Artist to Know: Ursula von Rydingsvard

Liz Catalano
Published on

Palm Beach Modern Auctions Offers Two Cedar Sculptures in Upcoming Sale

For German-American sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard, wood is one of the least sentimental mediums. “I don’t want the cuteness associated with the wood, or even the nostalgia,” she told NPR in 2013. Instead, von Rydingsvard’s towering cedar sculptures explore her experience as a displaced person and woman artist in the 20th century.

Two cedar sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard will be available in Palm Beach Modern Auctions’ upcoming sale. Bidding will begin at 12:00 PM EST on February 6th, 2021. Get to know Ursula von Rydingsvard before the auction starts.

Ursula von Rydingsvard working on Ona. Image from the Financial Times.
Ursula von Rydingsvard working on Ona. Image from the Financial Times.

Though her parents were Polish and Ukrainian, Ursula von Rydingsvard was born in Germany in 1942. She spent her early years shifting between displaced persons camps in the aftermath of World War II. The von Rydingsvard family eventually moved to the United States and put down roots in suburban Connecticut. The artist eventually moved to New York and earned her advanced degrees from Columbia University. 

The rough wood walls and furniture of her childhood were Von Rydingsvard’s earliest inspirations. These memories built a strong interest in woodworking and sculpture. Von Rydingsvard is especially fond of cedar. The wood has a very subtle grain, making it a nearly blank canvas. To create her large-scale sculptures, she often covers Vancouver cedar in graphite and laminate to conceal its natural qualities. 

While von Rydingsvard’s sculptures are largely abstract, some gesture toward reality. The artist has long been interested in spoons, household objects, and bowls. “I want connections to be made… but I don’t want to feed you something so specific that you ‘get it,’” von Rydingsvard said in the Financial Times. “It might be something else as well. It’s not a single explanation because that bores me and I imagine that it bores others too.”

Ursula von Rydingsvard, untitled cedar sculpture. Image from Palm Beach Modern Auctions.
Ursula von Rydingsvard, untitled cedar sculpture. Image from Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

Galerie Lelong & Co. of New York represents von Rydingsvard. Her gallery prices range from $4,000 for works on paper to thousands of dollars for her outdoor sculptures. Due to their scale, many private businesses and local governments purchase sculptures directly from von Rydingsvard’s studio. For example, the FBI’s Miami field office commissioned a 17-foot tall cedar sculpture titled Cedrus in 2014. It cost $750,000.

The upcoming Palm Beach Modern Auctions event will feature two small cedar sculptures by von Rydingsvard. Cedar Egg is the smaller piece at 30 inches high. This oval-shaped sculpture is made of stacked cedar beams accented with graphite dust. Its deep folds evoke natural rock formations or wrinkled walnuts. The second lot, an untitled wall sculpture, features the artist’s signature ambiguous forms. Both items have a presale estimate of USD 3,000 to $5,000.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, Five Cones, 1988. Image from Sotheby’s.
Ursula von Rydingsvard, Five Cones, 1988. Image from Sotheby’s.

Von Rydingsvard’s auction prices closely follow the size of her works. Her preparatory sketches generally sell for under $2,000, while her room-sized sculptures draw more attention. One large sculpture, titled Five Cones, reached the Sotheby’s auction block in 2012. It sold for $68,500, nearly doubling the high estimate of $35,000. In December of 2020, a donated sculpture completed in 2005 sold for $200,000 with Christie’s. These prices reflect a long-term interest in von Rydingsvard’s pieces. 

After decades of sustained activity, von Rydingsvard is one of the most respected American sculptors working today. She still enjoys her chosen medium despite an acquired cedar dust allergy. Braden Weeks, one of von Rydingsvard’s former studio assistants, spoke about her oeuvre in Sculpture magazine: “Some artists are struggling to communicate, struggling to find their language… Ursula knows every letter and is completely literate in this language she’s speaking, and she’s free to make poetry with it. That’s one of the most beautiful things about her work.” 

Two Ursula von Rydingsvard sculptures will be available in Palm Beach Modern Auctions’ upcoming sale. The live event will begin at 12:00 PM EST on February 6th, 2021. Visit Bidsquare to view the full catalog or place a bid. 

Auction Daily regularly examines the auction history of both past and present artists. Read our recent coverage of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of the last Japanese ukiyo-e printmakers.