodden (Oslo), Norway. Catalogue

The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, Dilexi Years, October 13–

December 1

Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA, Works in Bronze, A

Modern Survey, November 2–December 16. Travel through 1986.


Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, American Sculpture: Three

Decades, November 15, 1984–January 27, 1985

American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York,

NY, 36th Annual Purchase Exhibition: Hassam and Speicher Fund,

November 19–December 16. Brochure

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, The 20th

Century: The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Collection,

December 9, 1984–February 17, 1985. Catalogue

1985 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA, Santa Barbara

Collects, Part I, January 26–March 24. Catalogue

The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, Art in the San Francisco Bay

Area, 1945–1980, June 15–August 18

The Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, Body & Soul:

Aspects of Recent Figurative Sculpture, September 5–October 12.

Travel: Knight Gallery, Charlotte, NC; Fresno Arts Center, Fresno,

CA; Loch Haven Art Center, Orlando, FL; Visual Arts Gallery, Florida

International University, Miami, FL; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE;

Jacksonville Art Museum, Jacksonville, FL. Catalogue

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, American

Realism: Twentieth-Century Drawings and Watercolors from the

Glenn C. Janss Collection, November 7, 1985–January 12, 1986.

Travel: De Cordova and Dana Museum, Lincoln, MA; Huntington

Art Gallery, University of Texas, Austin, TX; Mary and Leigh Block

Gallery, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL; Williams College

Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA; Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH;

Madison Art Center, Madison, WI. Catalogue

Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE,

Contemporary Bronze: Six in the Figurative Tradition, November 19,

1985–January 19, 1986. Travel: Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City,

KS; Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA. Catalogue

1986 University Art Museum, Berkeley, CA, Cal Collects, April 2–May 18.


Marilyn Pearl Gallery, New York, NY, Figurative Sculpture: The 80s,

June 10–July 3

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, California

Sculpture: 1959–1980, July 20–August 24


Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, FL, Collectors’ Choice, October

1986–February 1987

North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand Forks, ND, Casting Across

America: An Artist Selects, October 10–November 9

1987 Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA, California

Figurative Sculpture, January 30–March 15. Catalogue

Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, Thirty

From 25, April 24–May 22. Catalogue

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, Contemporary Hispanic Art in

the United States, May 2–July 26. Travel: Corcoran Gallery of Art,

Washington, DC; Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Museum of Fine

Arts and Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM; Denver

Art Museum, Denver, CO; Los Angeles County Museum of Art,

Los Angeles, CA. Catalogue

Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, OK, The Eloquent Object, September

20, 1987–January 3, 1988. Travel: The Oakland Museum, Oakland,

CA. Catalogue

Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE, Sculptors’ Works

on Paper, September 28–October 14

American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York,

NY, 39th Annual Academy-Institute Purchase Exhibition, November

16–December 13

Madison Art Center, Madison, WI, Sculptors on Paper: New Work,

December 5, 1987–January 31, 1988. Travel: Pittsburgh Center for

the Arts, Pittsburgh, PA; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, MI;

Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.


1988 Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE,

Sheldon Sampler: One Hundred American Masterworks. Catalogue

Sierra Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV, West Coast

Contemporary, July 14–August 14

The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY, The Latin American

Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920–1970, September

29, 1988–January 27, 1989. Travel: El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso,

TX; San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA; Instituto de Cultura

Puertorriquena, San Juan, PR; Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, FL.


Leavenworth Carnegie Arts Center, Leavenworth, KS, Contemporary

Masters Kansas Tour: Selections from the Collection of

Southwestern Bell Corporation, November 4–December 26. Travel

in Kansas: Baker Arts Center, Liberal; Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of

Art, Wichita State University, Wichita; Salina Arts Center, Salina;

Norman R. Eppink Art Gallery, Emporia State University, Emporia;

Mulvane Art Museum, Washburn University, Topeka. Catalogue

Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina,

Greensboro, NC, Art on Paper, November 13–December 11

Sheehan Gallery, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, Cast in Walla

Walla, November 14–December 16

1989 California Museum of Science and Industry, Los Angeles, CA,

Marmo: The New Italian Stone Age, March 16–April 30. Catalogue

Security Pacific Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, Sculptural Intimacies:

Recent Small-Scale Work, November 12, 1989–January 6, 1990.


