A long overdue late-life museum retrospective, Lorrie Goulet: Seventy Years Carving celebrates the storied career of a sculptor, painter, and poet who first made her name in the 1950s and 1960s as a rare female artist who identified herself principally as a carver.
Importantly, the term “carver” connotes anything but a “dainty” or stereotypically “feminine” technique. Instead, Goulet’s self-declaration as a carver is aptly connotative of her hands-on approach to sculpting. Goulet carves directly from blocks of stone, a highly physical method that — when cast through the sexist lens of the middle of the last century — would still have been associated as an “aggressive” approach to art-making more appropriate for male artists.
Now 92 years old, Goulet still works actively in her New York City home and studio, whose entire first floor is filled with a lifetime of her work. Indeed, several of the sculptures in the show will come straight from that studio, selected specifically with Goulet for this exclusive exhibition. Other works come from the Harmon-Meek Gallery in Naples, which has represented Goulet for decades. Our permanent collection also features works by Goulet, and this showcase of her renowned sculptures exemplifies the unlimited bounds of the Museum’s new collecting focus on American figurative art, as it extends far beyond narrative painting.
Born August 17, 1925, in Riverdale, New York, Goulet has taken the female body as her principal subject, chiseling her figures straight from the stone or wood she has preferred as her primary media. It is the stone and wood themselves that determine the sculptures’ forms, as Goulet carves from scratch, removing material progressively to achieve her finalized figures, without pre-conceived models or preparatory sketches. Goulet’s bodies thus seem to emerge from, and yet still be one with, the media from which they are carved. The variety of stone Goulet has selected over the course of her career is itself remarkable; with her use of everything from pink granite and green serpentine to white Carrara marble and limestone, each Goulet sculpture is unique, but her individual manner as a sculptor is so strong that all of her women are recognizably hers.
Goulet’s life, too, is like a veritable travelogue through 20th-century art history. Beginning in 1943, she trained under Bauhaus master Josef Albers at the famed Black Mountain College, the experimental art institution in Asheville, North Carolina, that fostered the careers of Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning, among countless others. There, she met her eventual husband, the Spanish sculptor José de Creeft, who had moved to the United States in 1929 and whose direct carving technique had gained him worldwide renown. That Goulet can be counted among such leading lights of the 20th-century art world speaks not only to her inimitable training and deep grounding in the history of modern art, but also to her problematic lack of widespread recognition. Perpetually left off that list of eminent, predominantly male, Black Mountain alumni, Goulet is an under-recognized pioneer in her own right.
Although she has been the recipient of over 30 solo exhibitions in her lifetime and was the subject of an exhibition celebrating the first 50 years of her work at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. in 1998, it has been 20 long years since Goulet has received a museum show. With this exhibition, a new generation of art lovers can add Goulet to the list of modern masters left out of the textbooks and whom they may never have known existed —until now.
H. Alexander Rich, Ph.D.
Curator & Director of Galleries & Exhibitions