Reuben Nakian (born August 10, 1897 in College Point, NY) enjoyed a long and renowned career, maintaining his innovative spirit and creativity over more than seventy years, constantly rethinking and revising his modes of sculptural expression and exploring and mastering new media—marble, clay, plaster, metal, paper, and, in his last years, styrofoam.
Nakian was elected a member of the National Institute of Art and Letters (1973), received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Nebraska (1969) and Bridgeport (1972), medals from the Philadelphia College of Art (1967) and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1973), the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture (1983), and awards from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts (1979), Brandeis University (1977) and Rhode Island School of Design (1979). He was a guest of honor at the Famous Artist’s Evening at the White House, and the Smithsonian Institution produced a documentary on his life and work titled Reuben Nakian: Apprentice to the Gods, (1985). He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (1931) and a Ford Foundation Fellowship (1958) and represented the United States as the major sculptor in the VI Bienal in São Paulo, Brazil (1961) and the 1968 Biennale in Venice, Italy.
Nakian’s work is represented in the permanent collections and sculpture gardens of many of America’s most prestigious museums and institutions. He has been honored with major one-man exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum (1962), the New York Museum of Modern Art (1966), the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC (1981), the Milwaukee Art Museum (1985), the Gulbenkian Centro de Arte Moderna in Lisbon, Portugal (1988), and a Centennial Retrospective at the Reading Public Museum and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1999), the site of Nakian’s first one-man museum exhibition in 1935. Garden of the Gods I was one of five sculptures to inaugurate the Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Garden, while other of his monumental works preside over civic and private settings across America.
Reuben Nakian is a major 20th Century artist. He died on December 4, 1986 in Stamford, CT at the age of eighty-nine, “one of the most distinguished American sculptors of the 20th Century” (NY Times obituary, 12/5/86).