June 28 marked the opening of American Metal: The Art of Albert Paley here at the Corcoran, a highly-anticipated retrospective that showcases the 50-year career of a remarkable metalsmith. We sat down with artist Albert Paley himself and exhibition curator, Eric Turner, of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, to gain insight on a few of their favorite aspects of American Metal.

Do you have any favorite works in American Metal?

Albert Paley: Now Eric’s responsible for the exhibition, so with everything, whether you liked it or not, Eric was ultimately the one to make call.

Eric Turner: Well, on that basis, I could say that they’re all my favorites. I think the jewelry is extremely well displayed, and integrates successfully into the exhibition. The Victoria and Albert Gate is a favorite for sentimental reasons. The St. Louis Zoo entrance is just extraordinary, and an unusual departure from the abstract aesthetic that Albert has used throughout his career. And some of the aspects that most excite me are the really large urban pieces, like Evanesce.

Eric, do you have a favorite site-specific work of Albert’s here in Washington, D.C.?

Turner: That’s a difficult question… I suppose Epoch is one because it performs a function. The presence of a sculpture like this in front of a building really humanizes the environment.

Albert Paley Epoch steel sculpture public art Washington DC Corcoran Gallery American Metal
Albert Paley, Epoch, 2004. Formed and fabricated mild steel with polychrome finish. 24′ × 12′ × 10.58′. Commissioned by the DC Commission for the Arts and Humanities, Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Paley Studios.

Also, to give another example, one of the most impressive pieces of work is the Washington National Cathedral Gate for the Good Shepherd Chapel. Albert managed to create a contemporary piece that nonetheless fits in with the neo-Gothic aesthetic language of the cathedral—that is no small feat.

Albert Paley Washington National Cathedral Gate for the Good Shepherd Chapel Washington DC
Albert Paley, Washington National Cathedral Gate for the Good Shepherd Chapel, 2007. Forged and fabricated mild steel, bronze, and 24 karat gold plate with patinaed finish and protective clear color. 9’ x 5’3” x 1’6”. Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC. Image courtesy of Joy Asico.

For fans of Albert Paley and of American Metal, can you recommend any other artists that they should keep an eye out for?

Turner: The work of Wendy Ramshaw is closely aligned with Albert’s, and I’ve admired her work for decades. She’s one of the best jewelry designers working in Britain today, and she has translated her work from small-scale jewelry into large-scale ironwork very successfully. David Watkins has a rather different aesthetic, but he’s a particularly innovative avant-garde jewelry designer. I could go on naming artists who are always seeking innovation and are highly skilled in what they do.

Paley: There are thousands and thousands of artists. The whole evolution of the International Style to post-modernism has been a dynamic change within a relatively short period of time. There are several individuals who are engaged in that, and the field is so large that it’s hard to choose.

What would you say is your favorite artwork at the Corcoran that is not a part of American Metal?

Paley: By and large, I would have to say the building itself. It’s a neoclassical gem and gives the Corcoran a sense of quality, tradition, and authority.

Turner: I would entirely go along with Albert. The building is one of the most distinguished works of art of the Corcoran. The decorative schemes and fluidity of the galleries is extremely successful.

Paley: The whole sense of progression through the building is both symbolic and functional. It has a way of serving as an oasis or sanctuary, which allows the viewer to engage with the art experience.

Opening of "American Metal: The Art of Albert Paley" at the Corcoran Gallery of Art,  June 24, 2014. Photo: Joy Asico.
Opening of American Metal: The Art of Albert Paley at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, June 24, 2014. Photo: Joy Asico.


American Metal: The Art of Albert Paley is on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art through September 28, 2014. Click here for more information.

Photo credit (top): Albert Paley, architectural screen, 1983. steel and brass. 90″ x 234″ x 12″. Collection of the artist. installation at the corcoran gallery of art. Photo: Joy asico.