Sculpture in the Vernacular- Fantastical Field
Bob Nickas

Kathleen Ryan, Daisy Chain, published by Karma, New York, 2022

“I’ll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.”

—Richard Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar, 1964

Still life from the golden age of Dutch and Flemish painting—seventeenth-century vanitas, Minimalism and the reductive, the Baroque and ornate proliferation, ceramics, mineralogy, earthworks and entropy, composition and decomposition, Cézanne and Manzoni, art forms in nature, Pop, kitsch, totems and mythology, the psychedelic and the sublime, actuality and artifice, inner and outer space. The list goes on. How, we ask, do the coordinates in this improbable cosmology intersect? Across a great distance of time and mind, is unexpected overlay to be found, can parallels, if at times imperceptibly wavering, be drawn? All may be brought to bear upon the sculptural work of Kathleen Ryan, the result of her curiosity, observation, and inquiries over the past fifteen or so years. Plato defined science as “nothing but perception.” In art, this activity and its echo—the stone that breaks a surface of water, a pattern radiating outward to fade across its surface, still once more—pass from the artist to the viewer and then back into the world. Art, Ryan reminds us, is about looking, looking takes time, and in time we may consider and question what it is that we’ve seen, whether puzzled or dazzled, at times pleasurably suspended somewhere in between.

How did she get here? How does anyone get anywhere? Some of us follow a path that’s circuitously purposeful, with no particular plan, although in looking back we see that every step taken was necessary, made sense as it led to the next. Ours is the movement of bipeds, from the ground up, as it were, since we all first had to crawl. A sidewinder fascinates us with its lateral looping motion, a beautiful line in slow motion, from which the term serpentine. Birds will circle their nest, while avians on a perch, the body at rest, can be seen as a still life—with occasional flutter. We recall them from backyards and the sky, in pictures and from that movie, kept in a cage. The birds in numerous works of Ryan’s are parrots, perched, about to fly? As humans will do, they navigate by memory. Unlike many who came of age post-’80s, Ryan wanted to make art but felt that to be an artist was “an unrealistic dream.”1 An art major in college, she took ceramics classes, enjoyed working clay by hand, the tactility of it, and minored in anthropology/archaeology. The pairing is not unrelated. Clay, after all, comes from the earth, and often the evidence of prior civilizations unearthed is in the form of pottery fragments: the jigsaw puzzle of time. Her minor may have figured in her installation Packrat Habitat (2006), for which she “collected branches and made a two-chambered tunnel-like structure that you could climb through. One room was like a crystal cave with giant oversize pink quartz crystals … cast out of pink bubble-gum-scented wax and they glowed like the inside of a geode in a natural history museum.”2 Situated outdoors amid trees and brush, the work merged with its natural environment, as seen in its daylight documentation. Photographed at night, it glowed internally. That Ryan has also referred to it as a “roadside attraction” points to her sense of humor in relation to what is commonly referred to as “old weird America,” whose artifacts are of more recent vintage, from before decades came to an end—the antiquity of our own time, “relics” of postwar leisurely pursuits. If archaeology is the recovery and study of material evidence from past human life and culture, from history and prehistory, Ryan’s sifting and excavation in the present has aimed toward transformation and distillation. What she once thought an unrealistic dream, to be an artist—and she had not been in a rush to get there—would eventually be realized by way of a dreamlike realism, a heightening of the familiar toward unexpected, wilder realms—an observation of and a reimagining of the world in all its otherness. Four years would pass after graduation with art-related experience, but no artmaking, before Ryan went on to UCLA, pursuing ceramics in more exploratory ways.

Still Life

Ryan is first and foremost a sculptor. Her primary interests reside in material, form, chromatics, scale, levity and density, weight in parallel to the illusion of weightlessness, the movement of line, an object’s skin, its coating and outer shell, suspense and a suspension of disbelief, an occupation of space. Her subjects at times refer outside of themselves by way of their inner life. Even when recognizable, vernacular objects, things we know from the everyday but realized well past human scale, will leave us to wonder: Who left this behind? A wandering, careless giant? (Humans are relatively small in relation to the world we inhabit, and those beyond; recorded human life can’t compare to geologic time and the age of the universe.) Ryan is attuned, as a given space will allow, to the rooms in which her works are shown, to near and far, drawing us toward them. Her objects invite us to probe internal and external surfaces, what we might call a topography tactile to the eye. (The human eye, used consciously, is our own magnifying glass.) Ryan’s works can be seen as image-objects. While abstracted from the everyday—elements having a dual identity, bowling balls that register as pearls from a distance, fishing rods as gently bent cherry stems, and as themselves in proximity—they are representational; with an oversize beaded necklace, doubly so. Ryan pays particular attention to composition and luminosity, concerns, at least until the Light and Space artists of the ’60s in her native Southern California, that are more readily associated with painting from centuries past; we regard them now as if preserved in amber. Ryan’s works of the past few years that have rightly attracted considerable attention present fruit in various states of decomposition, all realized at greatly larger than life-size—grapes, cherries, lemons, peaches, watermelons, and, most recently, a pumpkin carved as a jack-o’-lantern, its lid adjacent, just taken off, or about to be replaced. These “decomposing” objects suggest that one of her subjects, one that goes back to her earliest work, is time.

