Noah Loesberg installing Highway Barriers, 2018, Wood, MDF and paint, 10' x 10' x 8'h (3m x 3m x 2.4m)
In December 2019 we visited Brooklyn sculptor Noah Loesberg in his Ridgewood, NY studio to find out more about his history, his current work and what directions his work might take in the future.
Noah Loesberg, Hanging Cones, 1994, Steel, cable, hardware and ceramic, 36" x 48" x 42" (91.4cm x 1.2m x 1.1m), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
RHC: When were you born and where did you grow up?
Loesberg: I was born in Piscataway, NJ in 1968. My father graduated from Rutgers a few months later and we moved to Great Neck, NY, and then, when I was two, to Dix Hills, NY near Huntington, on Long Island.
Noah Loesberg, Hanging Cones, 1994, Steel, cable, hardware and ceramic, 36" x 48" x 42" (91.4cm x 1.2m x 1.1m), Detail, ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
RHC: Where did you attend college?
Loesberg: Bennington College, in Vermont, and then, I went on to graduate school at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Noah Loesberg, Black Tiles, 1996, Steel, MDF, paint, lights and hardware, 25" x 102" x 36" (63.5cm x 2.6m x 91.4cm)
RHC: Are there specific experiences you can remember from your childhood that have a direct bearing on your work today?
Loesberg: Do you remember those spatial intelligence tests? You are shown a series of two-dimensional shapes, and you select which three dimensional form they will construct when folded. I don’t remember how old I was, but I do remember enjoying the test, it seemed like a great game.
Noah Loesberg, Bowling Ball Boxes, 1996, Wood, paint, hardware, lights and bolling balls, Detail, 11" x 14" x 10" (27.9cm x 35.6cm x 25.4cm) each, ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
Noah Loesberg, Bowling Ball Boxes, 1996, Wood, paint, hardware, lights and bolling balls, 11" x 14" x 10" (27.9cm x 35.6cm x 25.4cm) each, ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
RHC: What aspects, ideas or compositionally, of your work, if any, can you identify in your earliest work that are still evident in your current work?
Loesberg: I don’t think much remains formally, but there are numerous threads that continue, in approach and process. I did love to draw as a kid, but never considered the drawings art, more like I was an artistic person, in opposition to my suburban environment. My first year of college I took a ceramics class, and I mark that as the start of my conscious production as an (aspiring, at least then) artist. I think I took two main things from that class: a respect for craftsmanship, and an interest in process as an important underlying aspect in art making. Forming anything in clay requires a body of knowledge about the behavior of the material…this is the craft part. I also loved the physics and chemistry of clay and glaze in firing; this bridges craft and process. And finally, I spent a good part of one summer rebuilding one of the large gas fired kilns. This was a great education in the firing process. I continue to demand a certain level of craftsmanship in my work, and to pursue the underlying processes that engineer that craft.
Noah Loesberg, Bottle Rocket Machine, 1996, Metal, hardware, Plexiglas and bottle rockets, 24" x 60" x 96" (61cm x 1.5m x 2.4m), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
RHC: You covered part of this with your last answer but at what point or…was there a specific event in your life when you discovered the desire to study and make art professionally?
Loesberg: There were no come-to-Jesus moments, but two more things come to mind: First, at some point in college, I came to choose visual art over music…I was also studying composition. This decision probably had some sensible reasoning behind it, and some soul searching, but mostly I remember that the art parties were much better than the music ones. Seriously, I valued the community aspect of the ceramics and sculpture studios. I’m sure the painters were busy cultivating a romantic individualism in their studios, but that wasn’t my experience, sculpture was learned in public, with your work sitting out in the middle of the floor with everyone else’s. The second change was soon after college I got a job in an art foundry, and found a live/work place to stay, and realized I was never going to get a ‘normal’ job, or life.
Noah Loesberg, Scale Bar, 1999, MDF, paint, buttons, speakers, eletronics, Approx. 120" x 75" x 12" (3m x 1.9m x 30.5cm), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
RHC: There is a performance aspect to your earlier pieces that seems to be less important or nonexistent in your later work. What ideas or compositional elements, if any, can you identify in these earliest pieces that are still evident in your work today?
Noah Loesberg, Smoke Detector, 2000, Wood, plaster, paint, acoustic foam, light, sound, 53” (1.35m) diameter, x 10” (25.4cm) deep, ©2019 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
Loesberg: Many of the formal ingredients in my work are very different, but I still think about some things that I remember paying attention to back then. For example, I’ve always worked at exactly what level of detail is appropriate for sourcing raw material vs. making something myself. I try to avoid fetishizing hardware, but if its not concealed, it has to be decided on somehow. I used to try to make as many of the ‘parts’ of my sculptures as possible. I’m more willing to use commodity hardware now. But to answer more simply, I’ve always liked using construction materials, and approaching other materials as if they were from the construction industry.
