Alan Sonfist

Surface Memory

January 6 - 30, 2017


Alan Sonfist
Under the White Pine, 1968
Resin on canvas
72 x 216 inches

Fredric Snitzer Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition of vintage works from the late 1960s and early 1970s by Alan Sonfist. On the forefront of the earth and land art movements with contemporaries such as Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson, these works exemplify a lost period in time and have never been shown commercially. Utilizing works on canvas and ceramic castings, Alan Sonfist creates a landmark in time; a relic detailing the innate artistry of the natural world.  In contrast to his contemporaries, Sonfist pledged not to destroy the natural environment but to link city-dwellers and suburbanites to a nature that civilization destroyed.

Early in his artistic career, Alan Sonfist received critical acclaim for his innovative use of urban spaces to design havens of nature and green art, a theme he has continued throughout his accomplished career. His early work in the 1960’s and seventies helped pioneer the burgeoning movement of site-specific sculpture. Sonfist continues to promote sustainable energy and raise awareness for climate change through international projects such as a recent collaboration with Green City Planners in Pori, Finland and Tampa, Florida to create green public spaces. Sonfist grew up in the South Bronx, New York near the Hemlock Forest, which has been a major inspiration for his art including Surface Memory (1967-71).

Following his first widely acclaimed Time Landscape of New York, Surface Memory (1967-1971) was a logical next step in his career-long exploration of the innate artistry of the natural world.  Detailing different tree species throughout New York State by using the frottage method to record woodland forms, the project doubled as a re-identification with settings from Sonfist’s childhood.  The artworks that exist today were inspired by the markings pressed into his arms for having made physical contact with such oak, beech, and maple trees in his youth.

The Ceramic Relics are fossilized earth markings, each capturing a specific moment of the forest’s life/ As the Canvasses in Surface Memories capture the markings of trees on canvas, the Ceramic Relics capture the markings of the forest clay before being permanently fossilized in time. Each vessel is unique and represents a singular moment in the time and space of the forest. The ceramic relics capture the essence of the artists’ childhood spent wandering through the forest, observing the fragility of each unique moment in it.

Sonfist earned an MFA from Hunter College, and studied with Gestalt psychologist Hoyt Sherman at Ohio State University. His research there concerned the language of visual culture and its relationship with human psychology. He also earned a research fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Today, Sonfist’s prolific work is housed in major collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Princeton University Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum, and internationally. Sonfist has been awarded grants and awards from private and government organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Graham Foundation for Art and Architecture, the Chase Manhattan Bank Foundation. Surface Memory continues to promote his message of ecological sustainability and timeless respect for the fragility of nature in each of his green art projects.