Lucy Lacoste Gallery who has shown the internationally renowned ceramic sculptor Arnie Zimmerman several times over the years, announced with sadness the passing of the sculptor at his home in Hastings New York on July 29, 2021. He was 67.
Three of Zimmerman’s works were featured prominently in the recently acclaimed ceramic exhibition at the Metropolitan Art Museum: Shapes out of Nowhere from the Robert Ellison collection. Altogether the Metropolitan acquired a total of eight sculptures by the artist through this Collection.
Zimmerman received his MFA form Alfred University and his BFA from the Kansas City Art institute. Originally drawn to the making of pots for the sake of their simplicity, Zimmerman then trained as a stone carver in France. This led to his prominence in the mid 1980’s with large scale carved vessels resembling giant totems, such as one over eight feet tall found in the collection of the Honolulu Museum of Art. Zimmerman showed with numerous celebrated galleries over the years including Hadler Rodriquez (NY) Garth Clark (NY), Helen Drutt, (PA), John Elder Gallery (NY) and Sherry Leedy (MO). He received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Grant in 1999.
Aware of the vicissitudes of life and not shying away from them, Zimmerman’s work portrayed the struggles of mankind, toiling away ceaselessly yet with dignity, as well as engaged in sex or violence. He often portrayed himself in his sculpture like a character in a morality play. This was done with a touch of humor and a sense of folly about the realities of life which could be filled with pathos, like a like a Greek tragedy.
Ultimately, he became known for making sculpture gritty and real.
Arnie Zimmerman is perhaps most widely known for his monumental work Inner City, an epic narrative of urban growth, decay, change and life itself. This installation was comprised of more than 200 figurative and architectural parts. This exhibition, designed with the architect Tiago Montepegado, was shown at the Museu da Electricidade, Lisbon, Portugal (2007); the Princessehof Museum, the Netherlands; (2008); and then at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence Rhode Island (2009).
In 2016, his beloved daughter and only child Izzy died in a tragic accident in Thailand. This was a huge sadness for Zimmerman and affected his work greatly. From then on, his sculpture became a requiem and a celebration of her through things she was identified with such as sunflowers and subjects they related to together like whales. To honor her, he created a gallery at his Hudson studio called Izzy’s room.
As Janet Koplos, the noted freelance art critic and editor, long associated with Art in America wrote recently about Arnie Zimmerman:
Arnie Zimmerman had the uncommon ability to work in very large scale or very small scale, and in both organic abstraction and narrative figuration. Always, he dealt with multiples and details. His 40-year career was full of shifts and surprises, showing exceptional imagination expressed in a range stretching from robust functional forms to monumental formalism to socially expressive tableaus. All that, plus a sense of humor and a big heart, made him both an impressive artist and a memorable human being.
Zimmerman made his mark on ceramic history in the 1980s with enormous carved forms— nominally vessels—in deep relief, inspired by Romanesque architecture, influenced by the segmentation and dense visual interest of mosaics, and enabled by his experience with stone carving in France. These sculptures, and subsequent gates, arches and columns, are 7 to 10 feet tall, with walls 3 to 5 inches thick, weighing half a ton. Their scale and graphic vigor places them among the most ambitious ceramic sculptures of modern times. The sense of rhythmic movement in the surfaces is set against figurative proportions.
The sharpest of his many changes came in the mid-1990s, when he altered scale, subject and tone, assembling masses of small and often surreal characters in frenetic scenarios that could evoke panoramas of daily life reminiscent of Bruegel or allusions to man’s foolishness and fallibility more redolent of Bosch. In that new but equally powerful body of work, Zimmerman’s showed the vitality and human concerns that made him extraordinary.
Arnie Zimmerman’s work can be found in many public and private collections including the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, NY; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; the Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MI; the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC; and the Museum of Decorative Arts, Montreal, Quebec, among others.
Arnie Zimmerman is survived by his wife and long-time companion, Ann Rosenthal.
At the time of his passing the artist was scheduled to be part of the current exhibition at Lucy Lacoste Gallery Introducing Lena Takamori.