Mark Mennin: Processi

This season the Glass House presents a wide array of sculptural works in stone by master stone carver Mark Mennin. A Connecticut-based sculptor who takes on large-scale projects in granite, marble and onyx, Mennin is no stranger to our property in New Canaan.

Over twenty years ago, Mennin was invited to the Glass House by Philip Johnson to discuss a sculptural collaboration with the architect. While that project was well into the planning stages, it was not completed before Johnson‘s passing in 2005. Mennin never forgot the property and the great presence of stone, from the many 18th-century walls in the fields to the outcropping of rocks throughout the site. Johnson himself used to say that the rocky promontory on which the Glass House sits was the feature that inspired him to buy the original Connecticut land in 1946. Stone is as seminal to the Glass House as is glass itself.

A truly hands-on artist, Mennin uses a variety of methods to produce his monumental works. From chisels to saws to fire–and even some minimal digital technology. These processes collaborate with the artist’s hand to create finely skilled and conceptually savvy pieces. They incorporate a dedication to stone’s sublime physical properties as well as an acknowledgment of the human figure, often in absentia. As capable of creating a figurative head as the abstract “furniture” that conforms to human form, Mennin, who is widely considered one of the most accomplished carvers of his generation, is a master at evoking both the sensual qualities and timelessness of stone.

Naming the exhibition Processi, (Italian for “processes” or “trials”), Mennin has given us a sense of his collective oeuvre of the past 20 years, albeit all pieces have been reworked for this show and presented to the public for the first time here. The title also references Johnson’s own use of “procession,” his favored term for the interconnected aspects of all the spatial and visual elements of architecture. These aspects are paramount at The Glass House. Additionally, Mennin is considering the long-standing processes by which stone is created and formed: via nature, by hand and in some cases through machine. All of these works incorporate time and the body, and here the artist has physically participated in all of these processes.

Mennin more thoroughly states:

When a sculptor is directly involved with his/her material, there is the luxury of exposing the many physical properties of a living material. The sculptor is the process and witness of all the stone’s trials.

As both a US and Italian citizen, I chose the Italian word processi to describe this exhibition, since it is applied in Italian to mean “trial” as much as “process(es).” This is also a nod to Philip Johnson’s essential concept of “procession” through architecture and landscape.

Many of my narratives in stone have multiple layers, which also reflect the many layers of fabrication of a hands-on direct carver. Stone has had a long life well before the stewardship and shaping performed by the sculptor. It will continue its ongoing geologic life long after human extinction. Thus, there are many processes and “trials” within the life of a stone.

Known for his careful selection of stone, often within a quarry itself, Mennin has spent serious time in Italy, France and even recently in Macedonia, to examine stone for his works. Here in Connecticut, Mennin has long used Stony Creek granite (as did Johnson, most notably in New York’s AT&T Building). Some of the US sources of stone within the show include Vermont (white marble), New York (Au Sable Forks Green Granite) and Georgia (Etowah pink marble).

One work from a foreign source is Inside Cover, a massive chair placed outside of our sculptural structure, Da Monsta and made of gray Spanish marble. The title is a reference to the beautifully marbled papers once used to line book covers. Yet here, the material and its utterly authentic geology can nonetheless be seen as the artist’s witty poke at the artifice of the fake marbling of such papers. Mennin, keenly aware of this duality, plays with our perceptions, using the most real of material and its fantastically formed natural design. This deeply veined material, whose surface may seem artificial due to its wild geological expression, is very much the real thing. In fact, it is the same stone Johnson hand-selected for his own dining table within The Glass House – and the very place where he and Mennin discussed the sculpture for Johnson’s Cathedral of Hope, then being designed for a congregation in Dallas.

From delicate maquettes within Da Monsta to the monumental figurative works in onyx that now seem to gaze at our Untitled by Donald Judd, Mennin has given this season’s visitor an extraordinary celebration of materials from his supremely confident hand, which has produced sinuous curves, exquisite surfaces and playful forms that should delight and intrigue our viewers.

A major work sits on its own beneath the Glass House and amidst a field of stones. This is the Chamber — a padded cell of sorts — that incorporates a magnificent, pillowed floor, all executed by the artist in green granite. This meditative space is at once architectural and also at one with the landscape, as though it emerged directly from the ledge beneath it. This pavilion-like work sits close to where Johnson once considered placing a small “wayfarers chapel.” The sculpture is evocative of ancient structures yet indeed emerges from the contemporary conversation on art. This is a perfect pairing of how Mennin combines the essential qualities of stone with a very modern sensibility.

Hilary Lewis
Chief Curator & Creative Director

Mark Mennin was born in Cedar Falls, Iowa and grew up in New York. He graduated with a degree in history from Princeton University, where he also assisted ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu.

He began to carve stone in Italy shortly after, making a living copying Greek statuary, executing commissions and preparing his early gallery shows at The Marisa Del Re Gallery and Victoria Munroe Gallery, among others. From 1989 to 1993 he lived and worked in Paris where he exhibited with Galerie Enrico Navarra and Galerie Von Lintel in Munich while producing a series of commissions between Le Muy and Ramatuelle in the South of France. He has also created exhibitions in Italy, China, and throughout the U.S.

In recent years, the scale of many of his sculptures evolved into giant landscape and architectural works, often involving hundreds of tons of granite. Years ago, this prompted a full move from New York City to a large indoor/outdoor studio in Northwest Connecticut. Even at this scale, the skills he honed in Italy are paramount in his work. The significant scale of his art has required ever larger arenas over time – leading to his collaborative work within architecture and landscape design. Nearly all carving is still executed by his hand. He has dozens of private commissions in large landscape situations coast to coast.

Presently, he has a one-person exhibition at the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, and a 40 ft-commission in granite, Schuylkill Currents, to be permanently installed along that river in Philadelphia. Other collections and installations include the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis, the Longhouse Reserve, Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ , The Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge, MA , Stanford University Law School, The HO Smith Botanical Gardens and The Veterans Plaza, the Palmer Museum at Penn State University, the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln MA, The Judy Black Park in Washington CT, The Millennium Sundial at The Bruce Park in Greenwich, CT, the Blaffer Foundation in New Harmony Indiana, the Chelsea Market in New York, and the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

Mennin has taught sculpture and art history for over twenty years, first at the Parsons School of Design and then at The New York Academy of Art in Manhattan, where he is still on the faculty.

He has become a dual American/Italian citizen and will be making a one-person indoor/outdoor exhibition in Todi, Italy, in the Piazza del Popolo and La Sala degli Pietre.