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Robert Boardman Howard

American
(1896–1983)

Night Watch
1949-1950

Wood, metal, gypsum, fiberglass, resin, and polychrome
106 x 31 x 9 in. (269.24 x 78.74 x 22.86 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
2000.39

Night Watch is an articulated sculpture composed of two parts linked together by a precision joint. The top portion is precariously poised on a minimal base of four sharp, talonlike claws. Laden with biomorphic allusions, the potential for motion, and Robert Howard’s irreverent humor, the work’s underlying significance is a search for balance.

This exercise in equilibrium is reflected in more psychological ways as well. Allusions to a shelled creature found in a spiral carved into the body of the work express a beastlike aspect that is at once primordial and futuristic. A sense of threat conveyed by the spikes, sharp talons, and imposing height of the upright vertical is balanced with the lighthearted humor of the work’s playful sense of metamorphosis. That one can see the elongated upright as either a tail or an attenuated neck is indicative of the expressive power of non-specificity attained in the piece.

Howard’s body of work was informed by the natural world, his extensive travels, and explorations into the trove of new materials available in the aftermath of World War II. In his search for a sculptural material that was tough and lightweight, he experimented with a composite of wood, gypsum, and fiberglass compounds. Howard also had a keen interest in mechanical design, which aided him in developing large-scale, fully articulated sculptures that, like Night Watch, could swing and oscillate to activate space and interact with the viewer.

The title refers to Rembrandt’s famous painting The Night Watch, renowned for its colossal size and for its allusion to movement in the generally static genre of militia portraiture. This painting had recently been in the news, when it had been removed from the caves where it was stored for safety during World War II and returned to its home at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Susan M. Anderson


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