The Wrestler

(About art rather than language.)

In my mail a couple days ago, an advertisement from the Levenger company for a bookend version of The Wrestler, a 1920s aluminum sculpture that fascinated Steve Leveen, the company’s CEO. The Levenger version:

Leveen was taken with the robotic character of the sculpture, but it’s also notable for its exaggerated muscular masculinity, right up to the jutting codpiece (more pronounced in the original than in this miniature).

(The bookends are $99 apiece, two or more for $88 each.)

The original:

Leveen’s account, from the Levenger site:

When I first encountered the Wrestler more than 10 years ago in his Miami museum, The Wolfsonian-Florida International University, he had a visceral effect on me. I was transfixed in wonder, and a bit of trepidation. Maybe it was because as a child I had dreams of giant robots that methodically scanned the countryside and could see any movement and zap it with beams emanating from their cold eyes. But whatever the reason, the sculpture had that effect on me described by my friend, the art historian Roger Hurlburt, as “when art grabs you by the collar, and shakes you violently, like a dog with a rabbit.” The Wrestler pinned me on the spot. Turns out, I was not alone.

The Wrestler has made a long career of pinning those who cast eyes on him, including those at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, where he loomed atop the wrestling arena. I can only imagine what people then, most of whom were born in the 19th century, felt when they gazed upon the 6’6″ intimidating form.

He was more intimidating due to what he was made from—the then-modern material of aluminum, 475 pounds of it. The American sculptor Dudley Vaill Talcott (1899-1986) was making a statement using the material of Lindbergh’s plane, and the material that in a few more years would metamorphose into the skin of war planes.

On Talcott, from the AskArt site:

Dudley Vaill Talcott (1899-1986) had the great fortune to be born into an artistic and encouraging family and was free to pursue his artistic endeavors without being forced to construct a more commercial career from his talents. The artist’s formal training includes a year at Yale University and several courses at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris.

In 1925, Talcott began traveling on and off for six years, most notably to Norway and Greenland. These travels inspired the artist to write and illustrate two related books, “Noravind” and “Report of the Company”. After his travels, Talcott began to exhibit his work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1930, the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1938, the Worcester Museum of Art in 1941, and the 1932 Olympic International Competition and Exhibition, where his sculpture “The Wrestler” received an honorable mention.

Talcott received several important commissions throughout his career, including a group of bas relief panels for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, colored windows constructed from fiberglass laminate displayed in seven Pennsylvania public schools, a sculpture honoring the 500th birthday of Copernicus erected in Philadelphia, and several commissions for private collections. After the 1939 World’s Fair, Talcott began to move away from traditional styles and materials and began to move toward more modern styles and materials. He built a body of work in a style of industrial modernism that incorporated industrial design, cubism, streamlining, modernism, and what is now referred to as Art Deco.

The Copernicus sculpture (1973):

The Wolfsonian’s own take on The Wrestler:

At the end of the 1920s, American artists were faced with competing modes of visual modernity. Modern styling based on French applied arts was the mode of choice for architects and interior designers such as Raymond Hood and Norman Bel Geddes. Academic sculptors such as Paul Manship and Lee Lawrie interpreted pre-classical Greek figures for their commissions at Rockefeller Center. Science fiction culture, inspired by such films as Metropolis, introduced robots into the public’s imagination and encouraged an ever-growing fascination with technology and machines. New alloys and processes resulting in products such as Bakelite and aluminum allowed artists to express modernity through materials alone.

The Wrestler by Dudley Talcott is a blend of all of these modernist idioms. The planer, geometric hips are worked in a jazzy, ziggurat style. The exaggerated muscularity of the body without a face is an iconic figure smoothed by modernist streamlining. The cast-aluminum process and the robot form combine in a futuristic fantasy of the power of the machine.

The Levenger miniature is less exaggerated in almost every dimension than the original, which is massively superhuman, a symbol of machine power.


One Response to “The Wrestler”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    And from a gathering of friends in Miami last summer, one friend contemplating the statue:

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