The sculpture park is a particular type of place, a particular type of arts institution. A phenomena unique to the medium of sculpture, save perhaps for a select sort of architecture, the sculpture park is traditionally set within a bucolic, natural landscape or, on a smaller scale, framed as landscape, open air museum annex. It provides a unique if unavoidably artificial manner in which to view sculpture – out of doors, subject to the elements, and transformed (or dwarfed depending on the scale of the work) by the expanse of its surroundings. This tension–between seeing sculpture situated in such a setting and knowing it is a foreign object within that environment–is one of the things I find more intriguing about this type of venue. The awareness of institutional context never really goes away, but if done really well the sculpture park can produce transformative moments when a piece of sculpture looks like it was always meant to be there, its form so radically altered by its situation; or in reverse, the landscape takes on a completely different character when seen through or around an object.
This week I happened to watch two short videos about sculpture, or more specifically two videos that showed the making, the labor, of sculpture. The first, a clip from the children’s television program Sesame Street, featured the actor Jon Hamm and showed him talking with Elmo about sculpture while the muppet intently carved a work – revealed at the end to be a ‘lifelike’ self-portrait.
The second, no doubt far less viewed, video is from SFMOMA’s website and shows the American sculptor Louise Nevelson, a bit of a character herself with her headscarf and cigarette, constructing and discussing a wood sculpture.
The past week involved another Atlantic crossing for me and as such, a proper post won’t appear until later this week, but I wanted to comment briefly on a fantastic session organized by Lisa Le Feuvre and Jon Wood of the Henry Moore Institute for this year’s Association of Art Associations Annual Conference – held 11-13 April in Reading. The session was titled, “Photography and the Histories of Sculpture: What role has photography played in forming sculpture’s place in art history?” This is a topic that plays a large role in my own research and it was wonderful to see (and hear) it explored at an event like AAH; not only in the HMI panel but also in other sessions, including one organized by Alice Correia and Robert Sutton from Tate on Henry Moore (and do check out their larger, excellent research project at Tate).
Painting is something I rarely think about, or rather is an area of art production that I admire from a distance; having little interest in the issues that most commonly dominate its discussion – image, representation, flatness, etc. This is a gross oversimplification and no doubt a sign of medium narrow-mindedness on my part, but having admitted it all the same, you might understand my surprise at being FLOORED by a painting exhibition this past week (so floored, in fact, I visited it three times in five days).
The exhibition in question was Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962, the last show Paul Schimmel organized for the embattled Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Bringing together American, European, and Japanese artists, Destroy the Picture, as its title suggests, focuses on the literal and conceptual assault of the picture plane in postwar art, and suggests this formal turn was very much a psychological, existential response to a world drastically altered by the events of WWII. As Schimmel writes in his catalogue essay, “Destruction was in a dialectical relationship with creation, and the void was a space of potentiality. From the embers of destruction of the picture plane emerged a medium reborn that powerfully registered the complex experience of living in a world perched on the brink of self-annihilation.”¹ Continue reading “Destroy the Picture. Create the Object.”