Born in 1942, in Boston, MA; son of Sydney (a musician and music teacher) and Frances (an architect, artist, and gallery owner) Borofsky; married Francine Bisson (a teacher). Education: Carnegie Mellon University, B.F.A. 1964; studied at the Ecole de Fontainebleau, France, 1964; Yale School of Art and Architecture, M.F.A., 1966.
Addresses: Agent —Paula Cooper Gallery, 155 Wooster St., New York, New York 10012-3159. Home —Ogunquit, ME.
Independent artist, 1966—. Teacher, School of Visual Arts, New York, 1969-77, and California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, 1977-80.
Jonathan Borofsky's oversized sculptures are a prominent feature of many European cities, but the American artist came to wider attention in his native country only with a well-received temporary installation at New York City's Rockefeller Center in the fall of 2004. His immense Walking to the Sky , a steel pole featuring a series of life-like figures striding up it, was viewed by some as an unofficial tribute to the victims of 9/11. It was part of a series that had been replicated elsewhere, and while Borofsky was heartened by the response, he asserted that he simply wanted the piece to represent all human-kind. "These are human beings around the world; they represent all kinds of humanity, " he explained to Carol Vogel in the New York Times. "They are not New Yorkers, not Americans. This piece can stand anywhere—Africa, India, Hawaii."
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942, Borofsky grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. His father was known for his storytelling talents, and as a child Borofsky's favorite was about a giant who lived in the sky, which would later inspire his Walking to the Sky series. Borofsky was drawn to art at an early age and was moved by certain images he encountered back then. One of these works was from French post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, an 1897 painting titled "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?". The piece hung in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and as Borofsky recalled in the interview with Vogel, "I remember being very affected by that title, " he told the New York Times. "It seemed so philosophical and psychological. I started thinking: 'This is what art can do. It can ask questions or it can answer them.'"
Borofsky went on to study art at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, spent time in France after graduating in 1964, and then earned his graduate art degree from the Yale School of Art and Architecture in 1966. He spent the next eleven years in New York City, laying the foundation for his artistic career, but seemed diverted for a time by a fascination with numbers. "I ended up in my studio a lot, thinking a lot, writing thoughts down, " he told Ann Curran in Carnegie Mellon Magazine. "Less making of things and more thinking about things. I looked for a way to simplify the thought processes. I began to do littlenumber sequences on paper almost as a way to pass the time and not have to think so deeply."
Borofsky wrote down numbers in his studio for three hours a day for a period between 1968 and 1969. Occasionally, he came up with an idea for something to draw, and sketched it out next to the number he was on. When he drew that image on its own, he signed it with the number instead of his name. He eventually amassed a stack of paper with numbers on it that was nearly three feet tall and reached the figure 2, 346, 502. His first major show in New York City, "Counting, " featured this stack and the related drawings. By the late 1970s, he was showing regularly at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York but had moved out of the city and settled in Maine.
The next phase of Borofsky's artistic output was inspired by his dreams, which he began to write down with the same fervent dedication he had earlier given to numbers. He started working on larger-than-life three-dimensional pieces in the mid-1980s, and his works were commissioned by civic cultural committees in several European cities. His immense Hammering Man , a silhouetted figure with a moving arm that stood as high as many buildings, was a series that he replicated for permanent public installations in Frankfurt, Germany; Basel, Switzerland; Seoul, South Korea; and Seattle and Dallas in the United States. Its stark simplicity was Borofsky's homage to what he considered the worker in every human being.
Borofsky's first Walking to the Sky piece was installed in 1992 at the prestigious European contemporary art event, Documenta, held every five years in Kassel, Germany. It featured an 80-foot steel pole and a lone figure striding up it. A similar work, this one with a woman, was installed two years later in Strasbourg, France. The figures were cast with a special foam into fiberglass, and they harkened back to his father's stories about the giant in the sky. "What was unique about this giant is that he did good things for people, " Borofsky explained to Vogel in the New York Times interview. "We'd visit him in the sky and discuss what good things we could do down on earth. That got me thinking: 'How do you go to the sky? How do you get up there?'"
The nonprofit organization known as the Public Art Fund commissioned Borofsky to install a Walking to the Sky in its regular art space at the plaza within Rockefeller Center, a major-media headquarters hub as well as a favorite tourist destination in New York City. It was the first outdoor work of Borofsky's ever to appear in the city, and it was a hit with the public. This time, he put two more figures at the base, a man and a small boy, and included some steps near the concrete base so that visitors could climb it. Even the tabloid daily newspapers weighed in with approving remarks. The New York Post asserted that "There's something so disconcertingly strange about the spectacle played around the flag-polethat the work sears itself into your memory."
Art critics have not always been kind to Borofsky's works, the artist told Curran in Carnegie Mellon Magazine. Oftentimes, he noted, "this person has totally not got a clue as to what I'm doing. I mean I barely have a clue, " he said. "So they're hurting me, they're hurting art; that's the worst thing. People care so little about art these days anyhow. If you can't write something nice, don't write anything at all. People walk away with an angry attitude toward art because they don't get it."
Contemporary Artists , 5th ed., St. James Press, 2001.
Carnegie Mellon Magazine , Spring 2002.
Nation , February 2, 1985, p. 121.
New York Post , September 18, 2004, p. 26.
New York Times , September 13, 2004, p. E1.
People , October 4, 2004, p. 139.
Jonathan Borofsky Website, http://www.borofsky. com/info.htm (April 21, 2006).
— Carol Brennan