Studio Visit

Noah Loesberg

January 2020
Noah Loesberg

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.

Part One:

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), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

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

Part Two:

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, ©2020 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, ©2020 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), ©2020 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), ©2020 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, ©2020 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, ©2020 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, ©2020 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), ©2020 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), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

Part Three:

RHC: How do you use the images you have downloaded from the Internet? 

Noah Loesberg, Illuminated Manuscripts installed at Robert Henry Contemporary, ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

Loesberg: First, I see something in the real world that catches my attention. I’ll then use image search or look directly to primary sources that relate to the object or place that caught my eye. Once I’ve got a collection of images, I’ll start sorting, looking for aspects that might prove ‘useful.’ The final set of images get projected to make stencils or directly onto drawings.

Noah Loesberg, Left: Illuminated Manuscript #5, 2016, Polyurethane resin and wood, 16.5" x 10.25" x 1.125" (42cm x 26 cm x 2.9cm); Right: Illuminated Manuscript #6, 2016, Polyurethane resin and wood, 17" x 9.75" x 1.125" (43cm x 25cm x 2.9cm), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: You mentioned finding ideas or influences from your job working in a foundry and from construction materials but what would you say are the art movements or any artists in particular that have shaped your interests or effected your thinking and work?

Noah Loesberg, Bottle Mold #4, 2017, Wood and polyurethane resin, 16 ½" x 32 ¾" x 1 7/8" (41.9cm x 83.2cm x 4.8cm), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

Loesberg: I feel like I pick and choose from various periods/movements/artists, using what I need and discarding as appropriate. Early in my career I found minimalism very useful, but I was never that serious in my presentation. Even Pictures Generation work, which at first doesn’t seem apropos at all, has lent me appropriation strategies. I love lots of artist’s work, for lots of reasons, but no one I identify with entirely. My enthusiasm as a fan is much stronger for certain musicians and composers.

Noah Loesberg, Storm Drain, 2008, Plaster and Paint, 56" x 63" x 3" (1.4m x 1.6m x 7.6cm), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: There is an interesting relationship between minimalism and decoration in your work…typified by two pieces Storm Drain and Rosettes and Plinth Blocks…and you said earlier that you are more comfortable with being labeled “decorative” now. What changed? Why are you more comfortable with that term being applied to your work and what thoughts do you have about these two currents in your work?

Noah Loesberg, Rosettes and Plinth Blocks, 2016, Painted wood, 37" x 66" x 1.5" (94cm x 1.67m x 3.8cm), 
©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

Loesberg: Minimalism provided methods of presentation for works that weren’t pedestal pieces, but weren’t installations either. This was very useful at the start of my career, and has continued to be a default mode of proceeding. If a piece doesn’t demand a specific overall form, then the formal units can be presented as an unlimited set. Both the pieces you mention, as well as Cardboard Cornice and Molding Shapes, for more examples, could be larger if allowed more space...and budget, of course. So here’s the decorative part, many of my works are pattern kits, prepared for whatever space is available. This might be the nut of my interest in ornament, its propensity for fecundity and proliferation. But to answer your question about comfort with the term ‘decorative,’ I think I really just grew out of that self conscious stage where the work is too heavily influenced by one’s own worries about its reception. Of course, you can’t escape those thoughts entirely, but you can learn to get out of your own way.

Noah Loesberg, Drywall Door, 2007, Drywall and plywood, 42" x 18" x 2" (1m x 45.7cm x 5cm), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: You often use changes in scale or materials to shift your objects from having either a functional value or a decorative value to the other…meaning you take a window or a door design and shrink the size or distort the proportions and basically take a functional object or device and render it useless to its original purpose. What are you trying to achieve or point out to viewers by doing this?

Noah Loesberg, Four Windows, One Door, 2015-16, Painted wood, 144" x 96" x 8" (3.66m x 2.4m x 20cm), Installed at Robert Henry Contemporary, ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

Loesberg: I don’t have a specific goal or meaning that I’m trying to communicate so directly. Its more of an interest in the ways we (humans, i.e., builders) choose to decorate or otherwise treat the utilitarian objects that we feel we need. To refer again to Cardboard Cornice, New York tenement buildings were constructed strictly for profit, not with much concern for the people who would live there. Yet, a base level of decoration, those classical moldings, lintels, etc., was deemed non negotiable. You had to use them or it wasn’t finished. So the functional and the decorative impulses are already embedded together in the source material. I’m playing with the proportions, probing intentions, enjoying how my attention is shifted.

Noah Loesberg, Highway Barrier Study, 2010, Wood maquette, 16" x 30" x 30" (40.6cm x 76.2cm x 76.2cm),  ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: In 2011 we exhibited your Highway Barrier Study and in 2018 it was our great pleasure to present the full-scale version as Highway Barriers in your solo exhibition, Remote Barrier Storage. What was the process of realizing that piece for you over so many years and what accounts for the differences in the maquette and the final piece…like the color or materials for example?

Noah Loesberg, Highway Barriers, 2018, Wood, MDF and paint, 8'h x 10' x 10' (2.4m h x 3m x 3m), Installed at Robert Henry Contemporary, ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

Loesberg: It was my great pleasure as well! The small version was always a presentation model, or a maquette, for the larger piece, although it stood on its own nicely as well. In the intervening years the conception changed slightly. They were always to be wood, but originally I intended to construct them very tightly, like furniture. As high a level of woodworking as I was capable of. In my current work, a bit of looseness is serving me well. So the full size Highway Barriers were built more along the lines of the back yard shed, instead of the dining room credenza. In the initial conception the finish was to be a traditional wood treatment. I ended up lifting a page from Tom Sachs’ playbook, painting before you cut the wood. So the orange stripe goes across every piece of plywood as it comes into the studio, then gets placed somewhat randomly as the parts go together.

Noah Loesberg, Highway Barriers, 2018, Wood, MDF and paint, 8'h x 10' x 10' (2.4m h x 3m x 3m), Installed at Robert Henry Contemporary, ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

RHC: What new work are you creating now or thinking about making?

Noah Loesberg, Builder’s Cross Section #2 (red), 2019, Oil stick, graphite, and wax on paper, 26 ½” x 35” (67.3cm x 88.9cm), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

Loesberg: The language is still in the mode of Bottle Molds and Illuminated Manuscripts, shop made wood ‘molding’ embedded in tinted resin. The lines aren’t drawn directly from sources, as we discussed earlier, but more process based, building on the earlier works. The final form will have something to do with tiling. As a rootless cosmopolitan, I’m intending to appropriate someone else’s cultural heritage again, be forewarned!

Noah Loesberg, Butterfly, 2019, Oil stick, graphite, and wax on paper, 26 ½” x 35” (67.3cm x 88.9cm), ©2020 Noah Loesberg/Robert Henry Contemporary

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