Sculpture course drawing to a close

sculptures at Louise Nevelson Plaza in downtown Manhattan

Overall I have to say that I very much enjoyed this course on sculpture, sculptors, public art, the public’s perception of it, and the recent and distant history of sculpture.  Coming from the perspective of an artist who makes sculpture, it was a nice shift in focus to look at these topics with a class comprised of mostly art history students.  I especially enjoyed the attention given to how the public views such works.  So often in the art world, at least among artists, it seems like we talk about the art and appreciate it or validate it only in the context of other artfully informed people (namely other artists, collectors, historians etc).  It bothers me that this seems to seclude the general public, who yes is poorly learned about art history and current art trends, but I think they still have a valid voice about the artwork.  People who know nothing about a sculpture in a park, say the works on The High Line, Akihiro Ito’s wooden forms, or Louise Nevelson’s large metal pieces sometimes seem to be the people who most appreciate and enjoy the art because they don’t have any basis by which to judge, critique, or discredit the work or the artist.  For me, sometimes all of those pre-understandings just feel like baggage brought to the experience of the art.  I guess rather than seeing sculptors and sculpture differently, I see the work itself in the public realm differently.  I am more aware now how the public place, and mostly outdoor public places, really changes the work and informs it greatly.  Often, the viewers in these places are on the go, and are not present for the purpose of viewing art, which means the work will speak differently to them, either as a nuisance in some way or added pleasure to their day.

http://www.nycgovparks.org/art

Akihiro Ito’s “Tomorrow” at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn

Pablo Picasso, installation in the artist’s studio, Paris, December 9, 1912 or later, Gelatin silver print, 3 ⅜ “ x 4 ½ “ (Private Collection)

Studying sculpture’s history shed new light to me about sculpture.  I find it fascinating that it is not really a new method for sculptors to have others make their work.  Sculptors back in the 19th century weren’t the ones whose hands carved each statue.  Skillful labor did that.  It was also interesting to look at Picasso as a sculptor and not as a painter, which he is always categorized as.  His guitars in paper and shoddy materials seem so contemporary as many artists today use “trash” as art material but this in no way devalues the art in today’s context as much high art is made from everything from cheap to highly expensive materials.  I also enjoyed looking at memorials in the context of sculpture.  I never thought of them this way, but now in my mind, I would definitely put memorials as a type of sculpture.  Though it serves a different purpose than most sculpture in museums and galleries, it is still a very fluid thing that it serves.  It is a memorial, which is a physical entity but more importantly serves to aid the memory of something.  Somehow memorials are all about the experience one can have in its presence or space that might help to coup with loss, understand tragic events, bring people together, or to show honor and respect.  Like art, they don’t exist for truly “practical” or “necessary” reasons, but as humans, we create them because we have these yearnings or needs to remember and to feel.

Isamu Noguchi, Sunken Garden for Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, New York City. 1961-64. Courtesy of The Noguchi Museum.

Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube in downtown Manhattan

Jeff Koons’ Balloon Flowers in downtown Manhattan

It is hard to say what could enhance the learning in this course about sculpture and its relationship with the public.  Perhaps looking more at the actual public and truly finding out what they feel about certain works.  This could even be just a small investigation of how people working in downtown Manhattan feel toward the works we looked at such as the two Noguchi pieces, Louise Nevelson’s sculptures, or the Jeff Koons.  I’m not sure how this could be done, but I would be interested in casually talking with other bystanders or onlookers about their thoughts.  Even the gentleman who let us go into the Chase building to see the Noguchi said he isn’t much of an art person, which I find interesting since he works in the same building where the art is on view.

I probably won’t keep my sculpture blog up and running.  I honestly feel like it is not as great as it could be and if I am going to share a blog, I would want it to truly be better and given more attention.  I have done very little blogging in the past, so I think I would consider this to be good practice for if and when I want to keep a blog for a longer period of time.  The few months before this class began, I considered starting a blog on art, faith, and life for me in New York City, but I didn’t know quite when or how to start.  Though this blog was a bit of a different focus, the consistent blogging I did this semester has given me a good cue into how I can do that.  So I think a consistent blog will be a bit on hold for now.  If I do start one up again, I would definitely include sculpture and images of works I go and see or am drawn to.  I have all my posts so I may include some of them as well.

