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George Sugarman papers, 1912-2001

Biographical Note

George Sugarman was a painter and sculptor who disliked labels because he believed they oversimplified the complexity of art, and Sugarman's artwork, like the artist himself, resists classification and oversimplification. Although he was influenced by Surrealist imagery, Cubist ideas of space, Baroque sculpture, and Abstract Expressionism, Sugarman's sculptures also display a musical quality, reflecting his interest in jazz music and improvisation. Sugarman was a pioneer in the use of color in sculpture and is probably best known for his large, polychrome aluminum sculptures.
Sugarman made the decision to become an artist relatively late in life. Born in New York on May 11, 1912, he studied at City College in New York and graduated with a B.A. in 1934. After serving in the United States Navy from 1941 until 1945, he attended evening classes at Museum of Modern Art. At the age of 39, George Sugarman traveled to Paris to study painting under the GI Bill of Rights. While in Paris, he decided to study sculpture with Ossip Zadkine and began creating wood carvings and terra-cotta sculptures. Over the next few years, Sugarman traveled to Italy and Spain, studying Baroque sculpture and architecture. He was particularly attracted to the work of Bernini and to Bernini's use of space.
Sugarman returned to New York in 1955 and began working with laminated wood. In order to support himself, he accepted a job teaching carpentry at a private school. He joined the Brata Gallery in 1957 and helped found the New Sculpture Group. A few years later, Sugarman received major recognition of his work by winning second prize in sculpture at the Pittsburgh International Exhibition. Sugarman went on to win a Longview Foundation Grant, a Ford Foundation Grant for his work at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In the 1960s, Sugarman began working on large painted-aluminum sculptures and completed his first outdoor sculpture at the Xerox Building in El Segundo, Calif. in 1969. Many of Sugarman's outdoor sculptures generated intense controversy, particularly his sculpture for the Edward A. Garmatz Federal Building and Courthouse in Baltimore, but he was devoted to his belief in the social as well as aesthetic importance of public art. Sugarman saw public sculpture as a "metaphor for the human condition" and as a way to transcend what he called the "indoor eye," the eye which views art in isolation from its physical and social environment.
Sugarman taught at the Graduate School of Hunter College in New York City from 1960 until 1970 and served as visiting Associate Professor at the Yale University Graduate School of Art from 1967 to 1968. Sugarman was a prolific artist, participating in numerous one-man shows, group exhibitions, and competitions all over the world, yet recognition of his talent came almost a decade later in the United States than in Europe. His works are in major collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago. George Sugarman died on August 25, 1999.