The Sculpture classification comprises Bertoia’s three-dimensional works of art, including many of his large-scale commissions. These objects represent a diverse body of work, exhibiting a wide array of forms, motifs, and techniques. Bertoia’s sculptures are unique, abstract constructions, but, like most of his creative practice, also draw heavily from nature, evoking fruits, vegetables, fungi, flowers, succulents, bushes, trees, and even extraterrestrial bodies. Most notably, all of his sculpture is made from various types of metal; it is his seemingly endless exploration of the material’s artistic possibilities that unites these works.
Bertoia first used metal to create jewelry and hollowware while at Cranbrook, but did not learn to weld until 1943, when he took classes at the Santa Monica City College in Southern California. His sculpture practice began in earnest after he moved to Pennsylvania in 1950. While developing his suite of seating for Knoll, Bertoia began making sculptures with wire. This mode of working was improvisatory and tactile, providing a counterbalance to the more regimented approach required of his wire chairs. In some of the earliest of these sculptures, Bertoia added melted pieces of metal onto individual wires and affixed them to a base, creating a horizontal orientation that evoked both natural and fantastical landscapes. Bertoia’s wire constructions subsequently grew larger and more intricate. This shift toward a more organized, gridded structure in his wire constructions became even more pronounced in his later multiplane sculptures.
Bertoia became a master welder over the course of his career, and developed numerous metalworking techniques, including spill casting and the fusing together of wires or copper rods to build larger forms. He used multiple types of metals and alloys, often combining more than one in a single work and leaving their industrial origins as wires, tubing, rods, and nails at least partially visible. Bertoia also often added a coating of melted metal or a patina to the surface of his sculptures, which amplified their organic connotations and innovative forms.