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Free Blog-Phoebe Washburn

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several of these “tunnels” run horizontal through the width of the structure, open at both ends for viewers to peer through to the other side.

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one of my favorite boxes I got to assemble!

Last semester I was in an internship class that forced me to find an internship of my choosing.  On a sort of whim, I picked an artist I had only recently discovered, and decided to try getting an internship with that artist.  After only a few emails, I was able to meet with and then work as a studio assistant with Phoebe Washburn, which was an amazing experience.  I had only seen her work online as she was suggested for me to look at from someone I met at a gallery opening since I’m interested in doing large installation work. The first in person work of hers I got to see was work that I was able to help build.  She has exhibited at Zach Feuer gallery (http://www.zachfeuer.com/artists/phoebe-washburn/) in Chelsea since she finished her MFA at SVA in 2002 doing small as well as large sculptural work.  Her larger more known installation pieces are these circular or round structures made up entirely of found wood of various sizes, textures, and color.  In some installations, she uses an excess amount of overlapping found cardboard pieces to create these large structures.  Often the work is interactive in some way, either being enterable by humans or housing for plant life.  Other materials become part of the work including clamp lamps, exposed extension cords, zip ties, stickers, or T-shirt strips.  Neon colors of orange, yellow, green, and pink find their way into her work.  In her studio are ample supplies of neon stickers, neon paint, neon dye, neon shells, and gel neon pens for drawings she creates on painted newsprint.  Phoebe’s work seems to have this thread of neon through all her work, big and small.  It comes from her fascination with the story behind the invention of Gatorade and the unexpected triumph and affect a simple idea had on athletes and creating a new industry.  Working with Phoebe one on one gave me a great opportunity to really experience her art in a way that is closer to the experience the artist has with the work rather than viewers in museums or galleries only seeing the finished product.  I always asked plenty of questions about her practice, where she finds her ideas, and what she finds that has worked for her and what hasn’t.  She always was very easy to talk with and open to ideas I had too.  It was reaffirming that how she thinks and works was rather familiar to me in my own practice.  Much of our conversation was so down to earth and her studio practice, though labor intensive at times, is rather steady and even paced.  It wasn’t until about five months after I ended my internship that I was able to see one of her large scale installations, and it was one I had helped build.  Her installation fills the floor and upward space inside a tight spiral staircase at the National Academy Museum, which is on the Upper East Side, next to the Guggenheim.  It was exciting to see it finished, but part of the wow factor was different since I had seen all the wood parts before.  There were certain wood “boxes” as Phoebe calls them, that I recalled building, and it was nice to reunite with a few of my favorites and see some unexpected new aspects.  I felt like I had a bit of a different experience than anyone else there, not necessarily better or worse, just different, but definitely a good experience.

All four images are of this same installation which is titled “nudes, housed within their own clothes and aware of their individual thirst, descending a staircase”

The work is currently on view until September 2013.

