Beverly Pepper - Design London Thursday, November 12, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Count Urbano Rattazzi, Italy
    Private collection, Milan, acquired directly from the above, 1980s
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Connective Art: Beverley Pepper's Utopic Vision for Design
    By Dr. Margaret J. Schmitz

    Beverly Pepper shattered glass ceilings by becoming a world-renowned, female artist of monumental, site-specific steel sculpture during the 1960s and 70s. This time period, and the medium with which she worked, is most commonly associated with her contemporary male peers. However, Pepper’s angled and curvilinear forms comprised of Cor-Ten steel predate even Richard Serra and Donald Judd’s use of the material. Her work appears to derive much theoretical and aesthetic inspiration from mid-century movements such as Land Art and Minimalism, but it would be wrong to define Pepper with these labels in any conclusive way. To do so would fail to acknowledge the profound impact that Pepper’s work had on formulating these movements in the first place. Additionally, such an assertion would minimise Pepper’s utopian agenda, unique amongst her contemporaries, which sought to foster connection between viewers and their fellow human beings, nature, and themselves. In Pepper’s own words:

    ‘The work should be in dialogue with the people around it. I believe this is a prime function of art in a world increasingly hostile to human life. With the pollution of the environment, the atomising of the human spirit, it is increasingly necessary that modern art, especially public art, have some relationship with people–that is, with the world of common experience…Art must speak to the troubled, alienated human being for this reason I conceive of a return to a relationship between art and the living world which can be called Connective Art…’ [1]

    Connective Art’s potential social impact was the theoretical catalyst for Pepper’s experiments with site and space. The present table offers an intimate example of Pepper’s motivations in this regard. Simultaneously, the work is unusual for the artist’s oeuvre in that it is equally a sculpture and a utilitarian object. The fact that it is both is perhaps the perfect culmination of Connective Art’s goals: the table invites its users and spectators into a shared, abstract fantasy. Pepper’s conceptual framework required that her art provide people with a safe space that was removed from the chaos inundating contemporary life. What better way for Pepper to reify Connective Art than by turning her sculpture into furniture, particularly a table – an object whose spirit and function is to serve as a human meeting place? What is more, Pepper has stipulated that if a single person came upon her work, they would never feel alone with it. The table’s intense angularity and shimmering surface brazenly announces the object’s presence and, consequently, a sense of communion is created between the object and its spectator.

    Pepper has explained the aesthetic experience she wished people to inhabit when approaching her work: ‘seeing, touching, and the physical sensory engagement is the way into my sculpture; my intention is that the meaning of my work rests in experiencing it.’ [2] The present lot is, likewise, emphatically multi-sensory. The table is comprised of smooth, polished stainless steel that mirrors a rippled abstraction of the room surrounding it. Its top is met by three additional triangular slabs of steel serving as the table’s base, which recede downward to a support made of steel-reinforced concrete. The support element is meant to hide underneath the floor, ensuring that the object appear weightless, with its impressive form seemingly balanced on a mere few centimetres. As a spectator approaches the work and walks around it, the planes and linear elements supporting the table top’s reflective surface suddenly appear then dissipate into voids. Characteristic of Pepper, there are unexpected textures in this work. In addition to the polished stainless steel, a triangular recess of brushed steel can be discovered within one of the table’s side panels. When the table was created, in the early 1970s, Pepper was at the height of her career. She had been experimenting with transitioning the forms of her enormous angular sculptures inset with triangular hollows, such as Perazim II (1975), into objects of utilitarian design, but the present lot is unique among Pepper’s already rare hybrid examples.

    At the time, she was living and working in Todi, Italy where she remained until her recent death in February 2020. Her life up until this point is a circuitous tale of creative self-discovery. Pepper was born to Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn in 1922. She studied at Pratt University where she took up work initially as an abstract painter. By 1948, she had moved to France, then, finally, to Todi in 1951. Pepper’s turn to sculpture began in earnest after a trip to Angkor Wat in 1960. She was seduced by the ancient temple complex’s monumental sculptures, architecture, and the way nature had overtaken the site. Entranced by the idea that the passage of time and a union between human beings and the larger world could be made so visibly manifest, she had the epiphany that sculpture might help her express these transcendental ideas. The next major turning point in Pepper’s career occurred in 1962, when she moved from working with wood to steel and iron. That year, ten sculptors were commissioned by Italsider, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel., for an outdoor exhibition held in Spoleto, Italy. Of the ten artists three were American: Alexander Calder, David Smith, and Beverly Pepper. In an unconventional move at the time, the exhibition’s all-male jury wished to have a woman sculptor, but Pepper’s involvement in the exhibition was contingent on whether or not she could weld. Knowing the exhibition was months away, she lied and said she could. Pepper then furtively took courses with a local steel monger and poured herself into the new medium. In a display of unprecedented artistic stamina, Pepper created several steel works in abstract, rounded and looped forms. The exhibition proved to be a milestone for her career and artistic development. From then on Pepper worked consistently with steel factories and manufacturers to source her materials and assist her in creating work.

    Pepper’s outdoor, public sculptures were frequently comprised of Cor-Ten steel, which oxidises over time, naturally forming a rusted finish that preserves the sculptures without the need of finishes. Importantly, this oxidisation welcomes time and natural elements as co-designers of the work. Pepper embraced a similar rationale when completing her polished stainless-steel sculptures, which, she stipulated, are ‘finished’ by the sky (see, for example, Exodus (1972)). As Pepper’s terrestrial abstractions appear to emerge from the earth, or floor, their reflective surfaces, populated by solids and voids, create metaphoric allusions to the dualities between earth and the cosmos, surface and interior, and the interplay between the man-made and organic. Her interest in these dualities are what define Connective Art’s principles, which are made exquisitely manifest by the present table’s assertive, yet intimate, form and functionality.

    Dr. Margaret J. Schmitz

    [1] Beverly Pepper, 1970-71, quoted in Beverly Pepper: Sculpture 1960 – 1973, Tyler School of Art in Rome, Temple University Abroad, March 1-April 4, 1973.
    [2] Beverly Pepper quoted in Sarah Cascone, 'At 96, the Sculptor Beverly Pepper Is Only Now Getting Credit for Using Cor-Ten Steel Way Before Richard Serra', ArtNet News, 25 February, 2019,


Unique table

circa 1973
Polished and brushed stainless steel.
70.8 x 428.8 x 169.9 cm (27 7/8 x 168 7/8 x 66 7/8 in.)
The present lot has been authenticated by the Beverly Pepper Estate.

£25,000 - 35,000 

Sold for £40,320

Contact Specialist

Madalena Horta E Costa
Head of Sale, Associate Specialist
+44 20 7318 4019



London Auction 12 November 2020