San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA, Bay Area

Figurative Art: 1950–1965, December 14, 1989–February 4, 1990.

Travel: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC;

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA. Catalogue

1990 Natsoulas/Novelozo Gallery, Davis, CA, Lyrical Vision: The ‘6’

Gallery, 1954–1957, January 12–February 23. Catalogue

Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR, National Drawing Invitational,

March 1–April 8

Natsoulas/Novelozo Gallery, Davis, CA, 30 Ceramic Sculptors, April

6–May 3. Catalogue

Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, NY, No Man’s Land, April

8, 1990–March 8, 1991. Catalogue.

Barbara Kornblatt Gallery, Washington, DC, Manuel Neri, Erik

Levine, Mel Chin, June 5–July 28

Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Bay Area Sculpture of

the ‘60’s, Past to Present, June 7–July

Queens Museum, Queens, NY, The Expressionist Surface:

Contemporary Art in Plaster, June 9–August 1. Catalogue

Butler Institute, Youngstown, OH, California A-Z and Return, June

24–August 19. Catalogue


The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA, From Folk to Fine:

Fifteenth Anniversary Celebration, December 7, 1990–April 31,


1991 John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Large Scale Works on

Paper, February 21–March 16. Catalogue

Eve Mannes Gallery, Atlanta, GA, Top Choices, June 15–August

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial

Museum, San Francisco, CA, New Acquisitions, September 11–

November 17

Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Fullerton, CA, Sculptural

Perspectives for the Nineties, October 6–December 29. Catalogue

Museo Estudio Diego Rivera, Mexico City. Mexico, Pasión por Frida,

October 11, 1991–January 31, 1992. Travel. Catalogue

1992 Colorado University Art Galleries, University of Colorado, Boulder,

CO, Visiting Artist Program: 20th Anniversary Show, January 15–

February 22. Catalogue

Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO, California North and South,

February 13–April 15

Hearst Art Gallery, St. Mary’s College, Orinda, CA, The Crucifixion

Through the Modern Eye, March 7–April 27

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, Gifts and

Acquisitions in Context, May 21–July 5

1993 The Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque, NM, The Human Factor:

Figurative Sculpture Reconsidered, March 14–July 4. Catalogue

Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, CA, Beyond the

Bay: The Figure, May 12–June 27

Art Museum of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz, CA, Now and

Again: Figure and Landscape, October 2–November 21

Laguna Gloria Museum, Austin, TX, Human Nature–Human Form,

October 30–December 12. Brochure

American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York,

NY, 45th Annual Academy Purchase Exhibition, November 8–

December 5

1994 Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CA, Lyricism & Light, January

20–April 24. Brochure

Frumkin/Adams Gallery, New York, NY, California in the ‘70s: Bay

Area Painting and Sculpture Revisited, March 2–30

The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, Here and Now: Bay Area

Masterworks from the Di Rosa Collection, March 11–May 8.


Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ, Spring/Summer Exhibition,

May 21–September 30. Catalogue

Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, CA, The Essential

Gesture, October 15–December 31. Catalogue

The White House, Washington, DC, Twentieth Century American

Sculpture at The White House, October 1994–February 24, 1995.


1995 Robert Kidd Gallery, Birmingham, MI, Figurative Concepts: John

Buck, Manuel Neri, Gary Kulak, January 14–February 18

Nationsbank Plaza, Charlotte, NC, Black & White & Read All Over,

January 16–October 31. Catalogue

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA,

Selections from the Permanent Collection of Painting and Sculpture

(Inaugural Exhibition), January 18–April 25

Frumkin/Adams Gallery, New York, NY, California in the 1960s:

Funk Revisited, February 1–28

Wiegand Gallery, College of Notre Dame, Belmont, CA, Working

Together: Joan Brown and Manuel Neri, 1958–1964, March 21–

April 29. Catalogue

Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC, Spoleto Festival USA, March