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Highlights on The High Line

Today our class took a nice stroll along Manhattan’s west side up on The High Line.  The air was cold, but at least the pace was slower than down below.  I think that since people can take time to walk and actually look at their surroundings rather than bust their chops to get somewhere, this allows for people to enjoy the public artwork and for more intricate types of artwork to be present.  The current public artworks on view include a number of works as part of the Lilliput group exhibition.  These are all small sculptures in unanticipated places along The High Line.  Although people might not notice these tiny works unless they are intentionally looking for them, I think this makes the works more special giving them a surprise factor.  For some people who walk The High Line everyday, this might make their experience a bit new each time as they notice a sculpture they never saw before rather than trying to ignore the massive strange artwork that is always in their face, as some public artwork does.  photo 1(1)I especially liked Tomoaki Suzuki’ssmall urban man, Carson and Allyson Vieira’s stacked casts of a paper cup titled Construction (Rampart)photo 4They are both small and unassuming, but oddly familiar.  I think I am drawn to them because they are clearly representations of something we know of in our world, but recreated in an altered state.  I like that both pieces, as well as most of the artwork on the High Line, is made from bronze.  I usually think of bronze in terms of larger sculptures, and other more delicate materials for smaller sculptures.  It’s a nice juxtaposition to see small works in a more permanent, weather withstanding material.  I like the humor of Carson as it is a representation of a real person, just tiny!  Something about miniature things is intriguing.  On The High Line, this piece is more obviously a sculpture or piece of art…but Construction (Rampart) stands out less as “artwork on The High Line” and more as something part of The High Line environment itself.  One might have to think again to know if it is artwork or something else.  Which actually this piece does affect and is affected by its environment as its purpose is to catch leaves, water, other elements as it deteriorates and becomes more a part of its surroundings over time.  This piece seems to hinge on functional and art as it acts as both.  As far as signage goes, it is difficult to find a way to present that vital information to viewers.  I think the signage we saw was good.  I think some people really like reading information of what they are looking at, but others just want to enjoy the artwork that resides in the same space they are walking.  So I think it’s good to let the work just be while also providing information somewhere for those who want to read it.  To some maybe the signage is too small, and for most of the works, I didn’t see the signage until someone else pointed it out…but that didn’t bother me.  While I like to read and know about the artwork and the artist etc, signage could get in the way of the artwork’s space, especially for small pieces such as the Lilliput works.

Public Art in Downtown Manhattan

Minus the chilly windy air, I rather enjoyed our class’s downtown walk a couple weeks ago.  I would have to say the 9/11 memorial is my favorite.  It was the largest sculpture we saw and of course has multiple layers of depth, purpose, and emotion because of the mere fact it is a memorial, and one that reflects upon an event in my lifetime.  Of course the placement of the memorial is obvious, but the structure of it is what I like best.  In an area where everything goes up, skyscrapers all around, and here is a memorial that stands no taller than the height of a child but goes down in the opposite direction.  The vast space that each waterfall inverted cube takes up is astonishing in a city where every space is taken up so that we are left with gargantuan structures and yet cramped little living quarters, eateries, and work spaces.  The memorial is almost a breath of fresh air, literally.  Not only land, but sky real estate is hard to come by in manhattan, but the 9/11 memorial takes up no sky space but rather allows for the empty sky to be open there.

I also liked Louise Nevelson Plaza.  I like that these sculptures have allotted space apart from sharing their location with the same sidewalk that gets us where we want to go.  Rather these tree-like sculptures create almost a garden, but a very urban garden as they are abstracted shapes made from only metal material.  They are part of their own little island just for them.  In the Senie reading, I read that Nevelson preferred wood as her more favorite material, but with new more durable materials coming to the forefront, she embraced those.

The making of publically placed artwork presents many more issues than that of indoor museum or gallery work.  Most outdoor large-scale public works are made from metal since it is structurally sound as well as weather resistant.  The process of creating such works is almost impossible without the rise of funding of these public works and a facility to create them such as Lippincott’s foundry.

Yet, there is always the issue of if these works are even noticed by the public in which they reside.

I think that public works will always be viewed by many but also not even noticed by many.  It is just the nature of our world and the varying interests of everyone, but the opportunity to view public works is openly there for everyone.  I wonder about the 9/11 memorial’s placement.  Since it is a memorial to such a recent event, everyone knows where it is, but I wonder if in a hundred years it will be less visited since it isn’t at all visible by just a passerby since it is so low.  Or even if people know about it, they might not know why it is where it is or how to find it since they won’t have memory of what the trade towers were.  Of course the placement of the memorial is a no brainer.  The bird’s eye computer images of what the memorial area shows many trees.  I wonder if in time, the memorial will become more of a park to enjoy by sitting, reflecting, and listening to the waterfalls.  To those in

coming decades who may know little about the events of 9/11, the peacefulness of the space may drive them to learn about why the memorial is even there in the first place.  It may serve as more of this kind of a place to people, which is a beautiful thing in such a bustling forward progressing city.

