"I use traditional means to challenge atrophied habits of perception."
"One of the most significant and little-celebrated innovations in late 20th century art: Charles Ginnever's "Rashomon" suite. … Much important sculpture of our era has concerned itself with tensions between the bodily and mental grasp of the real. "Rashomon" goes to the heart of that matter, defying its viewers to compare its identical components by rotating them mentally."
— Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 23, 2012
"In a world that prizes signature styles and instant recognition, Ginnever slows down and challenges the viewer’s experience. He inculcates us with a nagging doubt, which becomes part of the pleasure of the work."
— John Yau, hyperallergic.com, Jan. 13, 2013
"The few modern sculptors of importance, including Charles Ginnever, have provided their art with reasons for being that only it can demonstrate. Complex formal structures of striking coherence and energy, Ginnever’s sculptures are something more. The foldings and unfolding of planar form mirror the work’s effect of opening up unnoticed depths in the flow of mundane experience."
— Kenneth Baker, Charles Ginnever—Rashomon, Cantor Arts Center, Stanford, 2000
"Working in heavy metal, Mr. Ginnever is lighter than air."
— Grace Glueck, New York Times, May 21, 1983
"The reduction of the vocabulary to its essential form is one of the factors in the existential dynamics of Ginnever's work. … These apparently geometric and minimal forms carry within them the entire memory of our civilization—our past, and our entrance to the future—and are not of an age, unless it is an imagined one: they are linked to the immemorial history of the space-time of our poetical thought. These are documents of vitalism in its pure state."
— Pierre Restany, “Ginnever, Action-Sculptor” in Charles Ginnever, 1987
For more than fifty years, Charles Ginnever has created large-scale sculptures in steel and bronze that are concerned with challenging and expanding visual perceptions. "The observer is aware that the sculptures unfold in their own time and space," write Hilarie Faberman, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Director Thomas K. Seligman of Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center (2000), "[and] may even begin to reexamine preconceived ideas about perception, and about sculpture as static, massive, unmoving."
In the experimental New York artist environment of the 1960s, Ginnever participated in, and/or organized several "Happenings," creating sculpture dances and performances for the Ergo Suits Carnival in Woodstock and Bridgehampton, New York, in 1962 with Eva Hesse, Tom Doyle, Peter Forakis, Allan Kaprow, and others; the Fluxus Festival at George Segal's Farm in New Jersey (1963); the Dayton Art Institute (1966); and the Windham College Carnival in Putney, Vermont (1969). In New York, he was an early exhibitor at the Park Place Gallery (though not officially a member of that group), and in the 1970s at Paula Cooper Gallery.
Creating large-scale sculptures for the outdoor environment, Ginnever began to receive commissions for his works in parks and architectural settings. Ginnever has been commissioned to create numerous public sculptures, including a General Services Administration Commission for the St. Paul Courthouse, Minnesota (1976); NEA Commission for the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1976); Knox Foundation Sculpture Competition for the City of Houston (1977); NEA Commission for the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1977); State University of New York, Albany (1978); University of Houston, Texas (1978); Virlane Foundation, K&B Plaza, New Orleans (1979); Dayton Art Institute and the City Beautiful Council, Dayton, Ohio (1980); Kanawa Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts, Charleston, West Virginia (1980); State University of New York, Buffalo (1981); Hurd Development Corporation, Dallas (1983); Hewlett-Packard Corporation, Palo Alto, California (1985); and Koll-Bernal Associates, Pleasanton, California (1987). In 1996 Ginnever's sculpture Nike was presented by President Bill Clinton as the President’s Choice, U.S. Gift, to the APEC Sculpture Garden, Manila, Philippines.
Charles Ginnever was born in San Mateo, California, in 1931. He attended San Mateo Junior College (1949-51; A.A. degree). He studied at the Alliance Francais, Paris (1953); Universitá per Stranieri, Perugia, Italy (1954); Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris, with Ossip Zadkine (1953-55); and with printmaker Stanley W. Hayter at Atelier 17, Paris (1955). He returned to San Francisco to study at the California School of Fine Arts (1955-57; Bachelor of Fine Arts, 1957); and did graduate studies at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (1957-59; Master of Fine Arts, 1959).
He taught at Cornell University (1957-59); Pratt Institute, Brooklyn (1963); New School for Social Research, New York (1964); Brooklyn Museum School (1964-65); Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art, New Jersey (1965); Orange County Community College, Middleton, Vermont (fall 1966); and Windham College, Putney, Vermont (1967-74; head of the art department, 1970-71). He taught as Visiting Artist or Artist-in-Residence at Dayton Art Institute (1966); Aspen School of Contemporary Art (Head of Sculpture Department, summer 1966); Hobart School of Welding Technology Summer Sculpture Program, Troy, Ohio (1974); Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, Vermont (summer 1987 and 1996); and University of California, Berkeley (winter 1989).
Charles Ginnever's work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions, beginning in 1961 at Allan Stone Gallery, New York. Other important solo exhibitions include his 1968 New York loft installation as part of 10 Downtown; Paula Cooper Gallery, New York (1970, 1971, 1972); Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Sculpture Garden, New York (1972); Charles Ginnever, 20 Years–20 Works at Sculpture Now, Inc., New York (1975, catalogue); Long Beach Museum of Art, California (1978); Max Hutchinson Gallery, Houston (1978) and New York (1978, 1980); Smith Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto (1978, 1995); ConStruct, Chicago (1979, 1981); Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York (1980, catalogue); Marlborough Gallery, New York (1983, catalogue); Max Hutchinson's Sculpture Fields, Kenoza Lake, New York (1986, catalogue); Esprit Sculpture Garden, San Francisco (1987); Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe (1989, 1991); Academy of Art College, San Francisco (1997); Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University (1999, catalogue); Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco (2001); Brattleboro Museum, Vermont (2002); and Wooster Art Space, New York (2004), among others. In recent years, special exhibitions of Ginnever's large-scale sculptures have been on view at MOVA (Museum of Visual Art), Santa Rosa, California (2003); and ART OMI, Ghent, New York (2003-05).
Ginnever's awards include a California School of Fine Arts Sculpture Award (1957); John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (1974); National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artists Grant (1975); Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (1998); Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lee Krasner Foundation (1999-2001); Pollock/Krasner Emergency Grant (2004); Gottlieb Foundation Emergency Grant (2004); Voigt Family Foundation, Geyserville, CA (2005); and the Vermont Art Council's Walter Cerf Award for Lifetime Achievement (2007).
In 1986 a comprehensive catalogue of Charles Ginnever's work, including a catalogue raisonne of large-scale sculptures, was published in association with an exhibition at Sculpture Fields in Kenoza Lake, New York. Other monographs on Ginnever's work include Charles Ginnever, 20 Years–20 Works (Sculpture Now, Inc., New York, 1975); Charles Ginnever (Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, NY, 1980); Charles Ginnever: Larger-Scale Sculpture (Marlborough Gallery, New York, 1983); Ginnever (Runnymede Sculpture Farm, Woodside, CA, 1993); and Charles Ginnever: Rashomon (The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, 2000).
In the summer of 2003, much of Ginnever's early work and documentation was destroyed by a fast-moving grass fire in Petaluma, California.
Charles Ginnever now lives and works at his farm in Putney, Vermont.