Site without specificity – Picasso and Chicago

Pablo Picasso, Untitled ("The Picasso"), dedicated 1967, Core ten steel, 50 ft. high, Daley Plaza, Chicago
Pablo Picasso, Untitled (“The Picasso”), dedicated 1967, Core ten steel, 50 ft. high, Daley Plaza, Chicago
Photograph taken by author, 27 March 2013

I promise this is not a blog solely about public sculpture, though I do find it interesting that I both feel the need to express that caveat and have been thinking about ‘public things’ a lot lately. Once you start looking for them, you realize these encumbered objects are everywhere, and while they take on tremendous collective significance they often remain invisible. It is a weird experience to regularly walk by a 50ft. hunk of steel and not ‘see’ it. This week, however, a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago and its new exhibition, Picasso and Chicago, made me acutely aware of the dissonance between sculpture’s visible and invisible nature, especially in regards to its always complex connection to site. Continue reading “Site without specificity – Picasso and Chicago”

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The Absence of Monuments

Removal of statue of Saddam Hussein in al-Firdos Square on 9 April 2003. Photo by Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Removal of statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square on 9 April 2003. Photo by Mirrorpix/Getty Images
“Historically, the monument–as distinguished from all other things that are present–was supposed to endure for all time.”¹

The monument, here used in relation to public sculpture, is a particular kind of thing. By virtue of its placement in an open, accessible location, it reaches a wide audience and because of this reach is often understood as an object of collective import, whether speaking to supposed universal truths or serving as a receptacle for memorialization. This understanding of the ‘monument’ and sculpture’s connection to the notion of monumentality has undergone considerable revision in recent years, but the history of public things has always been tenuous and problematic. And yet, in the face of such instability, monuments continue to endure; entrenched both in physical space and the collective consciousness. Beyond the subject matter they were created to convey, public sculptures become receptors for much larger issues, and nodes for exchange: meeting points, sites of grief and triumph, landmarks, and social gathering places. These functions insulate the work in a way, making any proposed extrication or destruction difficult (see as one example among many, a recent case involving a community hit hard by the economic downturn and one such entrenched thing, a sculpture by Henry Moore). Continue reading “The Absence of Monuments”

Tony Smith Public Art Wiki Project

Just a quick post about a really fantastic and very public project on public sculpture.  The International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art – North America (INCCA-NA) teamed up with Wikipedia’s WikiProject Public Art in August 2012 to launch the Artist Research Project, selecting the American sculptor Tony Smith as the inaugural artist. The project is an open call to photograph, research, document, and … Continue reading Tony Smith Public Art Wiki Project

Objects – Things – Sculpture

Carl Andre, 2 Piece Sort, 1972,
bent steel reinforcing rod, in two parts,
overall: 3½ x 19 x 28 in. (8.4 x 48.3 x 71.1cm.)

In an interview with Phyllis Tuchman in 1970, the American sculptor Carl Andre remarked:
My art springs from my desire to have things in the world that would otherwise never be there. By nature, I am a materialist, and admirer of Lucretius…. The sense of one’s being in the world is confirmed by the existence of things and others in the world.”¹

As the selection of Andre’s statement and its title would suggest, this is a blog about exploring the world through things; through the bits and bobs of shaped, arranged matter that share, however fleetingly, the space of our own corporeal bodies. Things seem to be everywhere these days, and from all corners of scholarly inquiry, they are asserting their presence. Things now have social lives. They have generated their own ‘thing theory,’ are crucial actants in so-called Actor-Networks, and serve as the entry point for, and substance of, material/visual culture. In short, things are having a bit of a moment.

The title of this blog, however, presents a particular qualifier. The inclusion of sculptural was in part practical, a means to provide focus, but, more importantly, was intended to propose a question: what makes a thing a sculpture? Or perhaps better put, what is a sculptural thing and why designate it as such?

I certainly do not have answers to these questions, but I am intrigued by the spaces between objects, things, and sculpture enough to start this blog in attempt to open up a place to explore them. For many, the definition and understanding of ‘sculpture,’ and even more so the term ‘sculptural,’ has been expanded to the point of collapse within contemporary artistic practice while contracting within popular culture to the point of obsolescence (think no further than every bad public sculpture and memorial controversy or the trendiness of using ‘sculptural,’ or as a comparison ‘architectural,’ to describe everything from clothing design to cuisine). Sculpture as a distinct artistic phenomena or, more dramatically, as a way by which to see and understand the world does not seem to have much currency both inside and outside of academia, but sculpture’s always liminal and frequently clunky or awkward presence in the world (what is the point of sculpture after all?) makes it, in my mind, a subject worthy of further pursuit. Continue reading “Objects – Things – Sculpture”