Fort Greene Park-Akihiro Ito

I caught a glimpse of it as I was biking by the park.  The large sculpture is hard to miss even when peddling by in a rush to get somewhere.  Akihiro Ito’s Tomorrow is a large temporary piece which stands at the northeast corner entrance to the Fort Greene Park.  The shape of it is to look like a baby, and when I first saw it, I did see an anthropomorphic shape with a simplified head and body.  What struck me most about the piece is the color.  The warm natural wood color with its variations of hues against the fresh green trees and the cool grey cobblestone walkway was inviting.  Although trees are wood themselves, the interior color is quite different than the bark we see on the outside, so there is a nice contrast of colors in this setting.  Often we see this light brownish beige color tone in furniture, which is indoors in the spaces we dwell.  So I think these wood colors naturally have a sort of welcoming presence to them.  Ito’s piece is about the connection of humans and nature and the preciousness of that to be kept for future generations, hence the baby form. The City of New York Park and Recreation website’s description says it is meant to “remind us that we are all part of earth’s family.”  I wish that the sculpture had more than just one human figure.  If the piece is meant to conjure up thoughts of family, I think a single baby alone doesn’t read as well as if there was evidence of another figure.   I’m sure the artist has intent for a single figure as he has done other public works that incorporate multiple figures.  The baby is also large and heavy it seems to dominate.  A baby is often thought of as small and precious…however for the sake of being a noticeable sculpture in a large open area, the size does well.  Of course it is my own opinion and taste, and I do realize it is maybe more of a abstracted form of a baby meant to represent the weight of the future.

Going back to the color of the piece.  I love that it is clearly natural material, wood, and yet clearly has been altered by the artists’ hand in fabrication.  Both are evident, neither are ignored.  I think this is a great connection between us humans and our way of incorporating nature into our lives.  We make furniture from natural materials and then live and function with that furniture and it sort of becomes another being to us as we touch, sit on, and have life around such objects.  Even here, as seen in the photo, children are interacting with the sculpture.  The sculpture acts as a bridge between who we are and what nature is.  Since the piece stands at the entrance to a “natural habitat” right in the city, I think it is a good place for transitioning one from a busy city life to a calmer more contemplative place, the park.

Figures of the past and present

Abstract and non-representational art has a much more recent history than figurative art.  Although if we look back to caveman paintings, I would say those are rather abstract if viewing from a purely visual and out of time context.  Since the beginning of time or rather the beginning of when man began creating art or his/her own reflection of what he/she saw, felt, or knows it seems the human figure has been central and though certain methods and styles have dropped off, the human figure remains. We looked at Alina Szapocznikow whose work is entirely around the human figure, yet fully contemporary.  Other artists such as Henry Moore, Brancusi, and even Antony Gormly

Antony Gormly’s “Critical Mass” -various casts of the artist’s body

and Kiki Smith present us with contemporary works that reflect the human figure.  It is no surprise I think that artists and even mankind are as interested as ever in the human figure being represented in art.  Sometimes I wonder too if this has anything to do with our being created by God and His making us in His image.  I believe in God and my personal relationship with Him is part or rather is my life daily, in everything I do.  The longer I journey with Him, I

Reclining Connected Forms by Henry Moore at Hatfield House

find I am farther and farther from what and who He is, and yet still made in His image, puzzling and a forever mystery to be discovered.  So I think, just my own idea, that man is constantly and forever searching to represent or understand or know himself/herself because we are not our own, we were made and to know ourselves is to know our Creator. This makes the human form a subject that will always be of deep interest and beauty.  Not only for the artist to be re-presenting but also the viewer has a connection too.  Often non-representational work appears to look like a human figure to the viewer whether the artist intended it or not.

