Food (as) Sculpture

My Imperia past maker
My Imperia pasta maker

Happy New Year! Yes, January is already almost over, but I am finally feeling like I have emerged from the endless crush of projects that seem to pile up at the end of the semester/year and the haze that is the holiday season. In reflecting back on the last month, however, I could not help but thinking–unsurprisingly given the time of year–about how much time I have spent recently (happily) in the kitchen: cooking, baking, and cocktail-making. While resisting the urge to just go ahead and start writing a food blog, I cannot help but also muse over how much connectivity exists between the things in my kitchen and the sculptural things I wrestle with at my desk. Sure, there are the more obvious examples like the Imperia Pasta Maker. With its wooden crank handle, metal heft, and glossy, cherry red finish, this beautiful thing churns out delicate strips of dough, transformed further into all varieties of shapes, but more frequently rests, enjoying pride of place on one of our shelves, as a beloved aesthetic object. There is also the panoply of contorted, textured fruits and vegetables–the nubby celery root, the fuzzy kiwi, the sinuous pepper–and the processes that seem to mimic the activities of the sculptor’s studio–kneading dough, frosting (patinating?!) a cake, chiseling a butternut squash, etc.

Raphaelle Peale, Still Life with Peaches, 1821, oil on panel, 12 13/16 x 19 5/16 in. (32.5 x 49 cm), Brooklyn Museum of Art
Raphaelle Peale, Still Life with Peaches, 1821, oil on panel, 12 13/16 x 19 5/16 in. (32.5 x 49 cm), Brooklyn Museum of Art

Of course the connection between food and art is as old as humanity itself and certainly not limited to sculpture. As I was reminded of during a recent visit to the enticing Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture and Cuisine at the Art Institute of Chicago, there is a rich tradition of food as subject matter in painting: from the hunting images on the walls of the Lascaux Caves to Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s wonderfully bizarre portraits composed of food to Raphaelle Peale’s bowls of peaches so incandescently rendered you can almost feel the fuzz of their skins and smell their ripe, sweet scent.

Installation of work by Claes Oldenburg at the Green Gallery, New York, 1962
Installation of work by Claes Oldenburg at the Green Gallery, New York, 1962

There is however, something about the shared three-dimensionality of sculpture and food—their mutual ability to generate powerful multi-sensory, spatial experiences—that generates an especially potent, if unsettling, charge. Continue reading “Food (as) Sculpture”

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(The) Contemporary: Reflections on the 55th Venice Biennale

Sarah Sze, Triple Point, 2013, mixed media. Installation view, US pavilion, Venice, 2013. Photo by the author.

The 55th installment of the Venice Biennale has come to a close, ending yet another months-long, ever-expansive spectacle of contemporary art seen by 475,000 visitors, in a century’s old city that remains a spectacle in and of itself. The sheer scale and scope of the exhibition–this year comprised of a main exhibition curated by Massimiliano Gioni entitled The Encyclopedic Palace that included 150 artists, 88 participating nations, and close to 50 collateral events–makes seeing everything and subsequently reflecting upon it nearly impossible. I visited in early November while on a research trip, and I am surprised by how much my experience at, and of, this year’s Biennale has stayed with me, by how profound an impact it has had on me as an art historian. I say surprised not only because I am disposed to a cynical suspicion about now-ubiquitous international contemporary art biennales and fairs, which somehow manage to be both bloated and vacuous, but also because, as a historian who works on postwar art of the not-so-distant past, my relationship to “the contemporary” and “contemporary art,” both in regards to my teaching and scholarship, has felt rather tortured of late. Continue reading “(The) Contemporary: Reflections on the 55th Venice Biennale”

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?”

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”

If you like art, y’all really should get yourself to Dallas…

Return to Earth: Ceramic Sculpture of Fontana, Melotti, Miró, and Picasso, 1943-1963 at Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas
Return to Earth: Ceramic Sculpture of Fontana, Melotti, Miró, and Picasso, 1943-1963 at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas. Photo by the author.

I haven’t posted any new entries over the past couple of weeks on account of a busy travel schedule that took me to from Chicago to Louisville (for a very lovely non-sculpture, though hilariously art history-related wedding), then to Dallas (for a very lovely new exhibition on ceramic sculpture), back to Chicago for night, before departing for a new academic term in Leeds. Over the next few weeks I will be posting on the two current exhibitions at the Henry Moore Institute, The Age to Innocence: Replicating the Ideal Portrait in the New Sculpture Movement and Indifferent Matter: From Object to Sculpture, a piece related to a new research project on the Italian artist Alberto Burri, and the Nasher Sculpture Center’s recently opened Return to Earth: Ceramic Sculpture of Fontana, Melotti, Miró, Noguchi, and Picasso, 1943-1963; the latter being the reason for my trip to Dallas. So a nice early autumn line-up of sculptural things, but I thought I would do a quick post today about Dallas as a bona-fide destination for art and architecture enthusiasts.

Richard Serra's My Curves Are Not Mad (1987), currently installed in the garden of the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas
Richard Serra’s My Curves Are Not Mad (1987), Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas. Photo by the author.

Now in full disclosure, I lived in Dallas for six years. I began my career at the Nasher Sculpture Center and fell in love with sculpture while working there for nearly all of those six years. I interned at the Dallas Museum of Art, and received an MA from Southern Methodist University. So I unavoidably have a bias, but I think as an outsider who never fully acclimated and with the exception of its appearance in the above title, fervently resisted the ubiquitous ‘y’all’ while living there, I am also cognizant of the widespread bias against Dallas, especially by those based in larger, more cosmopolitan cities. None of this, however, should dissuade you though from taking my most sincere advice to put Dallas on your arts radar, especially for this autumn. A lot has changed in Dallas and there is a lot going on. Continue reading “If you like art, y’all really should get yourself to Dallas…”