Saturday, July 15, 2006

Albin Polasek: The Sower

I'm sick of cemeteries !

So this week, I went to the Chicago Botanical Garden to shoot the most famous/notorious work of Albin Polasek in Chicago: "The Sower" of 1911.

Polasek did this piece when he was 32 -- fresh from his stay in Rome -- and at the begining of his nearly 40 year career teaching sculpture at the Art Institute.

I'm guessing that during his years in Rome, he forgot that the American Midwest had a different attitude toward nude statuary -- and this celebrated piece created a furor when it was purchased and then installed by the museum near its Michigan avenue entrance.

Ministers preached -- politicians cowered -- and the city demanded its removal. The museum, however, took the case to court and won (I think) on the basis of its property rights (the city owns the land, but the museum owns what's on it)

At any rate -- it didn't stay on display forever -- and by time I first came to Chicago in the sixties -- the piece was buried deep in the museum's basement -- never to be shown by the museum again. (the fashions of the artworld were more effective in killing it than the scruples of outraged citizens had been)

Now --- almost a hundred years later -- I have a hard time seeing it as all that provocative. O.K. -- the statue has a dick -- but it's a nifty, proper classical kind -- like little Italian putti have -- nothing lurid or threatening here at all -- but maybe just a little goofy.

Why is that farmer sowing grain with his pants (and shoes and shirt) off ? He's not mythological --- he's not realistic -- what is he ? I just can't help but thinking that the piece is nothing more than a good,naturalistic figure study.

But still --- after Laredo Taft, Polasek is the city's most famous sculptor -- this was his most famous piece -- and the museum never showed it again -- finally giving it to Chicago Park district to be displayed in the Chicago Botanical Garden.(where, BTW , it has been given a magnificent setting)

I had a good time looking at this piece -- and wishing that it were only one of many good nude figure scuptures in the garden -- instead of being the one-and-only.

But still --- in comparison with other great figure sculpture -- like the following
by Rodin......

... the shortcomings of the Polasek piece are hard to avoid.

It's a long way from naturalistic to rapturous.


Blogger Tom Merkle said...

Hi Chris - thanks for the comment you emailed to me - I appreciate it. No, I don't mind you linking to my pic of the Herman Hahn "To Goethe" statue - in fact I am a bit flattered that you linked to it.

I just wanted to send you a quick response- and to let I look forward to viewing your whole blog when I have some time. I just took a quick look and was really glad to get more info about the two statues from the botanical garden --- I was especially interested in reading the history about the "The Sower". I saw that statue last year when I was at the garden and was glad to see a male nude statue because it seems that there are very few nude statues in the Chicago area (well at least compared to many cities in Europe). I am not necessarily a fan of nude sculptures, but I am always intrigued about the dearth of them in Chicago and what comment that makes about our local Midwestern attitude towards nudes.

I have saved a link to your blog and hope to get to all of it sometime soon.

July 17, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...


I share your sentiments about the sower, but I can't help feeling there is something wrong about the legs. Are they too short? Too close together? Are the feet too parallel (i get the impression -- a false one, as it turns out every time i check) that they are turned in, but they are not.

And of course he isn't a sower, he is a body builder. :)

July 23, 2006  
Blogger chris miller said...

Yes, the Sower - like competitive body builders - is heavy in the upper body -- and apparently the sculptor, Albin Polasek, was the same way -- an incredibly strong man with powerful arms.

There's all that power -- but what's it doing ? That might describe the dilemma of the imaginative arts in the early 20th Century. (back when they still had power)

That might also be seen as the problematic theme of Polasek's most famous piece "Man carving his own Destiny"

July 23, 2006  
Blogger Gawain said...

Wow, i think i prefer the sower! (this carving of destiny, its really tiresome stuff) -- you may care to glance over my impressions on visiting Galleria del Arte Moderna in Rome regarding being tired while looking at art. Here

about the sower's legs: one sees that sort of figure, that sort of mincing, almost hobbled way of walking every now and then, it is not failure in art, it just is not a very beautiful man he chose for a model.

i guess i dont care a great deal for the meaning of it -- i dont care whether he is sowing or programming the computer -- i care that he be good looking and - he isnt! :(

but i love the finish and the dick is just right.

July 23, 2006  
Blogger Mark said...


It looks like this guy got his start at the Panama Pacific Intl Expo in SF 1915.

UC Berkeley Bancroft Library Photograph:

June 02, 2008  
Blogger chris miller said...

I wonder if there was any controversy about the piece in SF ? Thanks for showing me that site - there's a lot more sculpture there.

June 02, 2008  

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