Seymour Lipton graduated from Columbia University in 1927 and became a dentist. With no formal training in art, he eventually began carving wood sculptures. Lipton’s manual skill as a dentist served him well as a sculptor, and he developed a style that diverged from anatomical realism. Like others of his generation—for example, Alexander Calder (1898–1976) and David Smith (1906–1965)—Lipton recognized that metal sculptures had more resonance in the Machine Age. He started bronze casting in 1940–41; however, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the use of metal was restricted to the war effort, so Lipton worked intermittently with sheets of scrap metal.
Like many other sculptors in the decade after World War II, Lipton created abstract works that suggest, rather than literally depict, human figures. The vertically arranged Pioneer evokes a standing form, with two long legs and a jumble of arms topped by the absence of a recognizable head. While the title Pioneer implies a brave and bold leader, the figure is static without forward motion. This juxtaposition may serve as a metaphor for the ambiguity of modern ideas and ideals—namely that the heroic stereotypes of the past may not be as relevant in our contemporary world.
Lipton’s sculptures from the 1940s express the darker side of human nature. By the 1950s, however, his work had begun to suggest regeneration and rebirth. In this context, Pioneer can be viewed as representing the cyclical process of life and death. On the whole, the 1950s was one of rebuilding, growth, and prosperity; yet the era was also marked by new anxieties, including the Cold War and conflicts in Korea. Thus, Lipton’s postwar abstract sculptures often convey the fragility of life with a lurking sense of threat.
Since 2017, Dell Medical School has awarded the annual Ken Shine Prize in Health Leadership to an innovative national leader who has made significant contributions to advancing health and the health care system. Through a partnership between Landmarks and the estate of artist Seymour Lipton, all Ken Shine award recipients receive a small bronze reproduction of Lipton’s Pioneer—one of several works from Landmarks’ collection sited at Dell Med.
On January 14, Dr. Anthony Fauci received the award from Dell Medical School Dean Clay Johnston. As Dell Med states, “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in countless ways that we’re just beginning to realize. Few people have the combination of experience, access and insight to understand that better than this year’s Ken Shine Prize in Health Leadership honoree: Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.” Watch a recording of the virtual event on Vimeo.
Pioneer was fabricated by Lipton in 1957 and donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Mrs. Albert A. List in 1958. It is one of the three Monel metal sculptures by the artist that came to Landmarks as part of a long-term loan of 28 sculptures from The Metropolitan.
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