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Don Gummer: Primary Separation

  • Exhibition

  • On view now
  • MASS MoCA

Primary Separation was first designed by the artist Donald Gummer in 1969 in a small model, and was realized here at full scale in 2006.

The sculpture consists of a massive granite boulder, 12 feet long by 6 feet tall, sawed in half. The stone halves—separated by an 11-inch gap—are suspended 10 feet above ground, within a system of stainless steel supports and cables. Gummer’s original inspiration for Separation was a stone that reminded him of Brancusi’s sculpture, Fish. In using the stone, Gummer had Duchamp’s ready-mades in mind, but substituting for Duchamp’s man-made objects an object found in nature.

Don Gummer

Don Gummer, Primary Separation
Mixed media, 15 × 45 × 33 feet

“We are delighted to be able to create a permanent home for this signal work from Gummer’s early career,” said Joseph C. Thompson, Director of MASS MoCA. “Don first showed me the work in the form of a small maquette. We were just beginning work on the Northern Berkshire District Court, and, though Don was probably not thinking of issues of justice when he conceived the work (though perhaps he was, given the societal unrest of 1969), Primary Separation seemed to me a strikingly apt metaphor for the scales of justice, a massive weight sustained in balanced repose. The stone could be rising, or falling; separating, or re-joining. The thin margin between the two parts of the whole is charged with a powerful force, and it’s not clear whether the force is repellent or attractive. We chose the placement of Primary Separation quite carefully, aligning it with MASS MoCA’s entry corridor, the Clocktower, and Tree Logic. We hope that the siting will help to visually mark the Courthouse on Marshall Street, while also linking that complex with the rest of the MASS MoCA campus.”

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