“When I first moved here, Happy Price told me that I really had to go see Peter because he is important,” said Jina Brenneman, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Harwood Museum of Art. “Important? That sounded interesting. So I did. I went in search and saw a lot of his work over the years and finally I went to his studio. Let me tell you, Peter Chinni is incredible.”
On Friday (Oct. 11), just before noon the cast bronze sculpture “Persian Wall” by Taos artist Peter Chinni was installed in front of the Harwood Museum of Art at 238 Ledoux Street. The sculpture is dedicated to the memory of recently passed Taos artist Charles R. Strong.
“Persian Wall” is a large energy-filled abstract sculpture composed of several interlocking plates vaguely reminiscent of faces interacting in gear-like mechanisms.
“Peter Chinni is one of those Taos artists that have shown, taught and exhibited all over the world but he hasn’t gotten the attention here at home that he deserves,” Brenneman said. “He is one of our artists who not only has an international presence but a historic significance. I can see what Happy Price meant when she said Peter is important. He is indeed just that.”
Brenneman isn’t the only one who thinks Chinni is important. His work has entered the permanent collections such prestigious public collections as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and the Nelson Rockefeller Collection among many others. Private collections include New School for Social Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Readers Digest Foundation.
“He was born with a gift,” says Chinni’s daughter Christina. “When he was 18 years old he got on a boat to Italy and travelled all that way to study art. He had no money and lived in a house with no running water and he studied everything he could. During that time in Italy he became aware of that gift that he was given. It is a gift he does not take for granted.”
Chinni was born to Calabrian immigrant parents in Mount Kisco, N.Y. in 1928. He began his studies at the Art Students League in New York. While in Italy, he studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome and later with painter Felice Casorati and cubist sculptor Roberto Melli in Rome. Later, after service in the United States military Chinni based himself in Manhattan, developing a richly expressive and abstract three-dimensional style heavily influenced by his Italian education.
Gaining popularity, his work was featured all over Europe and in many North American institutions through the 1960s. In 1974 the Shah of Iran held a private exhibition of Chinni’s work on the Island of Kish. “Every single piece from that exhibition was sold to prominent world leaders at the time,” said Chinni’s daughter.
Chinni’s website describes the artist’s work from the 1970s and 80s as “clusters of circular disks or plate-like forms. These can either be compressed into rippling ridges, like the accordion folds of a bellows, or stretched lengthwise into long segmented tubes, like spinal bones or the shaft of a mechanical harrow. In either case, the resulting sculptures appear to expand and contract, rippling with a deep set rhythmic energy that evokes the pulse and breath of a vital organism.”
“He pulls his inspiration from his fascination with life and life processes,” said Christina when asked from where Chinni draws muse. “His philosophical approach centers on the image of the seed. The seed is a symbol of the organic life force that feeds his creativity.”
The installation comes in memory of Charles Strong, a creator himself and strong supporter of artists in Taos.
“Charlie was important to us,” said Brenneman when asked why Strong needed to be celebrated. “He too was vital to this community.” In an August 2013 interview with the Tempo Brenneman remembered Strong as “such a kind and generous (person) that people forgot he was also a genius. His importance nationally as a working artist was overshadowed by his art activism in the community. He was too good at too many things, but everything he did went towards supporting and creating art.”
Chinni also donated a drawing to the Harwood’s permanent collection in memory of Strong. Several other local artists have done the same.
“ ‘The ‘Persian Wall’ is a 600-pound piece,” pointed out Brenneman. “It has taken two years to get this into place. Lucille Greeter generously donated the money to make it happen and then Eric DeHerrera and Betsy Bowen have both worked tirelessly to make sure this is a high quality and safe installation that all of Taos can enjoy.”
When asked what this installation means to her father, Christina Chinni said “It makes us proud. We are so grateful. Taos has given my father so much.”
“You know, my father is 85 years old now and it is a little hard for him to work with hammer and chisel on marble the way he used to. But he is still creating,” said Christina. “The older he gets it seems the more ideas he has. His work is still growing and evolving. Every single day he is creating.”
For more information, call Harwood Curator Jina Brenneman at (575) 758-9826.