Home > Art History, Sculpture, Uncategorized, Video > "Couple on a Bed" by George Segal, 1965

"Couple on a Bed" by George Segal, 1965

January 25, 2011

My friend Will categorically rejects any outside meanings and interpretations when viewing art works.  He does not read the wall placards, he does not want to know the back story to the creation of the piece, the artist’s biography or where the work fits into the art historical continuum.  Of course, this is all of the stuff I am going through on a constant basis, so his boldness in this rejection was curious to me.  Will wants each art work to be a communication directly from the artist and have nothing else interfere with his understanding of meaning and emotions from the piece.

Couple on a Bed by George Segal illustrates this for me.  I wound up having a conversation with Hockey Blogger Boyfriend about the sculpture while we were in the museum.  This is an instance where I know a lot more about the construction of the piece than about the artist’s intended meaning or personal biography.  I love the work; it was a unique way to do life sized figurative work at the time.  I have seen previous displays of his work at MCA in the past.  Hockey Blogger Boyfriend wanted to know if the information on the wall placard was directly from the artist or assigned to the work from an outside source, such as a critic or art historian.  Part of it read that the work:

“…depicted the emotional distance between a man and a woman, revealing their psychologicial and sexual tension.  With a glimpse into the private space, the viewer is invited to imagine the relationship between the figures.”

I suppose there is tension in the work, in that the figures are in the same intimate space relating to the bed and referenced by nudity and they are not looking at directly at each other or interacting with each other with any physical contact.  If I were to have the work have more tension, I would have had the woman looking in the opposite direction, a subtle shift of the head and gaze away from the male figure.  He could imaginably see her from the corner of his eye and she is looking toward him although he is facing the viewer in this setting.

Maybe the lack of interaction between the figures was more telling in the time this was made; it is not a Rodin sculpture of lovers intertwined.  People at the time may have placed more emphasis on having a less casual attitude to nudity and read the work as expressing emotional distance and sexual tension.  Before I read the placard, I always felt like the couple portrayed just didn’t want to get up.  I’m not a “morning person” and imagined maybe they would rather sleep in.  Maybe their jobs suck or they’re tired of dealing with the morning commute, but they have to drag themselves out of bed and get on with their day.

One flaw may lay in the display.  The light from the windows behind the sculpture is great and the alcove the work is placed in seems like a room.  It is a large piece and I am sure it was challenging to place in the new building.  Sadly, this is the first time I have not been able to walk 360 degrees around a Segal and view it from all angles.  You can see a great deal of it but not gain the full impact of it being a sculpture in the round.

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