Madge McKeithen

I still work with my hands, in the belief that touch, or the way the material is manipulated, can influence the work, and that the physical making process itself can generate ideas, as well as bring them to fruition.

Martin Puryear

I was slow to realize the creative heritage and institutional vision that make the Vera List Courtyard connecting the 65 West 11th and 66 West 12th Street buildings such a suitable space. My experience was one of self-offense: how could I not recognize the hand of Martin Puryear in the wall surfaces, in the trio of round bench forms in granite, steel, and maple (the latter continuing the design into the 12th street building lobby), the glass canopy and curving side ramp offering protection and wheelchair access? 

It took a museum to awaken me to what I passed through regularly, sat in frequently, and socialized in occasionally. The 2007-08 Martin Puryear exhibit in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art and the experience of his soaring works in that massive space, brought the Vera List Courtyard alive for me with echoes of Ad Astra, Desire, Some Tales, Greed’s Trophy, and most especially, Ladder for Booker T. Washington.

Along with the landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, Puryear designed and installed the courtyard in the 1990s, and while he does not expect his design projects to be interpreted as sculpture, the hand of the maker is very much a part of all of his work. What might happen to the experience of the courtyard if students and faculty could be made aware of Puryear’s sculpture while in that space? In that busy, connecting thoroughfare, an acknowledgement of the artist’s commitment to craft, ideas, process, history, social change, poetry, and creative endeavor might bring the place to life.

What aspects of this courtyard suggest balance and calm, and which struggle against confinement?

How would images of Puryear’s work delivered to your mobile device, through links displayed inside the courtyard, change your experience of the space?

Do the sculpture of Martin Puryear and the design of the Vera List Courtyard connect with things you value in learning, creating, and working at New School?

Madge McKeithen
Faculty, The New School for Public Engagement