Monday, October 17, 2011

Sculpture and I are having a moment

Tony Cragg. Outspan. 2008.
Maybe it's because this French impressionist class is so theory-heavy that I feel like stabbing right through every Manet painting I look at just to make the discussion about subjectivity STOP, or maybe it's because my conservation class is very biased towards objects; either way, I am really having a good time thinking about sculpture lately. Theorizing, ruminating, and thoroughly being captivated by the awe-striking qualities of art in three dimensions. Come with me, let's go there together.

GREAT example of how painting draws you into an illusory space.
Andrew Wyeth. Wind From the Sea. 1947.
One of my favorite paintings in the National Gallery.
Normally, I'm all about paint and photography. Two-dimensional art intrigues, puzzles, and delights me with its inherent theatricality. The creation of 2D art will always, to some degree, involve the artist thinking critically about how he or she is going to TRICK you into believing you're looking beyond the surface of the work and into some imaginary depth (well, actually, that statement could be contested when it comes to abstract expressionist and minimalist paintings*, but we'll just stick with my stereotype for the moment).

In short, 2D art involves illusion. 3D art, aka sculpture and installation art, involves... movement.

Henry Moore. Reclining Figure: Internal and External forms
(Working model)
. Bronze. Cast 1952-53.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
What a change that makes! What a different experience, looking at sculpture! Instead of using your eyes, you must use your eyes AND your legs. Instead of a painstakingly-wrought single viewpoint (as in a painting), you have 360 viewpoints! The sculptor has to consider all of them in the creative process. He or she gets down and dirty-- and often quite clever-- when manipulating his or her materials. Their works of art must slide from one vantage point on over into the next seamlessly. In its finished form, sculpture has the potential to be a, well, for lack of a better word, a sensual experience. Yea, I said it. Sculpture possesses so much more force in a gallery, and it's because it takes up your space. Or rather, you take up ITS space. While you may glide past paintings, you must maneuver around sculptures (or suffer the wrath of the security guards...). I had a brief love affair with an ever-arresting Henry Moore bronze this weekend at the Hirshhorn (See above). I literally couldn't keep my hands off it, but I was saved at the last moment (before I actually touched it, don't worry, I'm an obedient museum patron), I was lured away by the siren call of a blinding Dan Flavin light installation.

Like a moth to one of those moth-zappers... I just can't help myself. ^Dan Flavin, untitled (to Helga and Carlo with respect and affection), 1974. Flourescent lights. It's glorious! You can't tell from this picture, but this installation artwork stretches about 40 feet across the length of a gallery in the Hirshhorn. Wish I had people in this picture so you could get a sense of its fabulous dimensions. The light squares come up to about my hip, just think of it that way. I just love Dan Flavin. I love that he uses clean lines, the simplicity of light fixtures, to reinvent a gallery. The light sweeps over you and the museum itself, so that you can't ever quite assertively say, "THIS is where a Dan Flavin light sculpture comes to a halt." You just can't fence it in like that.

Picture I took on my cell phone from one end of the gallery looking towards the other end of the gallery this weekend at After Hours. C'est magnifique, non?

Ever since reading over The Agony and the Ecstasy this summer (a fictionalized 1960s biographical novel of Michelangelo, which cut me to the core- how DARE the author actually put words in The Immortal's mouth, pretend to know what he was thinking when he created The David??), I have renewed my love for Renaissance sculpture. Maybe that's where this all started. I re-Googled all my favorites: Michelangelo's highlights, Claus Sluter's priestly sculptures around the tomb of Philip the Bold, Bernini's Rape of Proserpina, etc. Mandatory illustrations of said masterpieces:

Two of the Sluter Mourners - Only about 18 inches high,  they ring the tomb of Philip the Bold in Dijon. Their deep-cut folds and touching expressions of angst have intrigued art historians and visitors for centuries. Look, 3D views of each sculpture found HERE, enjoy!
Rape of Proserpina. Really this viewpoint is all you need to see.
Fingers indenting into a thigh... BUT IT'S ALL MARBLE!!!!!!!!!! GAAH!!! MY LITTLE BRAIN'S GOING TO EXPLODE!
Tony Cragg. Elbow. 2008.

Ahem. Despite the wonders of Renaissance-era naturalistic sculpture, I still find myself equally enthralled by modern and contemporary sculpture. It absolutely astonishes me. In an era where innumerable images arrive onto my laptop as fast as I can click, the presence of contemporary sculpture, the way that it accosts and silences you, its simultaneous monumentality and serenity, makes for an invaluable and irreplaceable artistic experience in my life of looking. Its use of plastics, glass, iron, found materials and electricity... I find a little bit of my world reflected back at me in each of these media. That's what keeps me intrigued, I think.

GASP! I just figured something out! Remember how I was saying 6 inches ago that abstract expressionist and minimalist painting could arguably NOT be about theatricality? Here's some Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still to illustrate my point:

Newman's Adam. 1952. Tate.
Still's 1948-C. 1948. Hirshhorn.

What you see is pretty much what you get here, huh? No depth, no illusion. Just glorious meditations on paint over canvases.

MAAAAAAAAYYBE the modern/contemporary sculptures of Henry Moore, Dan Flavin, Tony Cragg, Louis Bourgeois, and the installation work of Matthew Barney, Olafur Eliasson, and Janine Antoni, to name a scant few, have fired my imagination of late because they, in their very physical-ness physicality-- in the way that they order me around a gallery, alter my ability to see, and affront my every sense-- have surpassed painting as the more theatrical type of artwork! Only I am the actor!

Cheers to you if you are still following me. Crap. I'm beginning to sound like Michael Fried, I can feel it. Milan, Maggie, and Erin, I expect only you to be keeping up with me.

M. Barney's The Deportment of the Host. MOMA. 2006.
Cast polycaprolactone thermoplastic and self-lubricating plastic
The point I want to end on is this: one of the reasons I tend to stay away from studying sculpture is because it feels too daunting. It requires too much memory. I experience so many more emotions when I wind my way around Matthew Barney's lustrous The Deportment of the Host installation than I do when facing, say, a Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph. It always feels nearly impossible for me to even begin to explain my thoughts about sculpture, or think critically about what the artist has done or may be trying to say through his or her work, when it comes to sculpture and installations. 360 ways to look at it, remember? But that doesn't mean I don't love to stop by and continue my love affair with the 3D media. It just means we will always be working things out. I will be a forever fervent admirer, and it will always be invading my space. Wouldn't have it any other way.


Katie said...

just want you to know i read--and understood--and appreciated--e.v.e.r.y. word. love love love! Thanks for being brilliant. Miss you...still...

Milan said...

HA the whole time i was reading this article i was thinking Fried Fried Fried...and then you mentioned him. yes, i kept up, and yes, i loved. kind of made me with i still thought about art the way i did in school. alas, my brain is so out of shape...

MOM said...

Ha! Your momma made it too. :) Surprised? You shouldn't be. I read everything you do. And sometimes I even click on a highlighted word. (Shocker, I know.) Anyway, you have such a way of putting things, like the simple difference of viewing painting verses sculpture. Our minds are doing this, but we never thought about it nor could we have verbalized it the way you do. Thanks teach. You da bomb. PS- Loved you picture of Flavin's light sculture...nice angle and reflections! Also, the dent in the thigh. My first looks so soft and real!