Five glazed ceramic columns, The Rise and Fall (2014), which appeared to be part of the architecture of the exhibition they were made for, might also allude to the rise and fall of civilization. A sense of mortality—everything created may not last but will outlast its maker—is integral to art and culture’s equation. Since the ’60s, with sculpture especially, as well as for ephemeral expression, musical composition, performance, and dance, artists have referred to their works as “pieces,” but pieces are all we have ever had. Fragile, crumbling, dusted, as they fall in slowly through our fingers, as anyone cleaning out a garage, an attic, or that most archeological of suburban sites, the basement, will attest. Ryan’s Endless Hookah Totem (2013), made of stoneware, appropriately, may for some recall a Brancusi column, one alluding to the sky above as well as to the ground below. A companion of a sort, though it did not appear for another half-dozen years, is Mother of Pearl (2019), equally totemic, two round forms within a vertical structure suggesting a figure: the top, its head, with a Cycloptic eye; the bottom, its belly, a symbol of fertility.

Ryan’s fruit works, as noted, have been compared to vanitas, still lifes from seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painting, images that represent the fleeting pleasures in life, and of earthly existence itself, symbols of disintegration and death, reminders of our inevitable fate. Art not only as a foreshadowing, but with a moral conveyed. Vanitas, from the Latin vanus: vain, void, empty. A painting that sets jewels and a crown alongside a skull makes—the phrasing here too tempting to avoid—no bones about the transience of material wealth, power, and the law. Ryan’s works are not moralistic in this way, and as she has remarked, she “didn’t set out to depict decay.” The temporal element made her rendering more layered, gave the objects an inner chemical life. The small cast-iron and brass flies added to some of the watermelon chunks? Surely they were drawn to the fermentation of the fruit, to its sugars. As Robert Smithson once memorably mused, “Why should flies be without art?”3 As to sculpture: “The stillness round my form / Was like the stillness in the air.”4

The aspect of painting and time suggests, if indirectly, an artist who followed the Dutch masters, who obsessively engaged the practice of painting, still life notably: Paul Cézanne. In his 1890–93 Still Life With Skull, ripe apples, green pears, and a lemon share the small stage of a cloth-draped table with a human cranium, its hollowed-out eyes triangulating with an apple on a plate. As if just plucked from a tree in the artist’s garden, the stem and two dark leaves remain. The form of the nearest leaf is in close correspondence with that of the skull’s gaping nasal cavity: in stilled life we see there is no sweet scent to be inhaled, and that it had only been sensed intermittently by the painter. Cézanne gave three or four years to this canvas, as for many others. The skull, in its elemental state, would remain unchanged. The pieces of fruit the artist carefully arranged, especially working in the warmer months in the South of France, most certainly went bad, and many times over in the long course of his labors, in various seasons and locales, Cézanne an often itinerant artist.5 Not widely known, and to be measured against our appreciation of his realism and direct rendering, is the fact that Cézanne sometimes employed artificial fruit, objects that would retain their robust color and full form, would reveal no outward signs—no blemishes, no withering—of eventual decay, no matter how many months or years he toiled toward completion. Grapes in a Cézanne are never reduced to raisins.

