Friday, 17 May 2013

Sculpture: the Physical World

Sculpture: The Physical World, at Tate Liverpool.
Curated by Michael Craig-Martin, this exhibition focuses on the complex ways sculpture informs our understanding and experience of the physical world. The emphasis is on the direct physical as well as visual response of the viewer in relation to the art. Craig-Martin painted the three gallery spaces a different vivid colour which was a refreshing way of looking at the art, but not that good for taking photographs or for displaying them: even though I loved the pink while I was in the gallery, and I spent a long time there, I got a bit tired of it while I was writing up this post.
Craig-Martin also created a new large-scale wall drawing made specially for the space. The drawing combines the word 'sculpture' with boldly outlined motifs of dozens of everyday objects, from ice trays to umbrellas.
The first gallery, a vast space, the pink very appealing.

South Bank Circle, Richard Long, 1991

A circle, nearly two metres in diameter, composed of 168 pieces of slate lying close together on the floor. The pieces may be assembled in a wide variety of configurations within the defining form of the circle. Long has specified that every stone should touch the stones adjoining it, so that they all become 'locked together. Bringing together the unevenly shaped pieces of slate in the geometric structure of the cirdle, the sculpture illustrates a theme common in Long's work, the relationship between people and nature. 'You could say that my work is a balance between the patterns of nature and the formalism of human, abstract ideas like lines and circles. It is where human characteristics meet the natural forces and patterns of the world, and that is really the kind of subject of my work'.

Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917 (replica)

Fountain is the most famous of Duchamp's 'readymades' - ordinary manufactured objects designated by the artist as works of art. It epitomises the assault on conventions and accepted  notions of art that Duchamp is famous for and which changed the nature of modern art. The original, which is now lost, consisted of a standard urinal, laid flat on its back and signed R. Mutt. This work is one of a small number that the artist authorised in 1964 based on a photograph of the original by Alfred Stieglitz.

Sawdy, Edward Kienholtz,1971

A scene of racial violence viewed through a car window. The photograph derives from a tableau staged by the artist in a car park, which depicted a group of white men castrating a black man. Kienholtz implicates the viewer in the scene, as if we are sitting in one of the pick-up trucks. The number on the licence plate indicates that this is the fourth in an edition of five.

looking closer at the scene through the car window

144 Magnesium Square, Carl Andre, 1969

Andre's metal floor sculptures are intended to be walked on. Andre accepted that the surface of the work would be altered by visitors' footsteps, observing that it 'becomes its own record of everything that's happened to it'.

Wrapped Cans. Part of Inventory. Christo, 1959-60

Christo began wrapping and transforming objects in the 1950s reflecting his preoccupation with the 20th century phenomenon of wrapping.

Black Bean, Andy Warhol, 1968

Using screenprinting, Warhol could simulate the mechanical effect of his source to the extent that the resulting image appears almost untransformed. Yet, the rich colour, enlargement of scale and unifying black outline are reminders that these are commercial techniques being used in the context of high art, no longer selling products, but presenting them as objects for contemplation. As such, they pose radical questions about the value of art and the way it is consumed.

Emak Bakia, Man Ray, 1926, remade 1970

'Nature, from the sea-shell to the galaxy, is full of spirals: when I was a young man I was already obsessed by this form; when working as a draughtsman I was fascinated by curves, spirals, parabolas, hyperbolas'.

Untitled, Alexander Calder, 1937

Calder started making sculptures to which Duchamp gave the name mobiles in 1931. They could be moved by hand or by small electric motors. From 1934 onwards he started making pieces which were set in motion by air currents.


Drains, Robert Gober, 1990

Gober has made many sculptures of domestic objects such as sinks, drains, urinals, cots and doors. They closely resemble the manufactured originals but are in fact hand-made by the artist. In the mid-1980s he made whole sink units, and later isolated the drain elements, embedding them in unexpected locations  such as tables and walls. His drains has a mundane, domestic presence yet are potentially suggestive, evoking the intimate bodily process of personal hygiene.

Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank, Jeff Koons, 1985

The tank is filled with distilled water and a small amount of sodium chloriede to assist the hollow balls in remaining suspended in the centre of the liquid. The ultimate message is that death is the ultimate state of being, we were told.

