Jackie Link's Blog

- A blog for no good reason

Monday, December 24, 2007

Muriel Castanis

Beverly asked me who had made the sculptures (as seen here from the 23rd floor) and by researching 580 California Street, I was able to identify the artist as Muriel Castanis. There is surprisingly little written about her, mainly, her obituaries.
New York Times 11.26.2006: In 1984 Ms. Castanis made three caryatids* to adorn the top of 580 California Street in San Francisco, a skyscraper and architectural landmark of the city designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee.

The youngest of six children, Ms. Castanis, born Muriel Brunner, grew up in Greenwich Village and discovered her love for art at Greenwich House, the settlement house where she would go to escape her family’s hectic, crowded cold-water apartment. She attended New York’s High School of Music and Art but did not start working as an artist until 1964, after 10 years as a full-time wife and mother of four.

She began by painting over subtle designs on fabric. She would smear Elmer’s glue on a board with a washcloth and paste the fabric onto it. But eventually she became more intrigued by the shapes formed by the dried washcloths, and turned to sculpture.

Her sculpturing career took off after a sold-out show in 1980 at OK Harris Works of Art in Manhattan, which represented her from then on.

In a 1990 review of her work in a joint show by nine sculptors, Vivien Raynor of The New York Times wrote, “Just as the Invisible Man was defined by his bandages, Muriel Castanis’s figures are the sum of the
ir classical draperies.”
and from The Villager:
….By 1967 she had developed her signature technique of draping layers of epoxy-soaked cloth over mannequins.

“The epoxy hardens after a half hour or 45 minutes, so that’s when most of her creative work was done. It became stone hard after 24 hours,” her husband said. The mannequin, around which the epoxy-cloth was draped, is removed in sections after the epoxy hardens, and the figures, which evoke the drapery on classical Greek statuary, are hollow.

In 1983, the architect Philip Johnson commissioned her to create sculpture for the top story of a skyscraper he was designing with John Burgee for 580 California St., in San Francisco. Three different heroic-size figures are repeated on each side of the building.

I hadn't realized they were on all four facades. I like them from the inside, looking out, over and through them, much, much better.

She died from lung cancer at the age of 80, in 2006.

* I had to look up caryatid - "Καρυάτις is a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head." (Wikipedia) These are not caryatids.

1 comment:

Tomate Farcie said...

You're quite right, there isn't much at all about Ms. Castanis, is there?! Not even a couple of lines in the Chronicle about her death. Pretty lame, uh?

I was looking for information about the building and the 3 statues and found your blog. Lovely pictures and I really like the template colors.