26 October 2012
The Trouble With Sculpture
[Via The Nation]
“If there comes a day when all art is digital, artworks will subsist in some ether whence they may be conjured to appear and vanish at our convenience. In this new era, I suppose, there will be only two art galleries, which will have swallowed up all the others. Chances are they’ll have names like Pacebook and Googlegosian, and their offerings will be accessible anytime, anywhere. But until that future arrives, some artists will persist in making things that are tangibly, compellingly, perhaps even brutally present—physically and psychologically. That is, they will keep making sculpture.
And they’ll do it knowing that sculpture is the most inconvenient of the fine arts. Tedious physical labor is often involved in its making—not necessarily the artist’s, but still, someone’s. And sculpture is hard to move and to keep: it’s heavy and cumbersome, except when it’s terribly fragile and evanescent and likely to be swept up during housecleaning and put out with the trash. For viewers too, sculpture can be hard to come to terms with, and not just because, as some wiseguy whom posterity alternately identifies as Barnett Newman or Ad Reinhardt once remarked, sculpture is what you back into when you’re stepping away from a painting to get a better look at it. (That’s just as true when you’re trying to take a picture of a painting with a smartphone.)
The digital revolution has given us, for the first time, the image in its pure form, an image without body. The image conveyed by a painting, on the other hand, is always a material entity, however unobtrusive, a particular thing made out of pigments, binders and a support. Sculpture, in turn, is often far more physically obtrusive than painting, and to the extent that it offers a multiplicity of possible viewpoints, it generates many images, but typically none of them are the image of the work. The physical impression a sculpture makes is more powerful than its imagistic content, which seems merely transitory by comparison.”