Area Sculptor 3D Sculpture at CAM

May 17th, 2012  |  Published in Digest, May 2012  |  2 Comments

"DRAPED ARIADNE", Margot Gotoff, cast glass from clay& wax original, 33"x15"x 10".

When I was first approached about writing this appreciation of a piece at the Cincinnati Art Museum, I was absolutely confident in my choice. As many times as I had entered through those majestic doors, I knew where I was first drawn. No matter what new exhibit had just opened, I had to make my way to their Classical collection of Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern sculpture. The portrait busts enticed me. How had that sculptor, 2000 plus years ago, chosen to model a nose, a brow, a cheekbone? As a sculptor myself, I am always searching how to simplify yet, at the same time, how to bring power and subtleness to the volumes I create.

As I walked into the hall, I nodded at the tiny (1) Cycladic Female as a warm smile crept over my face. She dates from 2500 BC. How pure, how pared down, how evocative she is. All that is essential is there. To travel into the mind of that sculptor is to wonder how those shapes were arrived at. My journey was beginning! I passed by and then stopped to take a deeper look at (2) the Fragmentary Head of a King from 14 th century B.C. His strong, youthful face; round yet firm, shows the sculptor’s intuitive sensibility. The one remaining eye holds me in its gaze that comes from almost 3500 years ago. Simplicity of form is definitely better.

I’m on my way to my favorite piece, the Sacrificial Heifer, 1st century A. D. Roman. But, before I arrive, my eye is caught by the elegant yet strong folds of drapery on a tiny Greek bronze (3) of Asklepios from 150 -50 B. C. The bottom folds are so minimally constructed that they allow the structure of his leg to come through. How is this done, I ask myself, and then linger a few moments to figure out the secret. A bit of excess cloth rippled along his thigh is the answer!

As I walk on, I am grabbed by the gaze of the (4) Greek Head of a Mourning Woman from 350 B. C. Those eyes, with their downward look, have such tenderness and warmth. Her nose and part of her mouth are gone, but what remains is the soul of this woman. The sculptor has brought our attention to her gentle gaze by making both sides of her hairdo a decorative equation that forces our own gaze to look elsewhere for volumetric excitement and that is when one is captivated by her eyes.

On I go, anxious to connect with “My Heifer”, but I am stopped by the (5) Relief of a Persian Guard, 480 B. C., Persepolis. His headdress, with play of light and shadow, catches my eye; but it is his strong forward gaze and curve of his aquiline nose that pull me in. The decorative, concentric curls of his hair and his full beard only contribute to make his eye, nose, and mouth the captivating areas of this ancient relief. Once again, I take it all in and thank this long ago sculptor for giving me such insights.

Suddenly, I must stop. I am entranced by the (6) Relief of Mithras Slaying the Bull, Roman, 150 – 200 A. D. His flying cloak draws me in to this exciting composition. My gaze wanders down to his outstretched leg, then up to his arm holding the dagger that’s plunged into the neck of the strong, struggling bull. The beauty in the simplified volumes of the bull’s head and neck are as alive today as they were almost 2000 years ago. The struggle and torment are there. One has to literally avert one’s eyes. As I do this, my eyes rest upon the personification of the sun, wearing a halo of triangular shaped rays. He holds my gaze for a moment, but I’m torn. I must look again at the bull and his incredible struggle.

"SACRIFICIAL HEIFER FROM AN ALTAR RELIEF", Cincinnati Art Museum, John J. Emery Fund Accession #: 1946.9

I leave the relief and I’ve arrived! My favorite, (7) the Sacrificial Heifer, 1st century A. D., Roman, stands before me. As always, I am entranced by the beautiful and strong abstract volumes of her haunches. They captivate me. Their hypnotizing effect is the same that comes over me when I’m in the presence of some of Henry Moore’s large abstract pieces such as (8) “Two Large Forms”,(9)  “Locking Piece”, or (10) “Two Piece Reclining Figure”. The strength and energy as the volumes or shapes define her backside create a world of their own. What a complex decision-making process on the part of the sculptor to render these shapes so alive and, seemingly, in motion. My eyes travel along her body noting her ribcage, which is so gently but firmly suggested. The spare, strong shapes which define her shoulder lead along her strong muscular neck to her head. It is a beautiful and calm head. She looks peaceful and totally unaware of what awaits her. My gaze travels back along her torso to the bones in her haunches. I am transfixed by the utter economy of form.

On this visit, I have come with a very close friend. Knowing that I am to write this article, she insists that she must show me a piece that I will love. I agree and follow her to the museum’s collection of American Decorative Arts. There, sharing a vitrine with several other objects, is a magnificent piece by Anna Marie Valentien ( 1862 – 1947). It is called (11) “Punch Bowl” and was created/sculpted by Valentien in 1900.

The Rookwood Pottery Company (American, estab. 1880); manufactory Anna Marie Valentien (American, b.1862, d.1947); decorator, "PUNCH BOWL", Cincinnati Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Randy Sandler Accession #: 2000.143

Now, I have fallen in love! The bowl is small and is glazed in a soft green/beige. Around its lip or edge, are three undulating bodies. They seem to flow and ebb as the tide would do. They are lovely. The bodies’ forms create their own world on the presipice of the bowl’s edge. To master the human figure to such an extent that it harmoniously drifts in and out along a linear edge is quite a feat. I was especially moved by this piece because I sculpt the figure both as a whole and in fragments. I then cast my work in glass. Just in the last several months, I had thought about using the figure as it comes out of a horizontal surface. So, this piece of Rookwood spoke to me on so many levels. It also brought to mind Rodin’s “Gates of Hell”. Rodin created two gates. The later one has figures that seem to ebb and flow with the tidal wave that moves them along to their final destiny. Anna Marie Valentien shares some of this same energy.

I now am sure that on every visit to the Cincinnati Art Museum I will have to pay homage to my two favorites!

–Margot Gotoff


  1. Bruce Olson says:

    May 18th, 2012at 1:34 pm(#)

    There are but a few sculptors able to write so eloquently of sculptural art. That is too often left to writers who, may appreciate or even love sculpture, but have no visual art talent to speak of and no insiders knowledge. Ms. Gotoff can speak to the essence of the art form. To even begin to understand the variances between carvers, modelers and fabricators is difficult, yet she will stop for a mere moment to figure out how something was so successfully rendered in stone. Appreciation beyond your own medium or stylistic realm is often an obstacle. Not all sculptors can carve but every carver can sculpt. There is no great chasm between abstraction and realism. All sculpture is about composition and volume. These are all truisms to the practicing sculptor. Margot’s article reminds me that a return to the CAM is to be planned in the very near future. Thank you Margot for the insiders view.

  2. Zell Schulman says:

    May 23rd, 2012at 10:52 am(#)

    Margot, thank you for opening my eyes with a new perspective on the Classical Collection at the Cincinnati Art Museum. On my next visit, I look forward to going there as my first stop, and enjoying it from your eyes.