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Thinking about Sculpture 1: Modern sculpture can give a wrong impression

I might be contributing some text to an art catalogue/book by a sculptor and in order to fine tune some of my themes and thoughts thought it might be useful to rough them out on the page here. Though I suspect I do not pull that many readers (not to mention sculpture-oriented readers) I do welcome any kind of feedback from those of you who have gotten this far.

(Proviso: as with any discussion of art, every generalization I make will have some counter example because that’s how art moves forward. Also my plan is to present one or two simple suggestions per post so don’t slam me too hard for not being definitive or comprehensive; hopefully sub points and digressions will be answered by the end. Finally, though I welcome authoritative feedback I am not writing as an authority but as a non-academic but very interested party to the like minded.)

Blake Ward: Danza

This nude torso represents both old and new traditions in the history of sculpture. And its very condition adds to the popular misconceptions about sculpture fashioned in the past.

Whatever intentions an artist has when producing a stone nude, one main reason it is so powerful and accepted a format is that it is not that different from stone nudes carved thousands of years ago. It is new in body but old in spirit. It stands outside of time and yet inhabits vast stretches of it.

However, it lies to us in a number of ways.

Because so many sculptures from antiquity have suffered the ravages of time, losing limbs and sometimes heads, we have come to see a limbless figure as normative. We have come to feel that it represents ancient origin when it does the opposite. It only represents how an old work has survived everything from burials to fires to wind and, most of all, time and more time. Lacking limbs says more about today than about yesterday.

The second way in which this lies it that it is pure white and unadorned. The bare stone of ancient works is also a result of the ravage of time, of decoration being worn away by the elements. At the time they tended to be painted, and to a modern sensibility, quite garishly.

So modern tradition has altered our sense of the past – a Stalinist-resembling erasing of some aspects of the past to create a modernized minimal all white clean and “classical” art. This virtual past is now the official precedent of modern figurative sculpture. It’s not exactly Stalinist since this was not a concerted effort with political aim but more the natural result of having imperfect visual records of the past.

Blake Ward – Danza

To my mind, this figure, though it calls on the past, seems to be a very modern body (both leaner and bigger breasted than would be expected).

4 comments on “Thinking about Sculpture 1: Modern sculpture can give a wrong impression

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