Empty Plinths and Changing Landscapes – Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Yinka Shonibare, Wind Sculpture, 2013. Installed at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Yinka Shonibare, Wind Sculpture, 2013. Installed at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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.

St Bartholomew’s Chapel, 1744. Photo courtesy of visitleeds.co.uk
St Bartholomew’s Chapel, 1744. Photo courtesy of visitleeds.co.uk

A perfect example of the sculpture park done right can be experienced at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Located near Wakefield, about 2o miles south of Leeds in the north of England, YSP occupies the 500 acres of the Breton Hall Estate, which was built in 1720. Continue reading “Empty Plinths and Changing Landscapes – Yorkshire Sculpture Park”

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”

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