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Therrien's spectacularly outlandish giant beards won't fit comfortably into any existing theory of his art. "I was looking for a sculptural subject I could approach in different ways -- casting, carving, wire and so forth," he says. "Originally, it was going to be based on Brancusi's beard, but when I got into the project I discovered his beard didn't work right; it conformed to his face, as opposed to flowing, which is what the piece needed in order to function as an independent entity. The beard I'm most excited about is the cast plastic one. Plastic has a removed quality that appeals to me, and seeing it used in a large-scale work adds another layer to it."
Collectors, curators and city officials tend to put really large sculpture outside, so it's not surprising to hear that the Getty invited Therrien to create an exterior work for its permanent collection. "There's something about objects outside that's inherently different from the way I think about art, but I didn't want to say no, so I spent a lot of time up there looking around," says Therrien. "I wound up feeling completely overwhelmed by the place and incapable of working that way. I know there's great outdoor sculpture, but I can't think of an artwork that's better because it's outdoors."
Needless to say, most artists would jump at the chance to have a work permanently on view at the Getty. Therrien, however, is selective about what he devotes his energy to. "Bob chooses not to show very much, and that has a lot to do with the fact that his work isn't better known," says Zelevansky, who's followed Therrien's work since the mid-'80s, when she first saw it at the Castelli Gallery.
"Artists who have higher profiles tend to be part of a group, and it's probably worked against me that there hasn't been a group of artists I've been associated with," Therrien explains. "But if you start thinking about where and how your work may or may not fit into history, it can be very damaging, and I've never thought that way. When I first showed with Leo Castelli, he wanted to know who my crowd was; I told him I didn't know, and that things were different in Los Angeles."
ROBERT THERRIEN | At the L.A. COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART, 5905 Wilshire Blvd. | February 20May 7