Noah Loesberg, Speakers, Plywood, Polyurethane; 2001; Two units, 20” x 14” x 11” (50.8cm x 35.6cm x 27.9cm) each, ©2019 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
RHC: Also, in the earliest sculptures there is a thread of decomposition, deconstruction or destruction like in the Flare Box or the Candle pieces…which is an interesting difference in your current work that often highlights construction or decorative elements…which is more about beauty and adornment. Have you any thoughts about how you progressed from one idea of transformation to another?
Noah Loesberg, Radiator, 2001, Plywood, Polyurethane, 40" x 49" x 11" (101.6cm x 124.5cm x 27.9cm), ©2019 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
Loesberg: In those pieces, I enjoyed the youthful aspects implied in those words, destruction, etc. But at the time I was thinking more about consumption, digestion, the way using something does or doesn’t use that thing up. The flares and bottle rockets were in constant supply throughout the life of the piece, and the candles were always burning, so the piece didn’t really decompose, but it did get consumed, as evidenced by the ball bearings on the floor, etc. So I’ve always been looking for beauty in unexpected locations. The themes of ornament and decoration came in later. In early work, I was likely resisting such easy avenues to visual pleasure, still in a youthful fear of making work that could be criticized for being ‘decorative.’
Noah Loesberg, Modular Bracket, 2003, Heavy duty cardboard, construction adhesive, wax, hardware, 90” x 60” x 78” (2.3m x 1.5m x 2m), ©2019 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
RHC: Continuing on this train of thought…this touches back on the performance question earlier…the viewer was a passive participant…things just happened…or they were asked to participate directly in the destruction or transformation. Now, this participation in physical or chemical transformation seems lost or done away with and the interaction of the viewer is more cerebral or visual or physical, in the sense that the viewer’s perspective changes as the viewer moves through space, rather than something melting, burning or blowing up.
Noah Loesberg, Frame and Panel Door, 2005, Reinforced concrete, steel, 22' 7" x 10' 4" x 19” (6.9m x 3.2m x 48.3cm), Installed at Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, NY, ©2019 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
Loesberg: Yes, this was a conscious change at some point in the late nineties. I originally started making kinetic work that involved the viewer as a way to manage the viewer’s visual or mental interaction and extend the amount of time they spent with the piece. This never worked to my satisfaction, and in fact ended up closing off possible readings or interpretations. Once the activity was done, the piece was done.
Noah Loesberg, Cardboard Cornice, 2007, Heavy duty cardboard, hot melt adhesive, wood and hardware, Dimensions variable, largest unit 44” (1.1m) tall, ©2019 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
RHC: At Bennington College you were studying music composition before deciding to major in visual art but music or sound pops up here and there in your artwork, like in Scale Bar, Speakers or even in drawings like Piano Hammers…even later sculptures like Cardboard Cornice and Molding Shapes are reminiscent of notes on a staff. How much do you think about music or sound in your work?
Noah Loesberg, Molding Shapes, 2012, Plaster, paint and hardware, 3” x 8" x 16" (7.6cm x 20.3cm x 40.6cm) each, 36"h x 8"d x 144"w (91.4cm x 20.3cm x 3.7m) overall, ©2019 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
Loesberg: I do love music very much, in a wide variety of forms, periods, genres, etc. Scale Bar was primarily about the fun in loud fast punk music. Those buttons activated low-fi samples of a bit of guitar from The Gits, a great band from the late 80’s. The samples sped up as you went up the scale bar. In later work, I’m not so much thinking about specific music, but I do think about compositional strategies that are shared between visual and aural art. Things like repetition and timing, especially in the drawings, seem musical to me as I make them.
Noah Loesberg, Tire Tread #3, 2011, Charcoal and graphite on paper, 22" x 30" (55.9cm x 76.2cm), ©2019 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
RHC: Has the Internet or digital technology in general had an influence on your work?
Loesberg: Mainly in that the Internet is like the best library in the world; I use image search a lot to find source imagery. But even drawing processes that might be more efficiently done through digital means, like scaling source images or developing compositions, I prefer to do by hand. Obviously, hand processes are visually warmer than digital, but more importantly, I learn things and grow in more satisfying ways.
Noah Loesberg, Dock Bumper #1, 2013, Charcoal and graphite on paper, 22" x 30" (55.9cm x 76.2cm), ©2019 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary
Stay Tuned!! Part Three coming soon!