Found Objects Become Art in the Eyes of Famed Architect Carl Abbott

by Karen LeBlanc

An Exhibit at the Art Center Sarasota, Shows the Sculptural Talents of Renown Modernist Architect Carl Abbott

Modernist Architect Carl Abbott, an original member of the Sarasota School of Architecture movement, shows another artistic oeuvre in his exhibit Found Forms.

As the pandemic lingers on, I miss all the artistic stimulation as an art, design and travel writer. Most events have gone virtual out of necessity. So, you can imagine my excitement when I learned that renowned Modernist Architect Carl Abbott would be exhibiting his sculptures for a short 3-day event in conjunction with SarasotaMOD Weekend. 

Architect Carl Abbott and Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, touring his exhibit Found Forms, a collection of blue painted sculptures made from ordinary objects.

“Sarasota in the 1950s was one of the most important places in the world for architectural creativity, where the greatest design movement of the day came together,” says Carl Abbott, FAIA.  “There’s a reason a handful of communities in the world stand out for architectural innovation.  Sarasota’s one of them.  You really do have to see it to believe it.”

Found Objects, an exhibition of sculpture by Architect Carl Abbott on view at Art Center Sarasota during Sarasota MOD Weekend.

Carl Abbott’s exhibit, Found Forms, hosted by the Art Center Sarasota, shows another side of this extremely talented architect, one of the original members of the Sarasota School of Architecture, a movement in the 1950s that produced an architectural legacy of regional modernism.

Found Objects, an exhibition by Architect Carl Abbott, on view at Art Center Sarasota for a special 3-day event.

Carl Abbott is this year’s honoree with SarasotaMOD Weekend. “It’s a great honor. Hopefully, the attention drawn to the buildings and homes featured will generate more respect for them as architectural treasures deserving of preservation and protection. This is a challenging thing to do given rising land values in many of the places where these buildings and homes reside,” says Abbott, a passionate preservationist and active member of the Sarasota Architecture Foundation  host of SarasotaMOD Weekend.  

Architect Carl Abbott shows Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, his direction sculptures, North, South, East, and West on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Janet Minker

Abbott has built a career designing his signature modernist buildings and homes in and around Sarasota and his legacy is everywhere. During SarasotaMOD Weekend, his many architectural achievements were on view in self-guided driving tours. Abbott has also documented his architecture in a recent book, In/Formed by the Land, The Architecture of Carl Abbott.

Ice Tongs painted in blue, a sculpture by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

“Sculpture and architecture both complement each other. The big difference between sculpture and architecture is that sculpture is not site-based. You can take the forms you like to work with and create. With architecture, I study the land, the way the sun works, and so many other physical factors that drive the design. A sculpture is a spontaneous work of art whereas architecture is calculated and methodical because of the building process. You have to work within the confines of building codes, structural and site engineering, mechanical and acoustical considerations,” explains Abbott.

Found Object, a sculpture by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

To create his sculptures for Found Forms, Abbott scoured junkyards and his own garage for functional objects with sculptural beauty that he teases out by coating each object in a luminescent cobalt blue.

Found Object, a sculpture by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

The color, expressed in powder-coated steel paint, is inspired by the flowers Abbott picked as a child, growing in coastal Georgia.  Abbott says he is drawn to objects that possess a knife-edge, a signature feature in many of his architectural works. 

Found Object, a sculpture by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

What strikes me about Found Objects is Abbott’s ability to see the beauty in objects that are not sculptural by intention but as a consequence of functional design.

Found Objects, sculptures by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

The blade of a hand push lawnmower is perhaps one of the most stunning examples with its helix design highlighted in blue.  A wheat scythe, ice thongs, a truck spring, and a hay bail, all ordinary tools and utilitarian objects become art at the hands of Abbott.

Wheat Scythe, a sculpture by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

“My goal is to make people aware of the beauty around them as he points to one of his favorite pieces, a large double X he salvaged from the office of his mentor, the late architect Paul Rudolph, a founding member of the Sarasota School of Architecture. 

X Slash, a sculpture by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

“The double X was the base of a huge conference table in Rudolph’s office.  I call it X Slash Two. It means two Xs or X with Rudolph and Me,” Abbott notes. 

Other works include the directional metal columns, each representing a point on the compass, North, South, East, and West, made of air conditioning ducts. 

North, South, East and West, sculptures by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

“It is difficult for artists to transform found objects into fine art. Carl has made significant achievements with these sculptural works advancing the idea that found objects can be art objects,” says Elizabeth Goodwill, Education Director of Art Center Sarasota.

Found Object, a sculpture by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

A bicycle wheel, a sculpture by Architect Carl Abbott on view at the Art Center Sarasota. Photo Credit: Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist.

The Art Center Sarasota has been in existence for 94 years acting as an artistic hub, offering classes, community spaces for local artists to sell their works and regular gallery showings. The Art Center is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic. It briefly opened to show Abbott’s exhibition during the 3-day SarasotaMod Weekend. At present, you can view the Art Center’s featured works online.

 

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