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Sculptor’s eye-catching ‘Guardians’ show at Boise Art Museum should be on your list

This bronze Native American Guardian is part of Matteo Pulgiese’s “The Guardians”  installation at the Boise Art Museum.
This bronze Native American Guardian is part of Matteo Pulgiese’s “The Guardians” installation at the Boise Art Museum. Boise Art Museum

Walk into the Boise Art Museum these days and you’re greeted by an imposing figure. Stoic and silent, this nearly 7-foot-tall fellow with his spear fills the foyer with a commanding, yet benevolent presence.

He is a guardian, a protector, and one part of Italian sculptor Matteo Pugliese’s installation “The Guardians.” He is in a way the guardian of his 18 smaller compatriots that will inhabit BAM’s large sculpture court through Jan. 6, 2019.

They are arranged like an battalion of protective spirits. In a glance you take in the array diversity. The 13-and 18-inch sculptures are made using a combination of materials and techniques. Some are carved from velluto marble. Others are bronze or aluminum. Many of the of the faces are carved from terracotta clay, and there are elements of aluminum.

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Made of bronze and terracotta clay, this Celtic Guardian is part of Matteo Pulgiese’s “The Guardians” installation at the Boise Art Museum. Massey Klein Gallery

They’re portly and substantial with oversized feet — the bronzes weight up to 120 pounds. And they all have individual traits, personalities and “unique adornments,” says BAM head curator Nicole Herden. “They’re each so eye catching and adorable. It was like a party opening them to see what we would find.”

Pulgiese’s work is permanently on display in galleries throughout Italy and in major cities around the globe, including Rome, Hong Kong and London. In the United States, you can only see his work two places — New York City, and now Boise.

How did that happen? Pugliese’s New York gallerist Ryan Massey approached Herden with Pugliese’s work 18 months ago. BAM was one of several institutions Massey contacted, but Herden was the first to show interest. So, this is Pugliese’s first U.S. museum show.

Herden could have chosen a different collection but was drawn to these enigmatic and charming figures, she says.

“I had been wanting to focus an exhibit on ceramics, and I was intrigued by the conceptual nature of these figures,” she says. “Each one highlights a different culture that transcends geographic, and in some ways political barriers.”

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This Balinese Guardian is carved form velluto marble and stands 18-inches tall. It is part of Matteo Pulgiese’s “The Guardians” installation at the Boise Art Museum. Massey Klein Gallery

Pugliese (pronounced Pool-lee-say) lives between Milan and Barcelona, where he creates his massively diverse body of work that ranges from abstracted human figures that appear to come out of a wall to whimsical beetles. In the 1990s, Pugliese started collecting figurative amulets that different cultures used as protection or for luck. That collection inspired this body of work as he began to see the similarities across cultural lines, the universality of the human need to feel safe and protected, according to the artist’s statement.

“I am here to to protect you,” he says in a video about the Guardians. “I guard your walls and the warmth of your home

There are many Asian influenced-guardians — like Japanese samurai and Chinese soldiers. There are Celtic guards, Mayan centuries, East Indian, African, Swiss and Native American sentinels, plus some that are completely abstract. The Boise show has about half of Pulgiese’s guardian figures.

Herden also worked with Massey to create a catalog of the exhibit ($35), and you can watch a video of Pulgiese working.

Go see it

Through Jan. 6, 2019. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays (until 8 p.m. on First Thursday, Sept. 6), Boise Art Museum, 670 S. Julia Davis Drive. $6 general, $4 seniors, $3 grades 1-12 and full-time college. Free for ages 5 and younger and members. Admission by donation during First Thursdays. Admission is free for active duty military and their families through Sunday, Sept. 2. boiseartmuseum.org 208-345-8330.

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