22 January 2007

Defining Sculpture

Hoo! That Graves article is a lot like the podcast--it's confusing and difficult, with technical problems and nothing (relevant) to look at. Of course, the podcast simply suffers its audio-only nature, an Austrian accent and a bad microphone... which leaves Graves with more explaining to do. What's with the goofy masks?

But masks, schmasks. Graves made Johanna Burton sound kinda like a moron. Of course sculpture needs a viewer! Even more so than other mediums, one could argue, because sculpture is static until the viewer walks around it in the flesh. Duh!

And yeah, Burton did say that sculpture doesn't need you, but the Graves article doesn't do the context of this quote justice. Burton was talking about getting to a definition of sculpture that is structural and not material. That is of its own merits and not in relationship or in opposition to other things (ie, it's not architecture). And the "doesn't need you" quip made sense in the original context of sculpture's basic unruliness, in a talk and not in a paper.

Soooooooo, let's dispense with Graves' assesment of the podcast. I think she quickly wrote something that priviledges her existing assumptions about the "post-medium" condition.

I would rather give Johanna Burton props for asking Krauss to step aside. A definition that is not based on other mediums (not painting, not architecture) and that is structural and not materials-based (if it's bronze, then it's sculpture) seems important, and she is right about the character of sculpture--it isn't here to help her. Burton has every right to talk around this problem. She's asking for a verbal solution to an obstinately unverbal situation.

In true blogging style, I am opining when I have not yet read Burton's essay for The Uncertainty of Objects And Ideas. But I have listened to her talk about writing the essay, and so, have thoughts about defining sculpture that seem appropriate to throw out at this point.

A sculpture is a work of art that derives its meaning from sculptural concepts, including but not limited to the following:

*inside and outside space
*mass and weight and how they push against "empty" space
*scale and size
*made-ness (ie, what does this thing mean because I have made it in this specific way? This can mean process.)
*reality (reality was a big hit on the podcast)
*Newtonian Physics (a subset of reality)
*Problem-Solving (the bumpy road from idea to object)
*Relationship to the viewer's body
*Relationship to the world of built things
*Abutments, Joins and Other Similar Structural Concerns


A sculpture has a relationship to its own bounded nature. It's a thing, not a room. Ideally it's a thing that is in terrible conflict with its thingness and is trying desperately to overcome its boundaries, but that's my own bias.

Looking at sculpture this way separates it from many other 3-D practices like installation or assemblage. And it makes Matthew Barney's film work sculpture. Not necessarily good sculpture, but sculpture.

This kind of definition might inadvertently make Frank Gehry into a sculptor. And there may be other problems. There will be more chewing on this issue in future posts. We haven't even gotten to the meat of the podcasts, which is what the artists have to say.

Next Stop: Rachel Harrison, Mark Handforth, and Reality.


Anonymous Nick said...


Was going to respond to "Crossing the Streams", but got swept up in all this Sturm und Drang. Your newest post is excellent as usual. My own incoherent rant is here.

all best,

22 January, 2007 10:57  

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