26–June 11

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Recent Acquisitions,

April 12–June

Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, CA, The Figure, April

18–May 20

Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CA, Concept in Form: Artists’

Sketchbooks & Maquettes, October 5, 1995–January 7, 1996

Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA, A Bay Area Connection:

Works from the Anderson Collection, November 1, 1995–January

28, 1996


Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, Beat Culture

and the New America, 1950–1965, November 8, 1995–February 4,

1996. Travel: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; M. H. de Young

Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA. Catalogue

Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, Treasures

of the Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts, November 11,

1995–March 3, 1996

1996 Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Collection Highlights: 1945 to the

Present, April 12, 1996–June 1, 1997

John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA, The Robert Arneson

Tribute Exhibition, May 22–June 15. Brochure

Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Summer Show, August

San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA, Illustrious History

1871–1996, November 12–December 11. Travel: Salander-O’Reilly

Gallery, New York, NY; Montgomery Gallery and John Berggruen

Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Catalogue

American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, NY, 48th

American Academy Purchase Exhibition, November 4–December 1

Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA, 20th Century Art

from the Museum’s Collection, November

Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA, A Bay Area Connection:

Works from the Anderson Collection, 1954–1984, November 1,

1995–January 28, 1996. Catalogue

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Collection Highlights: 1945 to the

Present, April 12, 1996–June 1, 1997

1997 Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA, The

4th Annual Artists’ Valentine, January 21–February 8

Norman R. Eppink Art Gallery, Emporia State University, Emporia,

KS, Twenty-First Annual National Invitational Drawing Exhibition,

February 19–March 19. Catalogue

Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Vienna, Austria,

The View from Denver: Contemporary American Art from the

Denver Art Museum, July 4, 1997–Spring 1998. Travel: Denver Art

Museum, Denver, CO. Catalogue

Sheehan Gallery, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, Cast

Contemporary Sculpture from the Walla Walla Foundry, August

30–September 28. Brochure

1998 Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Works on Paper, March

21–April 25

Riva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, and Scottsdale, AZ, A Theatre of

Art II, August 28–October 17. Brochure

Robert Aichele Fine Arts, Menlo Park, CA, The Figure in California

Art, October 15–November 15

Riva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, NM and Scottsdale, AZ, A Theatre of

Art III, November 14–December 31. Brochure

1999 The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, What is Art For?, March–July


San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA, Into the 21st Century:

Selections from the Permanent Collection, May 23–September 12.


Galerie Simonne Stern, New Orleans, LA, Self Images, July 10–

August 3

Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan, California Classics: Highlights

from the Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern

Art, July 10–August 8. Travel in Japan: Fukui City Art Museum,

August 13–September 12; Museum of Modern Art, Wakayama,

September 19–October 24; Tochigo Prefectural Museum of

Fine Art, October 31–December 5. Catalogue

Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO, Modern and Contemporary

Galleries, July 31–December 5

Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Twenty-Five

Treasures, September 7–October 9. Catalogue

Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Homage to the San

Francisco Art Institute: Artists Who Transformed American Culture,

October 1–30

The White House, Washington, DC, Twentieth Century American

Sculpture at The White House: Exhibition VIII, October 1999–

October 2000. Brochure

2000 Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings, MT, 32nd Annual Art Auction,

January 29–March 10. Catalogue

Museo ItaloAmericano, San Francisco, CA, Omaggio a Modesto

Lanzone: Artists, Galleries & Friends, March 23–June 4

Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY, Summer Exhibition, June

9–July 28


Riva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, Riva Yares 2000: The First 35

Years, September 1–October 16. Travel: Riva Yares Gallery,

Scottsdale, AZ, November 4–December 31. Catalogue

2001 Herter Art Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA,

Kinds of Drawing, March 13–April 13. Catalogue

Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ, Summer Exhibition, July

21–September 16. Catalogue

Masur Museum of Art, Monroe, LA, Julia St. North, August 19–

October 14

Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, San Francisco

School of Abstract Expressionism—Select Works, September 6–

October 27. Catalogue

2002 Riva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, A Theater of Art IV, August

9–September 30

2003 Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, Color, January 18–March 20

Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Bay Area Artists:

Select Works from the 1950s and 60s

Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, Bergamot Station, Santa Monica, CA,

American Artists in Tuscany, July 9–August 23

Scott White Contemporary Art, La Jolla, CA, Form & Conscience:

Figurative Art from Mid-Century to Present, July 11–August 30

2004 Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Small-Scale Sculpture:

Movement and Form, February 5–March 27

Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University,

Stanford, CA, Picasso to Thiebaud: Modern and Contemporary Art

from the Collections of Stanford University Alumni and Friends,

February 18–June 20. Catalogue

Oceanside Museum of Art, Oceanside, CA, Brighton Press: The Art

of the Book, April 11–June 20

Kreeger Museum, Washington, DC, The True Artist is an Amazing

Luminous Fountain: Selected Works from the di Rosa Preserve: Art

& Nature, April 21–July 31. Travel: Di Rosa Preserve: Art & Nature,

Napa, CA; Palm Springs Desert Museum, Palm Springs, CA; Santa

Cruz Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz, CA. Catalogue

Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando, FL, Co-Conspirators: Artist and

Collector, The Collection of James Cottrell and Joseph Lovett, July

24–October 31. Catalogue

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma, CA, Sonoma Collects,

September–October 17

Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, The Enchantment of the

Artist’s Book: Selections from the Collection of the Portland Art

Museum, November 20, 2004–July 10, 2005

Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford, CA,

Sculptures by Manuel Neri and Nathan Oliveira, November 2004–

August 2005

2005 Museum of Arts & Design, New York, NY, Dual Vision, The Simona

and Jerome Chazen Collection, May 26–September 11. Travel:

Elvehjem Museum, Madison, WI.

San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA, NextNew,

July 22– September 17. Brochure

Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, Inaugural Exhibition, Jubitz

Center for Modern and Contemporary Art, October

Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, Pairings II: Discovered

Dialogues in Postwar Abstraction, November 3–December 23.


Hackett-Freedman Gallery at Art Basel, Miami Beach, FL, Hackett-

Freedman Gallery: 20 Years, December 1–4. Catalogue

2006 Hackett-Freedman Gallery at Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY,

Works on Paper, March 2–5

Gallery Camino Real, Boca Raton, FL, Manuel Neri & Akio

Takamori, March 9–April 3

Di Rosa Preserve, Napa, CA, The Collection in Context

Riva Yares Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, A Theater of Art VII, September

1–October 31

John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, Bay Area Painting,

November 2–30

2007 Hackett-Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA, A Culture in the

Making, January 11–March 3. Catalogue

Hackett-Freedman Gallery at ARCO Art Fair, Madrid, Spain,

February 14–19

Robischon Gallery, Denver, CO, Decades, January 18–March 3

Di Rosa Preserve, Napa, CA, CCA[C] Alumni @ di Rosa Preserve,

May 26–July 14


Richard L. Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA, You

See: The Early Years of the UC Davis Studio Art Faculty, September

27–December 9. Travel: Hearst Art Gallery, St. Mary’s College,

Moraga, CA; Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, CA; Donna

Beam Fine Art Gallery, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV;

Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, CA. Catalogue

The Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA, CCA: 100 Years in the

Making, October 13, 2007–January 27, 2008

2008 Harn Museum of Art, Gainesville, FL, From Paradigm to the

Unexpected: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Shey

Collection, February 10–May 18. Catalogue

Bolinas Museum, Bolinas, CA, Figures in Abstraction—Three Artists,

Three Approaches, March 8–April 27

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College,

Poughkeepsie, NY, Out of Shape: Stylistic Distortions of the Human

Forrn in Art from the Logan Collection, March 14–June 8. Catalogue

Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, San Francisco, CA, The

Question is Known: (W)here is Latin American/Latino Art?, April

18–May 24. Brochure

ARSculptoris Associazione Culturale, Carrara, Italy, De migrante

marmoris, August 1–September 28. Catalogue

San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA, This End Up: The Art of

