Roundhouse (2018), London, UK.

Joel Perlman

B.F.A. '65

Roundhouse (2018), London, UK.

Man of Steel

By Morgan Evans-Weiler, M.F.A. '21

Renowned sculptor Joel Perlman (B.F.A. '65) began forging his signature style when he was an undergraduate student at Cornell. He studied fine art on campus and learned welding and metalworking through adult education classes in downtown Ithaca. Perlman's own mentor at the time, late faculty member and alumnus Jack Squier (M.F.A. '52), was an accomplished sculptor who worked with various material including bronze, wood, and polyester resin. Squier's influence and Perlman's newfound metalworking skills created the foundation for his sculptural works to come.

At the time, however, Perlman felt pressure to pursue the more stable career he thought architecture might offer. Squier helped to guide Perlman and gave him advice that cemented his decision to stay in art. Perlman recalled Squier saying, "'If you're an architect and you're really good, maybe by the time you're 40 you’ll be working on your own stuff. However, if you're an artist, you can start right now, today, and be your own boss.'" Perlman added, "That was the last time I ever thought about doing anything else."

A man wearing sunglasses, a blue T-shirt, and brown overalls leans against a door

Joel Perlman (2010). photo / Scott Frances

After graduating from Cornell, Perlman spent time in London and Berkeley, and eventually taught for three years at Bennington College in Vermont before settling permanently in New York City. Moving to New York City had its challenges at first. After Perlman "paid dues" for a couple of years, colleague Herbert Ferber recommended him for a Guggenheim Fellowship. Perlman's perseverance paid off, and he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973. That year, he also received representation through the André Emmerich Gallery and began teaching at the School of Visual Arts, where he continues today.

Among his many accolades, Perlman received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1979 and a Pollock-Krasner grant in 2012. His works are included in many collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Storm King Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.

Many of Perlman's sculptures are large, metal, formalist constructions that play with weight, balance, and negative space. They have toothed, circular forms that allude to machinery and energy. He also works at smaller scales, compacting layers of circular and triangular forms into stainless steel, copper, and bronze constructions. He often builds large pieces intuitively, without models. He constructs his smaller pieces in foam and then casts them in bronze — a process known as the lost-styrofoam method. Perlman is currently wrestling with the legacy of celebrated sculptor Constantin Brancusi, as he works to make bases that read as part of the sculpture.

Heavy Round Table outdoor steel sculpture

Heavy Round Table (2006–20), steel, 75" x 33" x 17". Here, Perlman created a base that reads as part of the sculpture.

Man standing in front of a large metal sculpture being installed with machinery

Joel Perlman installing East Gate (1989) at the Parrish Art Museum in 2020.

Perlman remains in contact with many of the friends he made while at Cornell. Former classmate Jeffrey Sussman '65 and his company, Property Group Partners, commissioned Perlman to create a sculpture for 52 Lime Street, an award-winning skyscraper completed in 2018 in London's financial district. Perlman designed Roundhouse (2018), a towering metal sculpture, to contrast with its installation site — juxtaposing a swirling round form against the Scalpel's sharp, angular silhouette. Because of Roundhouse's size, Perlman made several trips to London to build the sculpture and coordinate a specific plan to transport the piece to its installation site at night, using a low-loader truck and following a carefully planned route that avoided going under railroad bridges because of its height. Fellow Cornellians Robert Blakely '63, Stephen Meringoff '66, and Richard Baker '88 all have collected Perlman's works in depth over the years.

Perlman overcame another installation challenge when he sent East Gate (1989) to the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York, for its Field of Dreams outdoor sculpture exhibition that opened in August 2020. As one of Perlman's largest works, East Gate required a 200-foot boom lift and three tractor trailers of counterweights to transport it to the museum. "It was like a big army maneuver," he said.

When creating enormous metal sculptures, transportation challenges come with the territory. For Perlman, the cranes and trucks add to the appeal of his chosen methods. Perlman started welding sculptures close to 60 years ago, and continues to be enticed by metal, machinery, motors, and even the risk that comes along with it all.


Joel Perlman standing between two of his sculptures being exhibited.

Joel Perlman photographed at the exhibition Joel Perlman: 50th Reunion Sculptures (2015), Bibliowicz Family Gallery, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. William Staffeld / AAP 


Selected Artwork

Square Tilt: large brown square sculpture made of steel

Square Tilt (1983), steel, 120" x 96" x 48".

Square Tilt (1983)

man with large metal sculpture in an open field

East Gate (1989), steel, 180" x 252" x 84", installation view (2020), Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York, purchased for the museum by Jane Squier in honor of her husband, professor emeritus Jack Squier.

East Gate (1989)

a large abstract silver metal construction in front of a building

Sky Spirit (2004), aluminum, 336" x 120" x 120", ABN AMRO Plaza, Chicago.

Sky Spirit (2004)

Rollin on the River: large circular bronze sculpture

Rollin on the River (2009), bronze, 144" x 120" x 60".

Rollin on the River (2009)

Seven Ponds: large brown steel sculpture with multiple circular sections

Seven Ponds (2010), steel, 84" x 144" x 60".

Seven Ponds (2010)

large sculpture of bronze circles on a wooden floor

Mechanic (2018), steel, 54" x 114" x 40", VIA 57 WEST, New York City, collection of the Durst Organization.

Mechanic (2018)

large sculpture of silver concentric circles in front of a glass building

Roundhouse (2018), stainless steel, 168" x 44" x 72", The Scalpel, 52 Lime Street, London, UK, collection of Property Group Partners.

Roundhouse (2018)

Big Round I outdoor steel sculpture

Big Round I (2019), steel, 91" x 77" x 42", Water Mill, New York. 

Big Round I (2019)

Big Round II outdoor steel sculpture

Big Round II (2019), steel, 87" x 55" x 34", Water Mill, New York. 

Big Round II (2019)

Heavy Round Table outdoor steel sculpture

Heavy Round Table (2006–20), steel, 75" x 33" x 17", Water Mill, New York. 

Heavy Round Table (2006–20)

Green, round metal sculpture

Emerald Queen (2013), bronze, 18" high, installation view of the exhibition Joel Perlman: 50th Reunion Sculptures (2015), Bibliowicz Family Gallery, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. William Staffeld / AAP 

Emerald Queen (2013)

Photo of a brown, circular metal sculpture

Round, Round (2014), steel, 18" x 18" x 5", installation view of the exhibition Joel Perlman: 50th Reunion Sculptures (2015), Bibliowicz Family Gallery, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. William Staffeld / AAP 

Round, Round (2014)

Tall funnel-shaped metal sculpture

Tower (2015), bronze, 32" x 8" x 8", installation view of the exhibition Joel Perlman: 50th Reunion Sculptures (2015), Bibliowicz Family Gallery, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. William Staffeld / AAP 

Tower (2015)

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