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Artist and professor Larry Kagan ’68 casts his vision of the world in steel and shadows

By Jodi Ackerman

Larry Kagan ’68 stands in front of an illuminated wall inside his art studio, housed in a small brown building in an alleyway in downtown Troy. Mounted a few feet above his head is a mesh of thick, rusted wires bent and twisted in countless directions. Kagan asks a visitor what she sees.

Bringing meaning to such an abstruse, tangled piece of work — with its elongated, deformed shadow underneath — is a challenge. Kagan’s smile broadens as he flips off one light switch and turns on another. A new shadow replaces the first in the perfect shape of a basketball player in action.

“Point guard,” says Kagan, who has been professor of arts at Rensselaer for more than 30 years.

The image becomes clear: The wires contribute to the means, but it is the shadow that becomes the sculptured piece of art, which is dependent on the direction of light.

At first glance, Kagan’s “sculptures” seem to be a mass of jumbled steel. Lit from above, however, their linear shadows are shaped into well-articulated sketches of everyday life. There’s the rugged cowboy riding a horse, for instance. The title is an easy guess: “Marlboro Man.” Another work, the image of Uncle Sam pointing his finger at the viewer, is reminiscent of the “I Want You for the U.S. Army” recruiting poster. Then there are pianos, cascades of books, bicycles, and light bulbs.

“The way to capture viewers’ attention is to create visual information that they can connect with,” Kagan says. “The reason I deal with simple, everyday forms is because people can instantly identify and relate to them.”

Photo by Mark McCarty

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Rensselaer Magazine: Winter 2003
President's View Your Mail From the Archives Hawk Talk Class Notes Features
Front Page At Rensselaer Milestones
In Memoriam Making a Difference Staying Connected
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