Artwork by Sorel Etrog,  Small Chair (Hand)

Sorel Etrog
Small Chair (Hand)

stamped signature and editioned 2/7
17.5 x 9.5 x 8.5 ins ( 44.5 x 24.1 x 21.6 cms ) ( overall )

Sold for $28,320.00
Sale date: November 19th 2019

Private Collection, Florida
Private Collection, Ontario
Pierre Restany, Sorel Etrog, Munich, 2002, page 77
Florian Rodari, “Secret Paths, 1999-2000” in Ihor Holubizky (ed.), Sorel Etrog: Five Decades, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, page 103
One of the most recognizable recurring themes in Sorel Etrog’s work, the Links series’ “hands” encapsulate the artist’s exploration of bodily form in contemporary sculptural practices of the Post-War era. Throughout the Links period of Etrog’s work, the preoccupation of linking different parts of the body seamlessly was paramount. Deeply influenced by ancient carving and sculpture techniques, Etrog notes: “I was lucky to have discovered the Etruscan links which showed me how to join the multiple shapes organically. The Link created a tension at the point where they joined, where they pulled together or pulled apart.” Etrog was developing a new visual language of the body, wrapped in internal and external tensions with the use of the linking of body parts. There is a psychological element at play in these works, an inherent tension trying to break free from the bodily constraints seeking freedom.

On the importance of these link elements, Florian Rodari writes: “Inasmuch as they are points of maximum energy, these nerve centres where the body hinges and joins do their work are by nature painful; they are nodes of increased vulnerability.” “Small Chair (Hand)” exemplifies the human condition Etrog was exploring throughout his body of work and the inherent tensions within the forms. The hand becomes a chair, an object to cradle and hold a sitter. The tension in the links with the comforting quality of the chair creates a complex emotive experience, whereby the object is at once vulnerable and tense while still managing to offer comfort to another.

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Sorel Etrog
(1933 - 2014) RCA

Based in Toronto for more than fifty years, Sorel Etrog was born in Iasi, Romania, in 1933. He is most well-known as a sculptor, but he also illustrated books, painted, and wrote poetry, plays, and films. His sculptures were influenced by his adolescence spent under Soviet rule and an interest in philosophical writings that questioned the nature of post-war society. He was also inspired by his grandfather who was a carpenter. Etrog, along with his parents and sister attempted to flee Romania in 1946 but were caught. His parents were then imprisoned for several weeks. Finally, Etrog and his family left Romania in 1950 and made it to the Sha’ar Aliyaa refugee camp near Haifa, Israel.

While serving mandatory time in the Israel Defense Forces’ medical corps in 1953 he began studying art at Tel Aviv’s Arts Institute for Painting and Sculpture. Inspired by Cubist collage and modernist music he invented a technique that he called painting constructions, which he practiced from 1952-1960. Etrog’s painting constructions featured two-dimensional paintings that were meant to hang on a wall, but also included three-dimensional elements, such as lines and shapes, mimicking constructivist reliefs. In 1955-56, Etrog lived in an artist’s village in Israel known as Ein Hod. In 1958, he received a scholarship to attend school at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School. Before leaving Israel, public museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in Haifa and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art began collecting his works. He appeared in group shows at the Museum of Modern Art in Haifa and received his first solo show at the Zionists of America House in Tel Aviv.

Upon arrival in New York City, Etrog became drawn to African and Oceanic art due to their expressive shapes and began incorporating these elements into his work. While trying to find gallery representation in New York City, Samuel J. Zachs purchased one of Etrog’s paintings and invited Etrog to spend the summer of 1959 in Southampton on Lake Huron with him. While in Southampton, Etrog created his first wooden sculptures and gained gallery representation from Gallery Moos in Toronto. After returning to New York City in the fall of 1959 Etrog began his application to become a Canadian citizen and began practicing molding in plaster and bronze at the Modern Art Foundry. He had his first show at Gallery Moos in October 1959 and his second in 1961. Etrog became a Canadian citizen in 1962 but remained in the United States until 1963 to finish his education in Brooklyn.

After immigrating to Canada, Etrog had his first traveling exhibition in 1965. The show began at Gallery Moos, then traveled to New York City, Los Angeles, and Montreal. In 1966, Etrog, alongside Yves Gaucher and Alex Colville, represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. Etrog’s work in Venice consisted of nineteen bronze sculptures. In 1968, he was commissioned to design the bronze statuette that is presented to the winners of the Canadian Film Awards. Etrog became more adventurous in the 1970s and began using new media. In 1974, Etrog wrote and directed a film, “Spiral”, exploring the life of humans from birth to death. In the 1980s, he opened a studio in Paris and curated two shows in Canada: “25 Canadian Sculptures in Guild Park” (1982) and “Sam Sack’s Paintings” at the Art Gallery of York University (1984). He received several important commissions, including those for Expo ’67, Montreal; SunLife Centre, Toronto; Windsor Sculpture Garden, Windsor, Ontario; Los Angeles County Museum, and Olympic Park in Seoul, Korea.

In reviewing his sculpture, W. J. Withrow, Director, the Art Gallery of Toronto, noted, “. . . In all his work to this date there had been a tendency to combine free, curving lines with geometric shapes and this uneasy combination continued to challenge him in his sculpture . . .” Using for example Etrog’s “Blossom”, a 42” high work in bronze, Withrow continued, “. . . Blossom . . . is one of his first sculptures to meld successfully the organic and the mathematical. It is also a work which illustrates very well Etrog’s preoccupation with evolution: birth, youth, maturity and constant change . . . In spite of new developments all his 1964 work retains certain familiar continuing qualities: a wonderful sense of mass related to but unburdened by the demands of gravity and that unique and peculiar proclivity to corkscrew the masses in space.”

Sorel Etrog’s work develops a complex visual vocabulary that explores time and the permanent bond between the plastic arts, with architecture on one hand, and society on the other. Etrog explores spontaneous symbols, primal elements and the relationship between form and symbol. The artist described his art as "tension created by pulling together and pulling apart, with being stuck and being freed, a world of grabbing and holding on and losing hold...bringing shapes together but at the same time giving each an independence." Etrog continued to develop his new concepts through his personal sculpture and attracted considerable attention in art circles. His work varies in height from half a foot to over six feet.

Before his death in 2014, Etrog’s art was included in a retrospective at Buschlen Mowatt in Vancouver in 2003. The same gallery hosted other exhibitions featuring his work in 2006 and 2008. In 2013, the Art Gallery of Ontario hosted a retrospective for Etrog. It was decided in 2016 that many of Etrog’s paintings and sculptures would be permanently housed in the Hennick Family Wellness Gallery at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

Literature Sources:
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977
Mikulinsky, Alma, “Sorel Etrog: Life and Work,” Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2018

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.