In one of Ryan’s most stunning sculptures, Bad Grapes (2020), the fruit has collapsed in on itself, its violets, blues, blacks, and greens, the fruit’s bruising and desiccation, realized with clusters of two dozen different types of stone, among them clusters of amethyst, amazonite, garnet, turquoise, obsidian. The visual thrill of this piece, which beckons and rewards close inspection, belies the very idea of disintegration. The way it reflects light, in particular off the silvery tips of the pins that hold the stones in place, breathes life itself. The wistfully titled Pleasures Known (a play on those Unknown?, mysterious, yet to come), and for the artist alluding to American nostalgia and promise past, is a tour de force. Created the year prior, a graceful arrangement of fruit is topped with a bunch of similarly desiccated grapes, set upon an old cart. Were it not for the rubber tires placing it within the vicinity of our time, the cart might have been encountered in one of Breughel’s rustic scenes, left behind, evidence of the absent villagers, now depleted in their revelry. The wonder of Ryan’s art, as with Breughel’s, is in the details, the pleasure one takes in those that emerge and multiply after the initial instant hit. Viewers will discover more on second take: Had it been there all along? Bad Lemon (Sea Witch) (2020), for example, a “moldy” halved lemon, returns us ever so subtly to the Cézanne. Amid a proliferation of stones, beads, and shells, including aventurine, moss agate, citrine, mother-of-pearl, and freshwater pearls, are tiny bonewhite skulls, carved from magnesite beads; a small sly wink slipped in for those who would closely explore the object’s encrusted, seductive surface. In doing so, the supposed gnarliness of rot is nowhere apparent. Beauty reigns supreme. (As for despised mold, the agent of disintegration, we acknowledge that from mold came lifesaving penicillin, a modern miracle.) Interestingly, for Ryan there is a reversal in her choice of what to employ in representing the coexistence and contrast of a fruit’s ripeness and decay. She uses “glass and plastic beads for the fresh parts and … natural materials for the rotten parts.”7 We are left to ask, will picture-perfect food in the future be grown or engineered to look pleasing to the eye but nearly devoid of taste?

Stilled Life

While parallels can be drawn between Ryan’s image-objects and painting, as attuned as she is to chromatic composition—referring as she does to her palette of bead colors, and below, unseen, rough underpainting as she plans out the surface of beads and semiprecious stones, modulating contrast from one area to another, luminosity and shadow—the terrain she explores is decidedly sculpture. The fruit she initially cast were grapes, having been struck by their form, physicality, and relation to the body in a painting of a bacchante she saw at the Getty museum: a woman clutches the source of her inebriation, a bunch of grapes, amplified, made corporeal, by her half-exposed breasts. Ryan would later describe her as squeezing, rather than holding, the grapes, imagining the juice within about to burst forth. What she felt almost palpably was a pressure, which she recalled as bulbous, between them. She wondered, “How do I get that feeling of pressure that has to do with sex and that tension on the skin? How do I do that in a sculpture?”7 Over a period of four years, between 2015 and 2018, she went on to create numerous Bacchante works, enlarging the grapes as spheres of concrete, mostly gray and white, unnatural, monotone, ghost grapes with the feel of solid balloons. They are heavy, though not at first glance, some draped from atop tall pedestals. A number that are horizontally oriented suggest a figurative reading that returns us to the woman in the painting, drunken, now recumbent; Ryan has subtitled them Reclining Nude (2015) and Reclining at the Hearth (2016). The spheres of the grapes led to, even as she may have already had them in mind, a number of works with bowling balls, weighty objects also suggestive of the body, held in the palm of the hand, with prominent finger holes. She presents them such that their heft appears to possess buoyancy. The earliest of them, Caprice (2016), sets a Caprice bowling ball inside what looks to be a fully opened shell: the ball as a precious pearl found there. (In terms of the artist’s sensibility and humor, a caprice, it should be noted, is a sudden and unaccountable change of mood or behavior, a whim, and, as Ryan is surely aware, a classic American sedan, introduced in 1965 and sleekly sculptural in its own right.) A related work, Barbed Wire (2017), is a sinuous line of black balls, appearing to be an enlarged strand of black beads about to come loose and roll away, or a snake slithering across the floor. Ryan had previously made large snake “rings” and “bracelets” in concrete and rebar, and Roadside Eyeglasses (2014), a pair of mangled frames (inadvertently stepped on?) realized with thin copper pipe. With these works, as with Rise and Fall (2017), which appears both to emerge from and disappear into the floor, we grasp her sculptor’s mind for delineation by way of Paul Klee’s oft-quoted definition: “a drawing is a line going for a walk.” That same year, Ryan conceived Pearls, another oversize “necklace” meant to be installed as if draped over the top of a gallery wall. With its reveal in the room behind, the rest of the object seen on the wall’s opposite side—the way it would be on the back of a neck—Ryan made an otherwise discrete piece site-specific, moving the viewer back and forth to appreciate its precarious balance, in an exhibition she titled Weightless Again.

