George Segal (American, 1924 – 2000)
Japanese Couple Against a Brick Wall, 1982
Plaster, wood, paint, faux brick
Gift of the George and Helen Segal Foundation Inc., 2013 (2013-28-01)

On view for just three more weeks is Recent Acquisitions—it’s a chance to see the prized artwork that has joined the museum’s collection over the last two years. A lot of it is contemporary art, and one of the standouts—for its sheer domating size compared to the other works—is George Segal’s 1982 Japanese Couple Against a Brick Wall.

Here’s what curator of contemporary art James Jensen wrote about the artist and the work:

Bronx-born George Segal began his career as a painter of expressionist nudes, but in 1961 he realized the sculptural potential of gauze and plaster of Paris and made a decisive shift toward working in three dimensions. Retaining the human figure as his central focus, he developed his own style of combining casts from molds taken from live models with found objects such as furniture or architectural elements to create life-size settings or tableaux. These stand at the same floor level as the viewer, blurring spatial boundaries—the figures have entered our space as much as we have entered theirs. Yet at the same time Segal’s sculptures establish uncanny and unsettling encounters with stationary, quiet, enigmatic figures that seem oblivious to anything outside themselves and their environment. His upbringing and adult life in and around the urban setting of New York contributed significantly to his work. He liked to walk around the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan, observing the people in their daily lives. Japanese Couple Against a Brick Wall is the kind of scene he might have encountered and been inspired by. Segal was interested in exploring the shared emotional resonance of private moments and everyday situations, making a statement on the universal human condition.

To make the sculptures, Segal wrapped his models in plaster-soaked bandages in sections that when hardened were removed, turned into molds to make casts which were then assembled to make full figures. He altered and manipulated the surfaces so that they are not portraits of specific individuals but generalized embodiments of human presence. Although in the 1960s and 1970s Segal liked the chalky, stark-white quality of plaster, in the 1980s he began to paint on the figures, often in solid, brilliant hues, but sometimes, as in Japanese Couple Against a Brick Wall, he would treat the faces, arms and hands in a somewhat more naturalistic manner.