Rediscoveries: Modes of Making in Modern Sculpture

Modern art is often presented as a series of radical breaks and rejections of the past, but as Auguste Rodin once said of his work, “I invent nothing; I rediscover.” This new installation of masterworks from the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection traces the roots of several “new” methods of conceiving and making sculpture over the past 125 years.Rediscoveries: Modes of Making in Modern Sculpturepresents familiar works from different historical eras combined in new and unexpected ways, as well as sculptures never before displayed at the Nasher Sculpture Center, most notably Richard Serra’s 1969 Inverted House of Cards.

The exhibition examines four creative strategies essential to modern sculpture. The first section of Rediscoveries is dedicated to artists’ interest in modules, series, and process. The repeated use of elemental, modular units to create sculptural compositions is a defining feature of minimal and post-minimal art. Artists like Carl Andre and Richard Serra experimented with arranging geometric shaped, industrially produced objects into simple configurations that call attention to the physical presence of the objects and the viewer’s relationship to them. The work of Tony Smith and Richard Long take basic shapes from the natural world, multiplying them in profusion, to create evocative compositions. As artworks by Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, and Isamu Noguchi demonstrate, predecessors of minimal art also drew inspiration from repeating natural forms, such as the leaves of a budding plant or, in the case of Constantin Brancusi and Henri Matisse, from the human body itself.

Closely linked to artists’ interest in modular forms, process, and working in series is their fascination with the relation between a whole and its parts, especially the human body. Over the last 125 years, sculptors such as Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, and Alberto Giacometti have experimented with how much can be stripped away from a figure without losing its essence – a concern apparent even in the sleek stele-like abstract form of Ellsworth Kelly’s totemicUntitled. In turn, sculptors’ creative process often involves breaking apart or disassembling work, resulting in fragments – a hand, a head, a torso – that could appear interesting as sculptures in their own right. This practice also allows artists to engage and reinterpret traditional artistic subjects, as in Naum Gabo’s new vision of the bust in Constructed Head No. 2 or Julio Gonzalez’s relic-like Hand with Barbs. The second section of Rediscoveries focuses on this experimental interplay between fragment and totality.

Two additional themes present artists’ engagement with the modern world beyond their studios. A grouping devoted to the machine aesthetic encompasses Raymond Duchamp-Villon’s and John Storrs’ respective evocations of the dynamic power and cool rationality associated with the machine in the early twentieth century, as well as John Chamberlain’s welding of colorful, crumpled metal from automobiles and Donald Judd’s use of industrial fabricators. The legacy of Marcel Duchamp, an artist of key importance to conceptual art, underpins a section devoted to artists’ interest in objects from our everyday lives, from the Light Bulb and Flag of Jasper Johns’s Lead Reliefs to Claes Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser, intellectually playful heirs of the readymade, which Duchamp defined as a work of art created solely by the intellectual decision of the artist.

Such ideas contributed to —and were in turn informed by—the advent of Conceptual art practices in the nineteen sixties and seventies. By highlighting several of these key artistic methods, Rediscoveries provides a foundation for better understanding conceptual material featured in the exhibitionSculpture in So Many Words: Text Pieces 1960–80, on view downstairs.

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Thu Sep 13, 2012


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