VIFF Review: “Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own” highlights a lifetime of art

Documentaries are a difficult thing. The amount of time spent with the subject and the amount of footage shot compared to what’s used in the finished product are both monumental. One needs a compelling subject with a compelling story to tell, and those are not as easy to come by as many would probably assume.

Luckily, Ursula von Rydingsvard is a compelling subject. A woman at the forefront of the contemporary art scene creating massive cedarwood, bronze, and copper sculptures, she has been a creative force since the 1970s. She felt a lifelong determination to be an artist, a drive recalled by everyone in the film from her brother to her patrons, but with a runtime of only 57 minutes, this film a little light on the details of the story of this drive.

It’s a shame, too, since her story is rife with detail. From her childhood spent in German “displaced person” camps before immigrating to America to her career as a teacher and her time in art school before finally breaking out in the mid-1970s. But as an example of the details skipped: her time as a teacher is only mentioned in passing once. Likewise, her influences aren’t delved into in any detail beyond a list on-screen of other women contemporary to her.

This isn’t to say the movie is bad, though; there are some bright spots. There is some thoughtful examination of her relationship with her daughter, a clearly loving relationship despite a troubled first marriage. More importantly, to this film, at least, the art really shines.

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own
Ursula von Rydingsvard walking beside her work Saint Martin’s Dream in Battery Park, New York, 1980.

Working with 4-inch by 4-inch cedar posts, von Rydingsvard creates absolutely massive sculptures. Yet, they manage to be brutal and unsettling as well as beautiful. As with most art, I can’t quite put it into words, but her work resonated with me, and I wanted to pause the film multiple times to study it more closely.

So while it’s a little light on the details, this portrait is a little slight, but it’s also a fascinating look at a host of modern art pieces.


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