George Segal: Twelve Human Situations



Figurative sculptor and painter George Segal’s (American, 1924–2000) Twelve Human Situations featured 12 pivotal tableaux from the artist’s environmental sculptures of 1961–67. Exhibited concurrently with Robert Whitman: Four Cinema Pieces, each installation in the exhibition featured life-sized plaster castings of men and women engaged in banal situations culled from day-to-day life, such as shaving, sunbathing, or viewing art. Segal created each of the 12 pieces using his now well-known technique of dipping fabric in industrial plaster to cast his subjects. The figures are moldings of his family members, friends, and associates, which were then reassembled and deployed in ready-made milieu that incorporated real objects, such as personal items, furniture, and automobile fragments.

Though the works in Twelve Human Situations relate to Robert Whitman’s (American, 1927–2006) cinema pieces in their mutually frank and unglamorous focus on signifiers and practices derived from everyday life, there are significant differences in their conceptual approaches to both material and content. While Segal, like Whitman, was closely associated with proponents of early video work, performance art, and the Fluxus movement, his work radically departs from these participatory, variable, and interdisciplinary projects. Instead, Segal’s painterly compositions of sculptural figures focus on the emotive, brooding aspects of individuals in liminal spaces. Often compared to the work of painter and draftsman Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967) for their similar compositional arrangements of isolated human subjects in urban contexts, Segal’s sculptural work elucidates the more meditative, psychological, and alienating aspects of quotidian rituals specific to industrialized society.