October 18, 2020


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Lot 178: Sorel Etrog

Lot 178: Sorel Etrog

La Streta

#1 of 7
Stamped "Etrog 1/7" to base
75.125" x 26.5" x 12" (191 x 67 x 30 cm)
Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000
Price Realized: $34,375
Inventory Id: 38178


Amidst the devastating aftermath of World War II, artist, writer, and philosopher Sorel Etrog (1933-2014) created a consequential body of sculptural works that grapple with the fortitude and vulnerabilities of the human body in an increasingly mechanized world. Strongly influenced by fellow Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi, as well as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, Etrog transmuted his experiences of persecution as an Eastern European Jew into complex, monumental meditations on the human condition. Lot #, the towering 1967 La Streta emerges from what is argued to be the most fertile period of Etrog’s career.

Born in Romania in 1933 to a Jewish family, Etrog’s youth was spent fleeing the Nazis and Soviets. The family immigrated to Israel in 1950, where Etrog enrolled at the Tel Aviv Art Institute. In 1958, he was awarded a scholarship to the Brooklyn Museum of Art School. Though not immediately successful in New York, a chance encounter with Canadian businessman and collector Sam Zacks at the gallery of Rose Fried would set Etrog on his path to renown. Zacks, who purchased work from Etrog on the spot, invited him to live and work at his Canadian lake home during the summer of 1959. Here, 140 miles south of Toronto, Etrog made his first sculptures, began his entrée into Canadian art circles, and decided to apply for Canadian citizenship.

The works of this period were “the first evidence of a new aesthetic approach for Etrog, one that incorporated ideas and themes borrowed from the African and Oceanic art he had seen at both the Brooklyn Museum and in the Zacks’ collection,” writes Etrog biographer Alma Mikulinsky. The stalk-like form of La Streta emerged directly from this era and bears great resemblance to works such as Blossom (1960-1961) and Ritual Dancer (1962), acquired shortly after completion by the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art, respectively. Etrog wrote of his new focus on the standing figure that he wanted “to be free to use large masses or weight without them sinking into or flattening on to the base. I wanted the figure to soar from the base like the trunk of the tree with nothing happening until a short stop at the hips, leaving the drama for the top.” One year after completing Lot #, Etrog adapted his towering form to a smaller scale when he was chosen to design the bronze statuette presented to winners at the Canadian Film Awards — the award was known as the “Etrog” until 1980.

In addition to his new and fruitful pursuit of biomorphic shapes — an emerging fixation of that period — Etrog distinguished himself by developing his own process of plaster molding followed by lost-wax bronze casting. This self-guided technical expertise allowed him to imbue even his most imposing sculptures with an intimate sense of detail and texture. La Streta bears such signature surfaces, bringing warmth to the alternately organic and industrial configurations to be found in the composition. The tensions and concerns that Etrog cultivated in his sculpture parallel his less well-known collaborations with philosophical minds of the day, including illustrations for playwrights Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, as well as a film companion text with media theorist Marshall McLuhan. As Mikulinsky writes, such efforts “convey the profoundly human — and humane — aspects of an artist whose thoughts encompass sculptural and metaphorical considerations of connection, passage, relationship and continuity.” Etrog’s persistent interest in existentialist and absurdist philosophy directly informed his visual output, particularly in terms of the relationship(s) between humans and machine.

“I found that most mechanical tools are an extension of our hand,” Etrog observed, “For me, the mechanical world has a very strong connection with our bodies.”

https://www.caviar20.com/products/sorel-etrog-athlete-bronze-1967 Mikulinsky, Alma. “Sorel Etrog Life and Work.” https://aci-iac.ca/art-books/sorel-etrog/biography Mikulinsky, Alma. “Significance and Critical Issues.” https://aci-iac.ca/art-books/sorel-etrog/significance-and-critical-issues https://blogs.goucher.edu/artcollection/sculptures/ritual-head/