The aspect of time in Ryan’s work, in the shadow of vanitas and its symbolic reminders of mortality, along with her attraction to rounded and ovoid sculptural forms—grapes/balloons and bowling balls, evoking both fragility and solidity—bring to mind an unlikely figure: Piero Manzoni. In 1960, with a series of works he titled Fiato d’artista (Artist’s Breath), Manzoni expanded our notion of what else sculpture could be, precisely by means of an act of expansion, the use of his own lungs, his life’s breath, to inflate a balloon to its full form. The balloons were tied off with a length of braided twine and held by two lead seals, each affixed to a small wood base bearing a metal plate with the artist’s name and the title. To encounter them in a museum today is to see the base, the plate, the seals (ultimately ineffective over the long term), and the slightly frayed rope, at the end of which is a flattened, seemingly melted blob of rubber—a deflated state the artist knew the balloon was destined for just as surely as himself.7 And the shriveled condition of Ryan’s Bad Grapes? They have looked exactly like this since the day they were completed in the artist’s studio. As for her balloon-grapes, they will forever retain solid form, in counterbalance to, more than a half century later, the near-immaterial gesture of the Italian provocateur.

Concurrent with the Bacchante and her sculptures with bowling balls, Ryan introduced the figure of a tropical bird, the aforementioned parrots, making their appearance in 2015 and pursued over the course of four years. The earliest of these works are both simple and poetic (in Hollow Song, a pair of vibrant lime-green birds perch on a magenta acoustic guitar hung face to the wall), and complex (an untitled sculpture with the subtitle Chandelier has a small flock of birds atop an elaborate skeletal light fixture—an inverted cage, their revenge?—that has come to rest on the floor, the birds serving as feathered illumination). Although closer to three-dimensional silhouettes of birds than to lifelike re-creations, the birds yet suggest a potential for flight, space outside of the gallery, freedom rather than captivity. After producing a number of pieces with, usually, a handful of birds, as few as one or two on a narrow perch, and always less than ten, Ryan created sculptures occupied by small flocks, having as many as three dozen, as Parasol (2017) does. She followed this with a pair of gently imposing works, Frequency and Satellite in Repose (both 2018). While Frequency appears to be a beach umbrella for which the parrots, some 150 of them, serve as delirious fringe, the title pushes our reading in another direction, beyond leisure and into the realm of communication. Parrots, natural mimics, can learn to repeat what we say to them, even if most don’t grasp the meaning of the words. The parrot is still an amplifier, and in a way notably distinct from other vocalizing animals. In titling the floor-bound work Satellite in Repose, Ryan takes our reading further, turning the birds into the receivers, carriers, and conveyors of signals, while the structure of the technology, a bare-bones satellite dish, is seemingly in collapse. And if there’s a last message sent? Nature, in the end, wins out?

Receiver, which dates from the same year, shifts this line of inquiry in a wholly optimistic direction. Taking clearly the form of a medium-size, wall-mounted satellite dish, its concave face is tiled with abalone, the shell of sea snails, its inner layer comprised of nacre, commonly known as mother-of-pearl. Prized for its iridescence, abalone diffracts light, with coloration that wavers as our eyes pass across its surface, a temporal, visually animate experience. In an essay on the intersection of fractal aesthetics, diffractive patterns, pleasure, and beauty, “Why Our Wandering Brains Are Wired to Love Art and Nature,” Thomas Nail, a professor of philosophy at the University of Denver, relates how

scientists have come to believe that so-called background noise in the brain may be more crucial to consciousness than previously thought. Recent research found that these fluctuations make up 95% of brain activity; conscious thoughts account for merely 5%. Cognitive fluctuations are like the dark matter or “junk” DNA of the brain, in that they make up the most significant part of what’s happening but remain mysterious.9

Certain visual stimuli attract this fluctuating brain activity, elicit and accelerate perceptual response: the eye as it roves. In being open to these signals, willing to wander, viewers may come to understand: We are the receiver. The patterns we encounter in Ryan’s shimmering kaleidoscopic surfaces—in particular the highly articulated skins that cover objects magnified from nature, with sections of squared pieces that read as tesserae, a mosaic fragment, possibly, or as bleached crystals like those built up on boulders spiraling above the waterline on the Great Salt Lake—enliven the act of looking, magnified at every turn.

