On Principle

The Singular Sculpture of Peter Gourfain

Peter Gourfain at work

Born in Chicago, Peter Gourfain studied at the city’s Art Institute before heading east to make his way as an artist in New York. The young Gourfain achieved considerable success as a minimalist sculptor, but found that he was not fulfilled by the city’s art scene and what he identified as its tenets of pursuing fame and fortune. One museum director remarked that, for Gourfain, “the intellectual chess game of minimalism was just not enough.” Fueled by his own vision, Gourfain began to develop a distinct style of figure and narration, melding a universal and humanist scope with his considerable skill as a sculptor.

South Africa Pot is one of ten massive vessels in Gourfain’s Ohio Pot series, a body of work he created while teaching at Kent State. Gourfain had made his first explicitly political gesture several years earlier, incorporating a horrified Argentinian mother in reference to the country’s violent “Dirty War” during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Of the Ohio Pots, Gourfain said, “I wanted walls to paint and carve on, and this was a way of creating a mini-architecture I could decorate.” The Romanesque style allowed him to address his concerns of justice and injustice through a repetitive visual vocabulary, one that applies to both specific historic events and universal themes.  

As critic Lucy Lippard noted, Gourfain’s work has remained “haunted” by his proficiency in minimalism — despite pursuing his own path beyond art world conventions, Gourfain’s carvings, drawings, and sculptures evidence a strong engagement with formal concerns in addition to, as Lippard put it, “all the passion, tenderness, and rage he feels for the world.”