Head No. 2, Naum Gabo

Gabo was associated with the Constructivists at the time of the Russian Revolution. They saw an artistic renewal as part of the revolution and embraced new scientific theories and industrial materials. A method known as 'stereometric construction' was central to Gabo's work, by which form was achieved through the description of space rather than the establishment of mass. In 1915-20 Gabo used planes to construct heads and figures that demonstrated the application of this method. 'We take four planes and we construct with them the same volume as of  four tons of mass'.  

This is a later enlargement of the most dramatic of these models.

Knock, Knock, Eva Rothchild, 2005

Playing on the relationship between abstraction and the figurative, Knock Knock combines many of Rothchild's formal and thematic concerns, referring to themes of instability and mutability, favourite themes of the artist. The sculpture seems to be 'magically floating', according to Rothchild.

The influence of minimalist artists of the 1970s is evident, particularly that of Eva Hesse.

'I am interested in the ways people look at things; how people bring their narrative modes of looking at things... But the objects themselves aren't the same as the things people want or imagine them to be.... For me, making work is about creating something experiential - visual, physical, spatial - but also something that refuses legibility, or an immediate summing up. It just is itself. I guess I have a phenomelogical take on it'.

 Pagoda Fruit, Jean Arp, 1949
Francis Bacon, ‘Study for Portrait on Folding Bed’ 1963
Study for Portrait on Folding Bed, Brancis Bacon, 1963 
As in most of Bacon's paintings, the body is highly distorted: parts of the head and lower body are almost illegible. He has used texture and fisceral colours to describe the flesh, bone and blood of the head. The dribbles and splatters of paint are reminiscent of leaking bodily fluids, bringing attention to the physicality of the body and suggesting violence.
Table Piece  CCLXVI, Anthony Caro, 1975

At just over two metres wide, this work is comparable to the width of a person's outstretched arms. 'All sculpture is to do with the physical - all sculpture takes its bearings from the fact that we live inside our bodies and that our size and stretch and strength is what it is'.

Yellow Eight, Richard Wentworth, 1985

'We become accustomed to natural patterns - the door and its dormat. When their positions are disrupted something fundamental happens (commonplaces such as the ruck-and-jam method of  holding a door open with a mat). The displaced doormat has a new identity, a shift of an inch or two changes it from passive to active. Such adjustments invigorate tired and overlooked relationships, as the contradiction, humour and absurdity of the new alliance presents itself'.

Yellow Eight testifies to Wentworth's affection for the mundane: two galvanised steel buckets have been cut and soldered together to produce a hybrid, figure-of-eight object that is both single and double. An impression of water inside the buckets is created by the reflective surface of a highly polished brass sheet inserted just below the rim. Wentworth has a disdain for monumentality and a penchant for the everyday. He disrupts the conventional significance of everyday objects and his subtle alterations block their usual functions. Everyday household objects thus assume new identities as works of art, embodying both the familiar and unfamiliar.
Addendum, Eva Hesse, 1967 
The hemispheres along the bar of Eva Hesse's Addendum are positioned at increasing intervals determined by a fixed mathematical series. Many artists used serial systems at this time because they provided a way of composing sculptures without recourse to personal expression. Hesse hung rope cords from each hemisphere which fall to the ground in unpredictable curls. The regulated structure of the bar contrasts with the disordered appearance of the cords. Hesse recognised that such systems were hardly rational, commenting that 'serial art is another way of repeating absurdity'.
In working with a series of forms, Hesse was engaging with the language of Minimalism, but whereas Minimalism was all about repetition and geometry, Hesse wanted to introduce a note of disorder to her sculpture, hence the snaking, coiling cords. As you stare at this sculpture, something disburting occurs: the hemispheres begin to look like breasts; the ropes become disconcerting trickles of liquid: breast-milk? blood?
By working with unconventional materials such as latex, fibreglass, wax, wire-mesh and cheesecloth,  she changed the course of post-war art and has been idolised by the art community ever since - and by me. Yet, despite all this, she remains under-appreciated by the wider public.
For more on her work, go here .
A closer look at those hemisphere
Another look at the sculpture as it was my favourite of the exhibition
A closer look at the cords on the floor.

 Finally, a view of the Albert Dock from the window, as this was part of the gallery experience.

 and one more.


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