Cardboard, November 8, 2008–February 8, 2009

2009 Vero Beach Museum of Art, Vero Beach, FL, Body Language: The

Figure in Sculpture, February 14–May 24

Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University,

Stanford, CA, Pop to Present, March 18–August 16

Naples Museum of Art, Naples, FL, The Saint John’s Bible and The

Art of the Book, October 2, 2009–June 30, 2010

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, Freeing the Figure, November 5,

2009–December 10, 2010

2010 Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MI,

Contemporary Sculptors Celebrate the Legacy of Frederik and Lena

Meijer, June 4, 2010–January 2, 2011

Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University,

Stanford, CA, Extreme Makeover: A Fresh Look at the Cantor Arts

Center’s Contemporary Collection, December 15, 2010–August 5,


2011 Nelson Gallery, University of California, Davis, CA, American Gothic:

Regionalist Portraiture from the Collection, January 15–March 13

Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, Nashville, TN, 10 West

Coast Artists, June 16–August 13

2012 Hackett Mill, San Francisco, CA, Momentum of a Movement, January

6–March 30

Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL, Masterworks of 20th Century

Sculpture from the Martin Z. Margulies Collection, June 24–

September 9

2013 Thomas Williams Fine Art, London, England, The Bay Area School

Paintings: Californian Artists from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, May

14–June 20. Catalogue

Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA, Works from the Des

Moines Art Center Permanent Collections, June 21–September 22.


Thomas Williams Fine Art, London, England, The Bay Area School:

Drawings, June 25–July 6

Center for Book & Paper Arts, Columbia College, Chicago, IL, Form

and Expression: The Written Word, September 18–December 7.

Travel: Brunnier Museum, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, February

4–March 21, 2014

2014 Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MI,

Committed to Paper: Master Drawings and Prints by Sculptors,

January 31–April 27. Brochure

Thacher Gallery, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA,

¡Escultura! Selections from The Mexican Museum’s Permanent

Collection, February 3–December 12

Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, Five West Coast

Artists: Bischoff, Diebenkorn, Neri, Park, and Thiebaud, March 28–

July 13

Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA, Fertile Ground: Art

and Community in California, September 20, 2014–April 12, 2015


2015 Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI, Body Language: New Acquisitions

of Figurative Work, January 18–May 3

Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Miami, FL, A Collector’s

Legacy: Highlights from the Francien C. Runwitch and the Runwich

Family Collections, April 16–September 27

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA, Back to Life: Bay Area

Figurative Drawings, October 11, 2015–May 1, 2016

2016 New York Studio School, New York, NY, As I Am: Painting the

Figure in Post War San Francisco, February 4–March 16. Travel:

Hackett Mill, San Francisco, CA, April 7–May 27

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, TX, A Work in Progress: Plaster

in the Nasher Collection, July 23–October 9

The Landing, Los Angeles, CA, The Rat Bastard Protective

Association, October 1, 2016–January 7, 2017. Catalogue

Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WA, The Beauty of a Shared Passion:

Highlights from the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Collection, October

9, 2016–April 23, 2017

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, University of California, Davis, CA,

Out Our Way (Inaugural Exhibition), November 12, 2016–March

26, 2017

Baker Sponder Gallery, Boca Raton, FL, Art Concept, November

29–December 4

2017 Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI, Wustum Generations, January

22–April 30

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, University of California, Davis, CA,

Recent Gifts, April 14–June 30

Racine Art Museum, Racine, WI, 75 at 75: Significant Works from

RAM’s Collection, September 17–December 30

Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC, Disorderly

Conduct: American Painting and Sculpture 1960–1990, September

21, 2017–February 25, 2018

San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA, Connect &

Collect, September 23–October 21

Hackett Mill, San Francisco, CA, Decades in the Making, October

21, 2017–2018




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Handpainted etchings by Manuel Neri. Limited edition of 33.

