Artist: Martin Puryear

A master of both modernism and traditional crafts, he creates sculptures that are a synthesis of beauty but free of cliche

In art, things go in and out of focus--including beauty. Twenty-five years ago, if an American painter or sculptor, when asked what he wanted to achieve, had replied "Beauty," he might well have earned a double take as a mere decorator. (Decorators were always "mere" back then.) Art was meant to issue political challenges, to confront convention, et cetera. And a lot of truly lousy, polemical art lay in that et cetera.

But today the hopes of protest and politically irritant art have gone flat. Isms and groups have largely ceased to matter. What count for much more are those stubborn...

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