Beverly
Pepper

Born 1922, New York, NY
Works in New York, NY

Year created: 
1982
Beverly Pepper, Silent Presence

Beverly Pepper. Silent Presence. 1982. Cast brass, bronze. 9' x 7" x7".

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9' x 7" x 7"

Cast brass, bronze
deCordova Museum Permanent Collection 1993.14, Gift of Philip M. Stern, Washington, DC

Since the 1970s, Beverly Pepper has created sculptures that feature opposing forces, including the geometric and organic and the rational and unexplainable, in conversation with each other. Though trained as a painter, Pepper began making massive, geometric sculptures from slabs of Cor-Ten and stainless steel while working at a U.S. Steel subsidiary in Newark, New Jersey, during the mid-1960s. In the following decade, she continued to build abstract work, but in reference to architectural and organic forms. These included site-specific installations and land art, which were designed to answer the question, “If space is a living thing, how can we make its life—and the lives of those who inhabit it—more manifest?” Pepper uses welded steel, iron, and stone as organic-looking forms within natural environments. She expresses the belief that, though we cannot rebuild monuments of the ancient world, we can aspire to evoke some of their enduring sensations of amazement or even awe.

Silent Presence is a thin yet towering brass and bronze sculpture, made by Pepper in the midst of her 1980s explorations into columnar forms. While abstract, it is also distinctly iconic. The sculpture’s vertical stance suggests the human figure and establishes a direct relationship of scale and posture with the viewer. At the same time, its totemic form carries spiritual associations. When asked her opinion of words, such as “hieratic,” “totemic,” and “primal” being used to describe her work, Pepper said, “…My work both responds to and tries to reinforce the human capacity for wonder, for reorienting ourselves in relation to powers or fields of force (whether internal or external), which are greater than our merely biological or social selves.” Pepper believes that the modern individual has lost touch with its relationship to the universe due to a lack of present-day heroes and monuments to heroes. Consequently, she views her sculptures as vehicles for humans to revel in the realization that they are part of something much greater than themselves.

Pepper was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1922. At sixteen, she began studying advertising design, photography, and industrial design at the Pratt Institute before working as a commercial art director. By 1948, Pepper had decided to resume her artistic practice and moved to Paris where studied painting at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In 1960, she visited Angkor Wat, Cambodia, which she recalls “entering as a painter and leaving as a sculptor.” Since then, Pepper has maintained a prolific career as a sculptor, receiving commissions from institutions across the United States, in addition to several from overseas. Her work is currently held in collections at the Albertina, Vienna, Austria; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY. She has also received numerous awards, including an Outstanding Achievement in the Visual Arts award from the Women’s Caucus for Art, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center.