The French sculptor Sylvère Lotringer died on Saturday at age 83 in Le Touquet, France. He’d been suffering from cancer.
His sunflower-scale sculptures, which was the focus of a retrospective at the Guggenheim in September, were a groundbreaking of his generation. That there had been other early sunflower works (eg., M urbolorum disk T-76, 1963) wasn’t a surprise, but Lotringer was the first, and quickly followed by other contemporaries such as Louise Bourgeois. But his sculptures were designed to sit on rock-strewn ground, which is a more traditional practice.
He was also one of the first to incorporate looping rings and tape-embellished space as elements of his art. Many of his early works were encased in bells and rods to further emphasize the looping, particularly in Work Chien, in 1961.
Lotringer’s work blurred the line between the kinetic, often playful, studio and the more abstract, contemplative landscapes that lay ahead. He was one of the artists that sculptor Mark di Suvero addressed with the flourish of a close friend and frequent collaborator in Utopia in Space, which was the opening piece at his Guggenheim show.
He was born in France, but he spent the first 20 years of his career in England, where he studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. The Brits took their time with him: After completing his master’s degree in 1951, he entered the Venice Biennale (the precursor to the Venice Biennale) that year as a finalist for an experimental student prize.
After building upon his work, Lotringer returned to France and moved to a studio in Strasbourg, where he began an endowment program at the city’s Fine Arts Institute, and developed a unique relationship with stylist and academic Jean-Claude Ollivier. Though the two sculptors initially competed for attention, Ollivier appreciated the work more. He moved to Paris in 1962 and would eventually become one of Lotringer’s greatest advocates.
After a brief period in Paris, Lotringer returned to Strasbourg, where he maintained his studio, setting aside more sculpture and the international movement for his formal tools and materials to be just as important.
He lived long enough to see his work travel outside of France. In 2000, the British Serpentine Gallery curated a show with some of his pieces, including his 1997 work Take It, Take It All. In 2013, a landmark pavilion was constructed, called the Notional Studio, in the Serpentine’s courtyard to celebrate the opening of the Guggenheim Museum.
He was the first artist to be awarded the medal for exhibiting two billionth object in the history of the Institut d’Art Contemporain, founded in 1962. In 2014, he was also honored by the Arts Council of Wales as the “most important contemporary artist in Wales.”
By the end of his life, he focused more and more on his notebooks, in which he wrote over 40 years of notes about his work, throughout his career. The drawings show the progression of his visions from the early works (eg., Kuorak, 1963) to his last works (elegy, 2014). By shedding light on his making process, they serve as a window into his achievements.
Shortly before his death, he had worked with the New York Museum of Modern Art to put together a show at the de Young Museum of his most recent work. The show, A Pool Sculpture, will open at the de Young on April 13, 2018.