An Indifferent Matter?

Installation view of Indifferent Matter; Steven Claydon, A Setting for Ambivalent Objects, 2013, Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London, and The British Museum; Andy Warhol, Silver Clouds, 1966, The Andy Warhol Museum in cooperation with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. and Billy Klüver © The Andy Warhol Foundatio. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones, Courtesy of the Henry Moore Institute
Steven Claydon, A Setting for Ambivalent Objects, 2013, Courtesy the artist and The British Museum; Andy Warhol, Silver Clouds, 1966, The Andy Warhol Museum. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones, Courtesy of the Henry Moore Institute

This is a joint post by Dr. Lara Eggleton of Folly Matters and Dr. Marin R. Sullivan of Sculptural Things.

In the wake of the de-installation of Indifferent Matter: From Object to Sculpture at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds (25 July – 20 October 2013), two friends and art historians decided to co-write a blog based on our own  conversations about the exhibition and on a casual interrogation of one of the show’s curators, Pavel Pyś (and the mineralogist consultant for the show, Mike Rumsey), over Japanese noodles. The exhibition made waves and rustled feathers, particularly evident through a public programme that included talks by Peter Osborne and Richard Checketts, often calling into account its curatorial motivations.

The controversy sprung mainly from the decision to showcase a number of objects that are clearly – and in some cases famously – designated as artworks alongside artefacts and things not commonly placed within a fine art context such as ‘Neolithic jades, a new mineral named during the course of the exhibition, fragments of Roman sculpture and a collection of eoliths.’ All of the objects included in the exhibition, were presented on as equal formal terms as possible, with only the most basic information on small wall labels. As a result, all of the sculptural things on view were equally decontextualized, extricated from their historical or art historical specificity. The intention of the exhibition was to question at what point (or perhaps points) does an object, become not just thing but also a work of art, and once labelled as such, in this case a sculpture, how does it ‘sit’ in time. The elephant in the exhibition space, so to speak, was the fact that the art objects, when paired with natural or ‘artefactual’ objects, were robbed of some art historical authority – a result which proved offensive to some, intriguing to others, and was perhaps totally lost to those with limited specialist knowledge. Continue reading “An Indifferent Matter?”

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Sculpture Matters: recent encounters with figuration, clay, and maverick makers

Thomas Houseago, Baby, 2009-2010, Tuf-Cal, hemp, iron rebar, wood, graphite, charcoal, 104 x 92 x 64 in / 264.2 x 233.7 x 162.6 cm, Photo: Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth
Thomas Houseago, Baby, 2009-2010, Tuf-Cal, hemp, iron rebar, wood, graphite, charcoal, 104 x 92 x 64 in., Photo: Fredrik Nilsen, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth
Henry Moore working on Atom Piece (Working model for Nuclear Energy) in his maquette studio in Perry Green, mid-1960s

Over the last few weeks I have encountered a rather odd collection of sculptural things: the postwar ceramic sculpture of Lucio Fontana and Fausto Melotti bursting with dynamically glazed and roughly handled surfaces, currently on view at the Nasher Sculpture CenterThe Age of Innocence, a victorian bust in three different materials by the English sculptor Alfred Drury at the Henry Moore Institute; a visit to Henry Moore’s house, studios, and now foundation at Perry Green, and most recently what I can only describe as a wonderfully insane lecture by the contemporary sculptor Thomas Houseago, which involved an increasingly drunk, cursing artist saying some surprisingly sincere, profound things about sculpture. Now this is admittedly a random selection of artists and artworks, from various historical eras, with very different intents and purposes. There is, however, a more tangible connection between these sculptors than the happenstance of my travel schedule or current research.

Installation view, showing (left to right): Alfred Drury  'The Age of Innocence' c.1897-1900, Plaster; 1901, Marble;  1906, Bronze. Courtesy Bradford Museums, Leeds Museums and Galleries (Art Gallery), Harris Museum and Art Gallery. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.
Installation view from the Henry Moore Institute, showing (left to right): Alfred Drury, The Age of Innocence, c.1897-1900, Plaster; 1901, Marble; 1906, Bronze. Courtesy Bradford Museums, Leeds Museums and Galleries (Art Gallery), Harris Museum and Art Gallery. Photo: Jerry Hardman-Jones.

There was first and foremost a confrontation with figuration and a reminder of its continuing currency within sculptural practice–an aspect that has always heightened the obdurate if uncanny presence of the sculptural object. I was also struck by the commonalities in the processes of making amongst this group of sculptors, with all utilizing and celebrating the traditional means of creating a sculpture by taking a piece of matter and shaping it with their hands. The transformation of material has always been the distinguishing feature of sculptural practice, so perhaps my noticing this rather conventional practice as such is just because I have spent too many years with minimalist and post-minimalist artists of the 1960s who worked hard to efface the trace of their touch within their work. For an artist like Drury, preliminary modeling and the reproduction of a single work in materials like plaster, marble, and bronze was standard practice, but the acknowledgment of sculpture’s traditional processes does not make sure objects any less interesting when seen together. In fact such material comparison is an illumination, not just to an understanding of sculpture but also to the inherent powers of different substances to convey different tones, effects, and details within the “same” object. Continue reading “Sculpture Matters: recent encounters with figuration, clay, and maverick makers”