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URSULA VON RYDINGSVARD: INTO HER OWN (2019) review

June 16, 2020

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produced by: Ken Kobland, Simon Taufique and Daniel Traub
directed by: Daniel Traub
runtime: 57 min.
rating: not rated
U.S. release date: June 5, 2020

 

The immersive documentary “Usula Von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” by Daniel Traub opens with a close look at New York-based contemporary artist carefully marking raw cedar wood 4X4s with the Ebony pencils she keeps in her tool belt. The camera focuses on just how important the act of touching is to the German-born artist, as we see her gloved hands (with exposed fingertips) moving over the surface of the material which she will eventually twist and turn into giant sculptures. The various art pieces seen throughout the film display not just von Rydingsvard’s style, but also how her work feels purposefully touched by her hand, which she passes on to the world to be touched.

Her works of art have been exhibited in galleries, museums and public places in cities throughout the world, incorporating themselves in spaces made by man or created by nature. From Yorkshire to San Francisco, all the way to Venice and back to the Windy City, where her “Bronze Bowl with Lace” can be seen on the roof terrace, reaching out to the sky at the Art Institute of Chicago, one would never think that here is an artist who admits, “…it took most of my life to gain confidence”. It’s a statement that’s not too uncommon to hear from an artist, but context can be gleaned the more we learn about this artist.

 

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Indeed the most intriguing and engaging aspects of Traub’s film is when light is shone on her past and as we see her and her colleagues involved in the process of creating her art. We learn how her childhood was scarred in one of the Displaced Persons refugee camps in war-torn Germany in the 1940s with her Polish mother, Ukranian father, and her six siblings. Her brother, Staś Karoliszyna shares how their father was a strong man to be feared, filled with so much anger, who would mercilessly beat them. By the time the family reached America in the late 50’s, both parents were working nonstop to provide for their children. Peraps some of von Rydingsvard’s own lack of confidence stems from her father’s cruel treatment and his paranoia, which we learn of when she shares how “he thought every American alive was better than he was.”

Like many artists, the art and the process of making it has provided an outlet for von Rydingsvard, especially at a young age. She shares how in grade school her talents were called upon for certain events and projects, which gave her the kind of affirmation she was lacking at home. Eventually, she would leave the west coast (and a traumatic 9-year marriage to a schizophrenic husband) with her daughter Ursie, and transplanted to New York City at age 33, where she moved into a Soho loft with another artist, Judy Pfaff. Her resilience was apparent, working constantly on art pieces and holding down teaching jobs, all as a single parent working.

 

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In reflection, her daughter looks back at her own childhood then and how it wouldn’t be uncommon for her to find her own way to school. It’s clear resilience has been passed on. Traub captures sweet moments between the septuagenarian and her daughter as Ursie assists her mother in applying makeup in preparation for a presentation of an exhibit of one of her recent works. It truly feels that the pair have become close, despite any hardships they had in their past.

Much of the aptly titled “Into Her Own”, follows the artist as she and her assistants (a handful of cutters and lifters) prepare for a challenging sculpture commissioned by Princeton University. The fascinating piece would be made from a hand-shaped copper plates (material that was new to von Rydingsvard), which she worked on in her studio in Bushwick along with metal fabricator Richard Webber. Much of the film is told through her own voice and at one point she shares how she’s used a variety of materials for her art over the years – such as the fourth stomach lining of a cow, felt, clay, and pig intestines. Considering there are only a few women creating sculptures at this large scale, it’s impressive to see such a drive and vitality for her work.

from beginning to final installation, various recent commissions including those for MIT and Princeton University. It also explores her early struggles, passion and profound drive to become an artist. Told mostly through her own voice, the film includes interviews with colleagues, family members and close friends who offer additional perspective on her life and work.

 

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Throughout “Into Her Own”, New York-based photographer/filmmaker Traub has other artists comment on her work, along with museum directors and gallery presidents, as well as patrons who’ve commissioned her work – all of whom impressed or enamored by the art and the artist. We also learn how von Rydingsvard married American neuroscientist, Paul Greengard (who died last year) in the 80s and how their fulfilling compatibility provided a needed stability in her life.

Overall, the documentary does a fine job introducing viewers to strong and immensely talented woman, while in it’s final few minutes tipping its hat to so many other female modern artists from New York City, many of whom could easily be considered von Rydingsvard’s peers. As the film closed, I felt inspired to pick up an art book collecting the works of such women.

 

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RATING: ***

 

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” can currently be viewed here via “Film Center from Your Sofa” a Film Series offered by the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

Full city list of virtual theatrical openings, updated daily: http://icarusfilms.com/other/playdate#urs

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