Ursula von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling

A large cedar and paint sculpture installed against a white wall.
Mar 22 to Jul 28, 2019

This landmark exhibition of monumental sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard (b. 1942, Deensen, Germany) illuminates the process by which the artist gives outward visual form to her ideas and emotions. Expressive cedar sculptures are accompanied by poetic explorations in paper pulp, leather, linen, and other organic materials. With an emphasis on her work since 2000, The Contour of Feeling marks the most ambitious presentation of von Rydingsvard’s art in the United States, and her first solo exhibition in Washington, D.C.

The daughter of a woodcutter from a long line of peasant farmers, von Rydingsvard spent several of her early years in the wooden barracks of refugee camps in Germany at the end of World War II. Her works offer subtle hints of biographical, religious, or cultural references, while deliberately remaining abstract and evocative.

Each of the large-scale sculptures involves a labor-intensive, yet intuitive, process that can take nearly a year to complete. Wearing safety gear and wielding heavy machinery, von Rydingsvard and her team saw, slice, stack, glue, and mark the works with graphite before assembling their final forms. Towering vertical structures, sprawling floor-based works, and expansive wall constructions inspire awe and introspection.

Female visitor with light skin looks up at a roughly 20 foot tall carved cedar sculpture.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, For Natasha, 2015; Cedar and graphite, 9 ft. 1 in. x 6 ft. 7 in. x 3 ft. 6 in.; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Michael Bodycomb

Exhibition Sponsors

Ursula von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling is organized by The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, and guest curator Mark Rosenthal.

Ursula von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts; Heidi and Tom McWilliams; Agnes Gund; Harvey S. Shipley Miller, the Shipley Miller Foundation; the Arcadia Foundation; Barbara B. and Theodore R. Aronson; the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation; Katie Adams Schaeffer and Tony Schaeffer; Maja Paumgarten and John Parker; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; ForGood Fund; Henry S. McNeil; Constance H. Williams; Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz; Tony and Lynn Hitschler; and Anonymous Donors.

Presentation of the exhibition at NMWA is made possible by RBC Wealth Management and City National Bank, an anonymous donor, Sue J. Henry and Carter G. Phillips Exhibition Fund, Clara M. Lovett, Share Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Galerie Lelong & Co.

  • RBC Wealth Management
  • City National Bank
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies

Related Quote

For this show, for her remarkable body of work and for her courageous honesty, Ursula von Rydingsvard has earned our ­esteem.
The Washington Post
Ursula von Rydingsvard, thread terror (detail), 2016; Cedar and graphite, 8 ft. 10 in. x 8 ft. 5 in. x 1 ft. 1 in.; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Jerry L. Thompson

Related Media

Exhibition Catalogue

Book cover features a photograph of uneven wood planks running the length of the book with the title: "Ursula Von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling"
Published by The Fabric Workshop and Museum, this exhibition catalogue includes photographs of over 25 works, an extensive interview between guest curator Mark Rosenthal and the artist, and an essay by von Rydingsvard titled “Why I Make Art.”

Artist Interview

National Endowment for the Arts logo
In this episode of the National Endowment for the Arts podcast, von Rydingsvard speaks about The Contour of Feeling, her inspiration and process, and the importance of NEA grants in her four-decade career.


Still image from video about Ursula von Rydingsvard shows a large room with large cedar sculptures.
Explore this online playlist that includes interviews with the artist and behind-the-scenes footage of her intensive process.