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s “Ugolino” detail

There is much in the human figure’s physicality that becomes representational of what is non-physical of humans.  In all the sculpture before the 19th century, the human figure was always highly representational, and yet the emotions or situations in which the figure was placed were often highly idealized or exaggerated in emotion.  It’s almost as if this “new sculpture” reflects the emotions and feelings within a human on the surface, actually changing or affecting what the physical appears to be.  If we look at Carpeaux for example, we see the highly representational figures but they are far more than just their bodies.  The intense emotion seems to supersede the natural, making the emotion or feeling of the sculpture to become almost abstracted.

There is also another side to this “new sculpture” which has to do with the materials.  In non-representational/abstract sculpture, one becomes far more aware of the material presented before them.  Be it stone, steel, wood, or ceramic, if something is abstract, it becomes its own representation of itself, not another entity.  I find it interesting how David Smith discusses materials.  He describes these new art materials that were “previously meant only for labor and earning power” are now the materials with which he uses to make art.  He states “iron or steel I hold in high respect.  What it can do in arrive at a form economically, no other material can do. The metal itself possesses little art history. What associations it possesses are those of this century: power, structure, movement, progress, suspension…”  There is this new rise of respect for the material itself in the artwork.  I think in the new more abstracted sculpture, the work does not have to deny it’s material make-up, but can be part of the concept.

David Smith’s sculptures from his Voltri-Bolton Landing Series which are made with materials from the site where was working, Bolton Landing in Voltri, Italy

Maya Lin

Yesterday in class we watched the documentary “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision”.  What struck me the most in all the projects the film explored was Maya’s honesty and commitment to the heart of what the memorial or structure should be for or about.  She indeed has a strong clear vision of how she wants the work to be, not only in the physical manifestation but also in the emotional.  Both are linked well and work hand in hand with all her work.  I had seen some of her sculptures before, but was not familiar with her story and the full body of her work.  I recall seeing an installation of hers in San Francisco about four years ago.  It was in process, but on view, so as we walked through the space, we could see the interior structure of this massive wood wave-like piece.  I barely knew of her work, but loved what I saw.  Last year I saw her Wavefield piece at Storm King, which is a series of large wave-like mounds created from the earth and grass.  It is her largest piece on a land of about eleven acres with the waves on about four acres.

I looked at her website as well which is beautifully done.  Against a black background are a series of thin vertical lines undulating across the screen.  As you move the cursor over the lines they expand into thumbnail images and audibly sing a different note for each thumbnail.  You can choose to categorize the works by type such as Art, Architecture, or Memorials at which the thin lines lightly fall down the screen almost like rain, leaving behind only that category’s lines.  The simple lines against the black surface recall the names on black marble of her Civil Rights and Vietnam Veterans memorials.  As one moves the cursor and the lines expand and move creating audible sounds is like the interaction she so welcomes viewers to have with her memorials.

I found many of her other work intriguing as well.  She has done many smaller sculptures that are very much reflective of her architectural style.  I especially like her works in which she seems to transform these mundane objects of refuse into something distinct, intentional and beautiful.

Watching the documentary was quite inspiring to me.  What an incredible feat for her to have won the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at such a young age.  Our class watched this film on the perfect day for me.  Right now I’m applying for a major scholarship/fellows program and after class I went to mail in documents and upload my finished portfolio and application.  I have been working for weeks on this and finally was able to send it off yesterday.  I felt a bit like Maya Lin in this process since I know the competition I’m up against, and realistically I don’t have a chance.  Like Maya, I figure I have nothing to lose and a lot to gain.  I was inspired by Maya’s aspirations and firm stance to not stray from her original design of the Vietnam memorial no matter how small she may be in the fight.  In the same way, for my application, I decided to stick to the heart of what I do and why I do it and let that show, not becoming distracted by others.

After watching the documentary, her story was percolating in my mind.  I began thinking about my thesis show and the incredible amount of work I will have to put in for this project to be realized.  Whenever I see “rock star” artists (term used by a professor I had in undergrad) doing their thing and looking back on how they started and seeing the way they keep on going no matter what, I want nothing more than to do that.  As irrational as it is for me to win the scholarship, do this installation for my thesis show, or for a college student to enter a national design competition, it’s always worth it at minimum to try.