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Rydingsvard, Ursula vonfree

German, 20th–21st century, female.

Active in the United States.

Born 26 July 1942, in Deensen, Germany.

Sculptor and installation artist.

Ursula von Rydingsvard is a German-born American sculptor known for her massive wood sculptures. Her forms are usually minimal geometric shapes. Her work is known for its emphasis on materiality. She works primarily in layered cedar wood planks, manipulating them by stacking and gluing them together. She cuts them with a circular saw, creating uneven, rough surfaces, even jagged edges.

The artist’s early origins with struggle figure prominently in her mature art, as do her experiences with displacement, migration, and subsistence. Born in 1942 under grim circumstances in a German work camp to parents who were Ukrainian and Polish farmers, von Rydingsvard was one of seven children. After repeated relocations to eight slave labour and refugee camps, her family immigrated to the United States in 1950. She grew up in New England. She was an ardent student, studying at the University of New Hampshire; the University of Miami; the University of California, Berkeley; the New School for Social Research; and Columbia University. She taught at the university level after graduate school, first at Yale University and then at the School of Visual Arts.

Focusing primarily on her studio practice, von Rydingsvard has become renowned for her large sculptures that are usually sited in outdoor installations. Her work is represented in numerous public and private collections, including many major sculpture gardens such as Storm King Art Center. The artist’s approach to her work is one in which she confronts the materials. Her method is intentionally labour-intensive. The process she experiences in making the sculpture remains evident in the final product. She merges the natural with the handmade. The rustic texture has an unexpected, elegant, and enduring impact. Her sculptures are usually vertically oriented cone structures or tower-like forms with a jigsaw-puzzle construction. These non-representational, large-scale works reference natural structures and forms, including rocks and tree trunks. They also reference vernacular objects like cups and other vessels. Her orientation to process is visible in the raw surfaces of her sculptures. The repetition necessary to realize the large structures lends to the definition of the pieces.

Group Exhibitions

1977, Wood, Nassau County Museum of Fine Arts, Roslyn, NY

1979, Artpark, Lewiston, NY

1981, 55 Mercer: 10 Sculptors, Fine Arts Gallery, Stony Brook, NY

1985, In Three Dimensions: Recent Sculptures by Women, Pratt Institute Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

1990, Out of Wood, Whitney Museum of American Art, Philip Morris Branch, New York

1993, Grounds for Sculpture, Johnson Atelier, Technical Institute of Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ

2005, City Art: New York’s Percent for Art Program, Center for Architecture, New York

2006, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Miami

2010, Storm King at Fifty, Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY

2012, Currents in Contemporary Art, Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando

2012, Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

2012, Selected Works from the Susan and Roy O’Connor Collection, Missoula Art Museum, Missoula, MT

2013, Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1, Industry City, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY

2014, Branching Out: Trees as Art, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA

2014, Drawings & Works on Paper, Galerie Lelong, New York

2014, Fact of the Matter, Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, NY

2014, Frieze Masters, Regent’s Park, London

2015, The Annual 2015: The Depth of the Surface, National Academy Museum, New York, NJ

2015, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Others: Materials and Manipulations, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton

2016, A Revolution Within, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, Los Angeles

Solo Exhibitions

2004, Galerie Lelong, Zurich

2006, Madison Square Art at Madison Square Park, New York

2006, Sylwetka, Galerie Lelong, New York

2007, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

2007, Portland Art Museum, Portland, ME

2009, Primitive Pull, Skulptur I Pilane, Pilane, Sweden

2011–2012, Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture 1991–2009, Sculpture Center, Long Island City, NY

2014, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Kloster Schoenthal, Langenbruck, Switzerland

2014, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, UK

2015, Bronze Bowl with Lace, Bluhm Family Terrace, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

2015, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Giardino della Marinaessa, Venice Biennale, Venice

2016, One Wall, One Work, Barbara Krakow Gallery, Boston

2016, Ursula von Rydingsvard, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia

Museum and Gallery Holdings

New York (MoMA): Bent Lace (2014, cedar); Mandolin Shovel (1989, cedar); Wall Pocket (2003–2004, cedar)

New Windsor, NY (Storm King Art Center): For Paul (1990–1992/2001, cedar); Luba (2010, cedar)

Princeton, NJ (MA): Braided Ladle (2014, cedar)

Purchase, NY (Neuberger MA): Bowl with Side Steps (2003, cedar)

Sonoma County, CA (Oliver Ranch Foundation): Iggy’s Pride (1990–1991, cedar beam sculpture with graphite)

Auction Records

New York, 2 April 2008: The Son of The Saint (1979, cedar) USD 25,000

New York, 14 Nov 2012: Five Cones (1988, cedar in 5 parts, 56 × 68¼ × 24 ins/142.2 × 173.4 × 60.9 cm). USD 68,500


  • Feinberg, Jean E.: Ursula von Rydingsvard, exhibition catalogue, Jorgensen Gallery, University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1980.
  • Alloway, Lawrence: Ursula von Rydingsvard, exhibition catalogue, Bette Stoler Gallery, New York, 1984.
  • Zimmer, William/van Wagner, Judy: Ursula von Rydingsvard, exhibition catalogue, Judith Murray Gallery, C.W. Post College, Brookville (NY), 1985.
  • Yau, John: Ursula von Rydingsvard, Exit Art, New York, 1988.
  • Hartman, Bruce: Ursula von Rydingsvard, Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills (MI), 1989.
  • Ostrow, Saul: Ursula von Rydingsvard, Lorence-Monk Gallery, New York, 1990.
  • Brenson, Michael: Ursula von Rydingsvard: Sculpture, Capp Street Project AVT, San Francisco, 1991.
  • Ashton, Dore/Bartelik, Marek: Ursula von Rydingsvard, a Monograph, Hudson Hills Press, New York, 1996.
  • Brenson, Michael/Scott, Deborah Emont: Ursula von Rydingsvard’s Cutting Edge, exhibition catalogue, The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (MO), 1997.
  • Siersma, Betsy: Ursula von Rydingsvard, Socks on My Spoons, exhibition catalogue, University Gallery, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1997.
  • Friedman, Martin: Ursula von Rydingsvard: Mining the Unconscious, exhibition catalogue, Madison Art Center, Madison (WI), 1998.
  • Danto, Arthur: Ursula von Rydingsvard: Cedar Lace and Tossing Loops, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Lelong, Paris, 2002.
  • Phillips, Patricia/Young, Dede: Ursula von Rydingsvard: On an Epic Scale, exhibition catalogue, Neuberger Museum of Art, State University of New York, Purchase, 2002.
  • Princenthal, Nancy: Ursula von Rydingsvard: At Home in the World, Madison Square Park Conservatory, New York, 2007.
  • Phillips, Patricia C: Ursula von Rydingsvard: Working, Prestel Publishing, New York, 2011.
  • Donovan, Molly, and others: Ursula von Rydingsvard at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield (UK), 2014.