Distilled Life

Ryan’s major work of 2020, the half-dozen watermelon pieces collectively known as Bad Melon, have as their rinds sections of an Airstream trailer dissected by the artist. Although we expect a rind to be green rather than silver and shiny, Ryan wanted the metallic hull to be left in its original state, carefully cutting parts so as to leave in numerous details: reflectors, taillights, a section of window frame, protruding electrical wires, an antenna, a partial logo: AIR, with the R only a trace of itself, so the logo reads as AI—artificial intelligence? The Airstream, evoking American postwar leisure and the open road in the ’50s, that time of invasion fantasy, its gleaming streamlined form sailing by on the highway, this must have evoked the sensation of an earthbound UFO. Of course, Ryan’s objects are fantastical but not unidentified, and, in this case, can be imagined as at one time flying. These sculptures extend a suggestive sci-fi narrative: strewn as so much juicy wreckage across the gallery floor, the scattered pieces, when seen together, might be described as the melon that fell to earth, shattered on impact. In cutting up the Airstream trailer, using everted pieces to hold the watermelon, wedges and chunks of fruit, large and small, some moldy, others yet tempting, its red flesh now visible, she has opened both the structure and her subject inside out. Cruising in an Airstream, bowling, fishing—pleasures known from days gone by.

One of Ryan’s newest works, Daisy Chain (2021), seems an outlier when we consider her art thus far, yet this view would be based entirely on those works that have been presented in exhibitions. A visit to her studio reveals, as she admits, a predilection for collecting “fake flowers and fruit … the cheapest mass-produced plastic kinds,” which she finds “interesting in the way the parts are stylized and mechanized to be molded and then popped together.”10 Overall, the appearance is wreathlike, a form she has previously explored, here not a little sad and droopy, as well as scaled up, as is her preference. While it reads as “springtime,” especially given its debut at an East Coast gallery over May and June, with its plastic shine and sag it could be any time of year, anywhere, part of a display at a suburban garden center near winter’s end. For all its flowery presence, this isn’t nature, a fact the scale greatly amplifies. Ryan collected the various elements because they reminded her of a flower. Lengths of green hose became the stems; the bumblebee-yellow drain covers seen as pollen caps; green shovel scoops form the leaves. In its circularity, hence the title, the hose/stems suggest a watering system, a flower that can water itself. Not such an outlier after all. In Ryan’s body of work, it finds correspondence with Bad Grapes, whose life-giving stems were created with copper tubing and fittings—plumbing, in effect. The disparate elements in Daisy Chain were “never intended to go together in the real world, but together in the sculpture … they suggest a flow. The important part for me is how they fit together and,” as she allows without any trace of superiority or malice, “that everything is plastic.”11 Sculpture, we are reminded, was once commonly referred to as the plastic arts because certain materials, clay being exemplary, were malleable. But, for Ryan, everything is capable of being shaped, formed, or altered—from pewter, concrete, and copper pipe to cast iron, terra-cotta, and two tons of granite, even the aluminum shell of an Airstream trailer.

Ryan’s ultimate probe into inner space, as of this writing at least, appeared in the form of a giant jack-o’-lantern she humorously personified as Jackie (2021), the artist still occupied with the idea: What lies within? Many of us will recall this object from childhood, from Halloween and trick-ortreating, a holiday perhaps the most magical, fantastic, scary time of youth. Pumpkins would be carved, often with a simple face, two holes for eyes, a triangular opening below the nose, and a wide, nearly toothless, grinning mouth. Traditionally, jack-o’-lanterns have candles placed inside, illuminating at night their mischievous leering. (How near in its elemental features to a skull, an object closely associated with the spookiness of Halloween.) With Jackie, a luminosity that seems almost to pass through the solid structure, radiating from within, as if its skin was translucent, is the result of intricate bead and stonework, magnified by thousands of reflective, silvery pins holding them in place. This astounding object’s interior features an electric, plugged-in carpet of rose and smoky quartz, red aventurine, Ching Hai jade, carnelian, and lapis lazuli, among nearly twenty different stones. There are many geodes embedded, prominently in the eye sockets and the gaping mouth, and spread inside, turning the hollowed-out pumpkin into a geode-desic dome/cave. Those who find significance in the power of crystals and gems, who study magic in relation to mineralogy, will wonder if Ryan is attuned to the stones’ esoteric properties, chooses and employs them to specific ends. Their very profusion signals that the stones have not been singled out for a particular purpose, but are deployed for their material qualities, their vibrant color and translucency, and how they can be orchestrated, to use a gem-energy term, for greater vibration. In Ryan’s studio, a room is set aside solely for the stones, for storing and sorting them, and she does sense the energy when she’s in there, readily admitting that it feels good. Although used primarily for esthetic/compositional ends, with Jackie we can imagine the work’s power as a reversal related directly to one of the stones employed, amethyst. From the Greek, the word is a merging of “not” and “to intoxicate,” the material’s properties believed to ward off drunkenness. Jackie, like the bacchante that Ryan was drawn to so many years ago, offers no such protection.

