October 31, 2014

Conversation with Don Gummer

Growing up in the Midwest, Don Gummer entertained dreams of one day working for Walt Disney. That never panned out; but Gummer, now a sculptor and the husband of actress Meryl Streep, did eventually find his way to Florida, where his work has a home at Eckert Fine Art in Naples. Since graduating from Yale in 1973, Gummer, who lives with his wife and two of their four children in New York City, creates freestanding installations, wall sculpture, earthworks and site-specific outdoor works. His pieces are in museums and collections throughout the United States, and in Denmark and Japan. Gummer discovered the Gulfshore through his friendship with gallery owners Henry and Jane Eckert. With and without his wife, he's been coming to Sanibel Island for 10 years to visit the Eckerts.

Q: What keeps bringing you back to Southwest Florida?

A: All the obvious things-the weather, the beach. There's this sort of nascent culture; there are a lot of people moving down here. I have friends here; I like the light. Would I have ever come here if it weren't for the gallery? I might've come to see [Robert] Rauschenberg.

Q: Any parallels between his work and yours?

A: Not really. He's staked out such a specific and defined area. I like his use of discarded things; sometimes in my work I'll recycle older things. But mainly, just his attitude and freedom are so inspiring.

Q: Your recent work has been described as "baroque minimalist."

A: Minimalism is very simple things reduced to their essence. Baroque minimalism-that's something somebody else said; but I guess it means that I reduce things to that point, but I try to make the interactions between the elements lively. I use curves more; maybe that's where they get the baroque. Minimalism is not quite a dead end; but it is a very specific, defined point. I think I go beyond that.

Q: You're known for going against trends.

A: Either that or I've been behind the trends.

Q: You didn't always have designs on being a sculptor.

A: I started drawing and painting, but I always built things, too. I felt the need to make models, to make objects-but as a teenager, I didn't think it was art. Now I go from drawing lines and shapes to making patterns, then laminating and manipulating them into objects for three-dimensional space. Then it goes to the foundry to be cast in bronze or stainless steel.

Q: Didn't you even work as a builder for a while after college?

A: I was a union construction worker.

Q: Isn't that how you met your wife?

A: Sort of. I knew Meryl's brother, Harry Streep, who was a dancer in a company in Boston. He asked me to do some soundproofing in Meryl's loft in New York.

Q: You've been married 26 years-unusual for Hollywood marriages. What's your secret?

A: I don't need her in terms of my own identity and what I do. I like the way she's handled her success; and we have a lot of great friends who are actors, but I don't depend on that. I've been to all the various award things and stuff like that, but I don't go onto the set much anymore.

Q: Does your wife enjoy coming here?

A: I'm more of a beach and sun person; she's not. Her skin is better. She's happier in a cabin in the mountains.

Q: So no plans to retire on Sanibel.

A: Artists never retire. I wouldn't mind coming down here for a month and working. But I like New York, too. I need stimulation from other artists. I don't go to every opening, but I like to know it's there. We lived for a while in Connecticut in the country, and the routine gets to be the same. Two days before 9/11, we moved into New York City, on 12th Street in the Village. I was walking down the street to my studio when I saw the plane go over, and then I heard the crash. It would have been easy for us just to leave after that, but it made us want to stay even more.

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