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After Calder

Sculptor Geoff Kuzara Makes the Mobile New by Ella Abrams

The mobiles and sculptures of Geoffrey Kuzara are an expression of the Wyoming native’s long immersion in the natural world. And yet he is not the kind of artist who deals in faithful renderings of flora and fauna. All the wild creatures in his remarkable bestiary–herons in repose, raptors in flight, monolithic fishes–suggest elemental forms. Built to a purpose, they are like Platonic ideals of animals, the first and last of their kind.

Kuzara is a rare bird himself. He did not come to art until he was in his forties, by which time his curriculum vitae included stints as a backcountry guide, a ski patrolman, a re-forester, a ranch hand, an archeological and geological surveyor, and a bicycle mechanic. One of nine children, he was reared on a farm he describes as “a wonderland of disused mining, farming, and ranching equipment from the turn of the last century,” that arose from the spectral remains of his paternal grandfather’s old coal mining settlement.

The back of his Springs home overlooks an open pasture whose current occupant, a twelve-foot-long fish (fashioned out of white oak using a chainsaw, a plane, and an angle grinder) shimmers and dissolves into the high grasses like a mirage. Kuzara knows tools, having been obliged as a farmer’s son to fabricate the ones he needed from the materials at hand. This early training in subsistence living, which encompassed mechanical engineering, physics, chemistry, and what he calls “the playful art of creative problem solving,” equipped him with the skills that allow him to manipulate wood and steel, creating pliable structures that don’t so much inhabit a space as move through it. The most obvious influence on his work is Alexander Calder, but while Calder’s mobiles were fixed in space, Kuzara’s assemblages change in response to the light and the weather: a breeze or a gust of air through an open doorway is enough to set them aflutter, prompting the viewer to see them anew.

“When I told people I wanted to make mobiles, they responded that Calder owned the mobile. They said he had taken it as far as it could go. I saw that as a challenge,” says Kuzara. Mechanical ingenuity apart, his pieces are constructed with an attention to detail that is rare in contemporary sculpture. Each one, whether welded together from sheets of stainless steel or carved out of found wood–mahogany, black walnut, maple–can take weeks to complete. For this and other reasons, says Sag Harbor gallerist Laura Grenning, there’s a consensus among collectors that his work, which ranges from $1,500 for a small mobile to $18,000 for a large-format sculpture, is under-priced.

“Notable people of taste like Matt Lauer and Calvin Klein have been quietly acquiring Geoff’s work for years,” notes Laura Grenning, who shows him at her Sag Harbor gallery. One of her clients, a prominent hedge funder whose name she can’t disclose, installed a Kuzara sculpture at his beach-front home. Says Grenning, “It was a very compact, sparely-decorated house, and my client was incredibly selective about what he put in there. The sculpture worked beautifully in the space, in large part because Geoff’s work is so well-edited. There’s nothing extraneous about it.”

That view is shared by many interior decorators and architects who are taken by the work’s kinetic and architectural properties. Russell Steele, who runs R.E. Steele Antiques in East Hampton, has been selling Kuzara’s work for the last decade, mostly to designers. “Recently,” says Steele, “I placed an outsized Kuzara mobile in an 8,000-square foot apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was fascinating to observe how the artwork made the room come alive.”