Viewers willingly abandon themselves to its joyous seduction. We know that the chemical reaction that is fermentation, which, in Bad Fruit, can be imagined as visible due to the presence of flies attracted to the watermelon’s nectar, results in alcohol. In the process of distillation, the alcohol is separated and removed. But distillation also refers to essential meaning. Art’s essence? Once it was beauty, now even more admired when redefined, where we hadn’t noticed it before. And even then, is art only skin deep? The works of Kathleen Ryan often induce a state of heightened sensation; art, with all the otherness of the world intact, arrayed before the magnifying glass of our own eyes, distilled to an essential reaction—no less than pure visual pleasure.


A general note on scale, from small to large, and back again, scale being important to this artist. It was Alex Hay who said, after being asked why he scaled up the objects he painted, that he thought about how, when you hold something in your hand, close to your eye, it actually looks larger than it is. Rather than actual scale, it appears as an enlargement in proximity. (We know that actual scale, with distance, is variable. The Washington Monument, for example, from the far end of the Mall, is only about as large as your raised index finger. But with nearness?) This is why I think fondly of Alex Hay as a proverbial brother from another planet. And that reminded me of what the Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, recently departed, said when he recalled going to the moon in 1969. On seeing Earth from space he observed, as if writing a perfect poem: “Tiny, very shiny, blue and white, bright, beautiful, serene.” In one of his many obituaries, it was poignantly noted, “Later in life he would sometimes look up at the moon and say, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been there. Kind of takes me by surprise despite all these years.’” And thus the epigram for this essay from Brautigan, written five years prior to NASA’s mission to the moon.

1 Kathleen Ryan, quoted in “Ali Subotnick in conversation with Kathleen Ryan,” in Kathleen Ryan: Bad Fruit (New York: Karma, 2020), 7.

2 Ibid., 10.

3 Robert Smithson, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan,” Artforum 8, no. 1 (September 1969): 34. Available at https://www.artforum.com/print/196907/incidents-of-mirror-travel-in-the-yucatan-36477.

4 Emily Dickinson, “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –,” written in 1862, published in Poems by Emily Dickinson, third series (Boston, MA: Roberts Brothers,1896), 72, ten years after her passing, her third posthumous collection.

5 C.zanne in these years moved between North and South, from Paris to Aix, back and forth, as well as working in the forest at Fontainebleau, painting indoors and out.

6 Ryan, quoted in Subotnick, 19.

7 Ibid., 15. Ryan would present the ultimate expression of pressure—without compression—with the sculpture Between Two Bodies (2017). In this work, two blocks of granite, each weighing a ton, one hovering over the other, are separated by three oranges between and somehow not crushed by them, as we would expect, whether actual oranges or Ryan’s made of glazed ceramic. The blocks of granite were “mounts for machinery from Northrop Grumman” (Subotnick, 12), the aerospace behemoth, and today one of the world’s largest manufacturers of weapons, who also produced the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, which landed on the moon in 1969. The oranges not only represent nature, life, and good health, but are associated with the artist’s home state, California, and also with Florida, where Apollo 11 was launched.

8 Manzoni, who had connected the fragility and transience of life with his art, would unexpectedly die less than three years later, age twenty-nine, from a heart attack in his studio. At the same time as he produced iterations of Artist’s Breath, he made many works for which he left his inked thumbprint on an egg, all titled Uova con impronta, 1960. The shells of some today, unsurprisingly, are cracked.

9 Thomas Nail, “Why our ‘wandering brains’ are wired to love art and nature,” Salon.com, June 15, 2021, https://www.salon.com/2021/06/15/why-our-wandering-brains-are-wired-to-love-art-and-nature/. Worth noting in relation is the myth that we only use about 10 percent of our brains. There is no evidence in neuroscience, not even the flimsiest, to support what has become a common misapprehension.

10 Kathleen Ryan, email to author, June 18, 2021.

11 Ibid.