Where art meets craft, you’ll find Martin Puryear. The D.C. artist blends minimalism and carpentry (with a touch of African tribal influence from years spent in Sierra Leone) to form mysterious objects from familiar materials. If there is an Earth-like planet in another galaxy with humanlike life, Puryear’s sculptures are what one would expect to unearth as part of its archaeology—they use familiar, natural materials and techniques but form otherworldly and mysterious shapes. The pieces in this MOMA-organized retrospective are a combination of wood and stone, with wire mesh or tar or hide occasionally thrown into the mix. Each object’s density is the greatest variable for Puryear—some pieces, like his series of rings made from bent wood, or the rawhide stripes of Some Lines for Jim Beckwourth, are light and airy, while others, like the wire-mesh-covered Maroon and Dowager, are heavy and dark. The artist hints at the possibility of motion in his sculptures. What are levers, such as Lever No. 3, for, if not to be pulled? The spindly neck and loop of the painted, carved pine are firmly anchored, though, and not even the giant the piece is sized for would be able to help the art live up to its name. Desire is similarly mammoth, filling an entire room in the West Building of the National Gallery. A huge wooden wheel is tethered to the inverted wicker cone it is supposed to rotate around, but in a just-big-enough room, an orbit is impossible. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, to Sunday, Sept. 28, at the National Gallery of Art, 4th St. & Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 737-4215.

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