_____. Territory. San Diego, CA: Brighton Press, 1993. Photolithograph illustrations by

Manuel Neri with one original drawing. Limited edition of 55.


García Lorca, Federico; with Introduction by Mary Julia Klimenko. Nine unique artists’ books

with poems by Federico García Lorca; original drawings by Manuel Neri; hand

calligraphy by Thomas Ingmire; binding by Daniel E. Kelm and The Wide Awake Garage;

box by Peggy Gotthold, Foolscap Press, Santa Cruz, CA, with hand decoration by

Thomas Ingmire, 2007-9.

_____. El compás/Counting Time, 2007.

_____. Sonámbulo, 2007. Collection of the Federico García Lorca Foundation, Spain.

_____. Café Cantante, 2008. Collection of The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

_____. Es verdad/It is True, 2008. Collection of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

_____. La fragua, 2008.

_____. Saetas/Songs of the Arrows, 2008.

Leo Holub (1916–2010), Photographer

Manuel Neri, Benicia 1984

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University


_____. Duende/Songs of Despair, 2009. Collection of the New York Public

Library, New York, NY.

_____. Soledad/Songs of Loneliness, 2009. Collection of the Morgan Library

& Museum, New York, NY.

_____. Tristezas/Songs of Sadness, 2009. Collection of Yale University Art

Gallery, New Haven, CT.

Neruda, Pablo; with Introduction by Mary Julia Klimenko. Seven unique

artists’ books with poems by Pablo Neruda; original drawings by

Manuel Neri; hand calligraphy by Thomas Ingmire; binding by Daniel E.

Kelm and The Wide Awake Garage, 2004-6.

_____. La mañana, las tardes, y esta noche/Morning, Afternoons, and

Tonight, 2004. Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New

York, NY.

_____. Los amores/The Loves, 2004.

_____. Oda a la bella desnuda/Ode to a Beautiful Nude, 2004. Private


_____. La verdad y la poesía/Truth and Poetry, 2005. Private Collection.

_____. Las piedras/Stones, 2005. Private Collection.

_____. Melancolia, 2005. Private Collection.

_____. El mar de Isla Negra, 2006. Private Collection.


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Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of

San Francisco, San Francisco, California

Anderson Collection at Stanford University, Stanford, California


Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley, California


Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Stanford, California

Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio

Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum, Clarinda, Iowa

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California


De Saisset Museum, Santa Clara, California

Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado

Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa

Di Rosa Art Preserve, Napa, California

Joanne Leonard, Photographer

Benicia Studio, 1972



El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas


Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, California

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, California


Grove Isle Sculpture Garden, Coconut Grove, Florida


Harold Washington Library, City of Chicago, Illinois

Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Hawaii State Council on the Arts, Honolulu, Hawaii

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution,

Washington, DC

Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, Hawaii


Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana

Iwate University, Tokyo, Japan


Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri


Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Missouri

Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division,

Washington, DC


Mandeville Library, Special Collections, University of California,

San Diego, California

Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, University of California, Davis, California

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, Tennessee

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, California

Morgan Library and Museum, New York, New York


Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution,

Washington, DC

Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, Nevada

New York Public Library, New York, New York


The Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, California

Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, California


Palm Springs Museum of Art, Palm Springs, California

Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona

Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon

Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, New Jersey


Racine Art Museum, Racine, Wisconsin



San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas

San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, California

San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco, California

San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, California

Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington

Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska

Stanford University Libraries, Department of Special Collections,

Stanford, California

State of California, The Bateson Building, Sacramento, California


Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, Florida


U.S. General Services Administration, Federal Courthouse, Portland,


University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa

University of Colorado Art Museum, Boulder, Colorado

University of New Mexico Fine Arts Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico


Washington State Arts Commission, Olympia, Washington

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York


Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut



NOTE: Dimensions are listed as

height × width × depth


Babette Eddleston, Photographer

Carrara Studio, 1977


Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1980


Photographer Unknown

Carrara Studio, 1996


Richard Olcott/Ennead Architects

Design drawing for the Anderson Collection

at Stanford University

© Richard Olcott/Ennead