Unger, Mary Ann (1945–1998)

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Unger, Mary Ann (1945–1998)

American sculptor. Born in 1945 in New York City; died of breast cancer on December 28, 1998, in New York City; daughter of William Unger and Dorothy Unger; Mt. Holyoke College, B.A., 1967; attended University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1975; married Geoffrey Biddle (a photographer); children: Eve Biddle.

Began sculpting as a child; received B.A. in art (1967); received public commissions and exhibited at solo shows; work is held in collections of Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Born in 1945, Mary Ann Unger exhibited her artistic talent as a young child when she began making sculptures in art classes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. One of two children and the only daughter of William and Dorothy Unger , she attended Mt. Holyoke College as an undergraduate; there she learned to weld, cast in bronze, and carve marble. After receiving her B.A. in art in 1967, she spent a year as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, following that with several more years spent traveling around the world, including a trip to North Africa that she made alone. After returning to the United States, she completed her graduate degree at Columbia University in New York City. While there, she studied with George Sugarman and Ronald Bladen, receiving her M.F.A. in 1975. Critics noted that her works from the 1970s, with their lively, sinuous shapes, reflected the influence of Sugarman. These shapes evolved into tensile structures with repeating arcs, treelike forms that she used in her many public commissions.

In 1985, Unger was diagnosed with breast cancer. After this, her work became more expressionistic, making use of dark, sausage-shaped or beamlike shapes in an attempt to bring forth images of the body without actually showing it. Critics found these large-scale works, made of a lightweight plaster over steel frames, to be subtly expressive, with a sense of mythic power. When Unger died of breast cancer in December 1998, she had just completed a series of works for a solo show in the spring of 1999. Her sculptures are in the permanent collections of the Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


"Mary Ann Unger, 53, a Noted Sculptor and Curator, Is Dead," in The New York Times. January 3, 1999, p. 29.

Malinda Mayer , writer and editor, Falmouth, Massachusetts