Too often in documentaries about artists, the focus rest heavily on the final product, and that’s often the case because the subject is deceased. But in director Daniel Traub’s deeply personal and fascinating work about very-much-alive sculptor Ursula Von Rydingvard, Into Her Own, the emphasis is perhaps even more centered on the process. Of course, with Von Rydingvard being one of the only women working in the medium of monumental sculpture, the film also examines her difficult road to becoming one of the most in-demand artists working today. Her work has been featured in installations all over the world, including The Art Institute of Chicago where her “Bronze Bowl with Lace” is installed on the Bluhm Family Terrace.
With a running time of only about an hour, Into Her Own feels like an episode of “American Masters,” and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially since director Traub injects Von Rydingsvard’s story and look at her process with intimacy and no small amount of pain. The film tracks her status as a Displaced Person in Poland in the wake of World War II to her entire family coming to America, including her emotionally distant and sometimes abusive father and her strong and nurturing mother. Somehow this combination resulted in an artist with a work ethic and a boundless energy that feels unique to her. Since her work often requires dozens of collaborations to create, move and install, she’s not precious or protective of her work—although she is precise, with an unnerving attention to detail. The resulting sculptures are quite large and sturdy, but they also convey a fragility.
Von Rydingsvard works in wood, metal, and just about any material that appears solid but can be crafted in unexpected ways, and watching her navigate around her art while hearing stories about her childhood or young adulthood as a woman attempting to maneuver in the art world raises the film to unforeseen places. I don’t often get emotional about art documentaries, not matter how impressed I may be by the artist or their work, but Into Her Own felt quietly triumphant. Each new sculpture feels like a cause for celebration (the film’s structure follows one particularly complicated bronze piece, from concept to completion), even if Von Rydingsvard comes across as a bit distanced from her own process in the moment. The film is deeply moving, and my only complaint regarding it is that it’s too short. I was desperate to see more of her work, both across the decades and in progress. But what’s here is absolutely worth seeing.
The film is available through the Gene Siskel Film Center’s “Film Center from Your Sofa” program.
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