Untitled (#781) 1994

Petah Coyne, Untitled (#781), 1994; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, N

Petah Coyne, Untitled (#781), 1994; Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York

Influenced by her personal memories, literature, Catholic theology, and historical art such as European baroque sculpture, Petah Coyne explores distinctions between lushness and decay, beauty and grotesqueness. This untitled work is part of a series of white-and-pink wax sculptures that resemble rococo chandeliers, voluminous skirts, or dresses. It reflects how Coyne imagined womanhood as a girl: beautiful and extravagantly festive, like “floating on air.” After forming the underlying wire structure, Coyne tied satin ribbons to the wire and poured layers of wax over the surface.

Coyne’s diverse, unconventional sculpting mediums—dirt, sand, wax, shredded metal, hair, silk flowers, and taxidermy—evince what she calls the seductive power of materials. She was moved to work with wax in the early 1990s after visiting candle-lit churches during a trip to Italy. Like the dripping candles Coyne observed, this encrusted sculpture is an affecting, yet slightly macabre, embodiment of transcendent experiences.