19. Teatro XVII

Herc van Tongeren

Teatro VII


From 1976 until the time of his death in 1987, van Tongeren was the President and Executive Director at the Johnson Atelier Technical Institute of Sculpture. By helping establish the Atelier and its master apprentice system, he inspired young sculptors to follow him from California to New Jersey to hone their skills, and attracted many prominent artists from around the world to create their work there. His influences are intrinsically intertwined in the histories of both the Atelier and Grounds For Sculpture.


As an accomplished sculptor in his own right, van Tongeren produced a great number of works ranging in size from the more intimate to large-scale public works. His preferred medium of choice was bronze, stating, “bronze offers more freedom and more possibilities than other materials. Bronze can do anything with light and its reflection. Bronze is something I have learned to be facile with. I understand it, and I can make it do what I want it to do.”


Van Tongeren’s works predominantly consist of three-dimensional, geometrical objects positioned within a stage-like setting. In each of the sculptures from the Serie Metafisica and Teatro series, several components play a key role in defining the spatial configuration, rhythm and energy of a given work. These components include the depth of the base, the solidity of the objects, the prescribed perspective, as well as the placement and sizing of the geometric shapes against classical elements such as arcades and Corinthian columns. One can imagine van Tongeren as an architect sculpting his vision of a futuristic landscape.


A small selection of van Tongeren’s work from the Atelier’s collection is featured here to honor his memory, as well as to offer an opportunity to become acquainted with a unique body of work and to understand the importance of pursuing and developing one’s own sculptural language.