Commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2009.
Orly Genger is best known for transforming common nylon ropes into elaborate, monumental sculptures. Len is exemplary of her unique working methods, and was one of the works that formed part of Whole, a unique site-specific installation that the artist created in response to the IMA's Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion. Looped and knotted by hand, Genger's sculpture evokes the normally intimate processes of knitting and crocheting, yet expands them to a newly epic scale. Her work challenges typical associations with craft and textile through its intensely physical creation process, in which the artist wrestles rope into knots and amasses it into powerful sculptural objects. The resulting work is intended to provoke a visceral physical response from viewers.
The imposing physicality of the sculpture, both in terms of its mode of production and massive scale, is further underlined by its title, which refers to Len Sell, a bodybuilding champion who won the professional Mr. Universe title in 1962 (the same year that Tony Smith created his iconic sculpture Die, to which this work also refers). Genger titled each of the nine sculptures in the exhibition Whole after Mr. Universe winners of the 1960s and 1970s, alluding to the shared hyperbolic nature of her own undertaking and the spectacle of power performed by these popular muscle men.
In its reductive abstract vocabulary, Len responds to the legacy of Minimalist art, and particularly the muscular abstractions of artists such as Richard Serra and Tony Smith. In creating Len, Genger chose to use overall dimensions that were similar to Smith's famed Die, 72 x 72 x 72 inches, which he had claimed were inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of the Vitruvian man. Engaging in a critical dialogue with Smith's sculpture, Genger employs the medium of soft rope rather than obdurate steel, and divides the monolithic geometric form into four sections to create a marked tension between the parts and the whole. Furthermore, while Smith created his sculpture by employing industrial welding company to fabricate it, Genger's work is created by engaging her full body in the physically demanding process of hand-weaving heavy rope. In using pliable rope to weave these monolithic forms, Genger also significantly draws on the Post-Minimalist legacy of artists such as Eva Hesse and Lynda Benglis. Genger's sculpture embodies an elemental tension between obdurate mass and empty space, between hard-edge geometry and organic softness.