B. ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT, 1913
D. EAST HAMPTON, NEW YORK, 2003
Ibram Lassaw was born of Russian parents on May 4, 1913, in Alexandria, Egypt. His family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York in 1921. He learned traditional modeling, casting, and carving as a sculpture student at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (1926) and Clay Club, Brooklyn (1927–32), and also took evening classes at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, New York (1931–32), while attending City College. Lassaw’s encounter with avant-garde art in the International Exhibition of Modern Art (1926), organized by the Société Anonyme at the Brooklyn Museum, made a powerful impression on him.
In the early 1930s he explored new materials and notions of open-space sculpture. The ideas of László Moholy-Nagy and Buckminster Fuller were important to him, and he knew the work of Julio González, Pablo Picasso, and the Russian Constructivists. A pioneer of abstract sculpture in the United States, in 1936 Lassaw was a founding member of the organization American Abstract Artists. Between 1933 and 1942 he worked for various federal arts projects: the Public Works of Art Project, Civil Works Authority, and Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. In 1938 he produced his first welded work. He served with the U.S. Army, where he learned direct welding techniques. During the 1940s he experimented with cage constructions and with acrylic plastics, adding color to his sculptures by applying dye directly to their surfaces. In 1949 Lassaw was a founder of the Club, an informal discussion group of avant-garde artists that had developed from gatherings at his studio, on Twelfth Street and Sixth Avenue in New York.
Lassaw used oxyacetylene welding techniques in evolving his mature improvisational manner in the 1950s. His first solo show was held at the Kootz Gallery, New York, in 1951, and after that time he exhibited widely, including a sizable solo show presented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge (1957), as well as in Documenta, Kassel, West Germany (1959). Deeply interested in biology, cosmology, and religion, the artist studied Zen Buddhism at Columbia University, New York. He executed the first of numerous public commissions in 1953, for Temple Beth El, Springfield, Massachusetts. A retrospective was held at the Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York, in 1973. Lassaw continued to produce and exhibit up until his last solo show at the Harmon-Meek Gallery, Naples, Florida (2002). He passed away on December 30, 2003, in East Hampton, New York. In 2008, a retrospective of his work was held at the Museo della Scultura Contemporanea, Matera, Italy.