Flying Saucer 1977
Artist: Jene Highstein (American, b. 1942)
Materials: concrete, steel frame
Provenance: Commissioned by the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park
Jene Highstein was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and educated in New York, at the University of Chicago, as well as in London, England. He makes his home in Salem, New York.
While Highstein's sculpture may have affinities to Minimalism in its simplicity, significant differences can be observed between his post-Minimalist works and Minimalism's severe formalism. Artists steeped in that aesthetic often emphasized geometry, machined edge, and pristine surface. Highstein applies and manipulates materials by hand to create what seem to be organic, fundamental forms. He has worked variously with wood, stone, glass, and concrete over the past 30 years.
Flying Saucer grew out of a group of works created between 1976–77. Large spherical sculptures were made by hand-troweling concrete over an armature of wood or steel. All were painted black. An untitled example of these works remains in front of the student union at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park.
Comparing the formal elements of Flying Saucer with its companion on this path, Edvins Strautmanis' Phoenix, can be instructive: Phoenix is an open, hard-edged and primarily linear form which defines space more through its negative presence and color than anything else. Flying Saucer is a hulking, massive shape that, in contrast, connotes black holes of space or a huge, organic, living thing. The comparison of these two objects highlights the essential difference between these artists: the geometric approach of Strautmanis and the biomorphism championed by Highstein. Finally, we can simply enjoy the lumpy friendliness of this benign "alien visitor."