Wednesday, March 10, 2010

abstract sculpture

It was in the first half of the twentieth century that sculptors began eliciting equal measures of awe and opprobrium for exhibiting pieces to which it seemed hard to put a name, works that both lacked an interest in the mimetic ambitions that had dominated Western sculpture since the Ancient Greeks and, despite a certain resemblance to domestic furnishings, had no practical capacities either.

Yet, notwithstanding these limitations, abstract artists argued that their sculptures were capable of articulating the greatest of themes. Many critics agreed. Hebert Read described Henry Moores work as a treatise on human kindness and cruelty in a world from which God had recently departed, while for Alberto Giacomettis sculptures expressed the loneliness and desire of man alienated from his authentic self in industrial society.

Henry Moore - Two Forms (1934)

It may be easy to laugh at the grandiloquence of claims directed at objects which on occasion resemble giant earplugs or upturned lawnmowers. But, instead of accusing critics of reading too much into too little, we should allow abstract sculptures to demonstrate to us the range of thoughts and emotions that every kind of non-representational object can convey. The gift of the most talented sculptors has been to teach us that large ideas, for example, about intelligence or kindness, youth or serenity, can be communicated in chunks of wood and string, or in plaster and metal contraptions, as well as they can in words or in human or animal likenesses. The great abstract sculptures have succeeded in speaking to us, in their peculiar dissociated language, of the important themes of our lives.

Alberto Giacometti - Hour of the Traces (1930)

In turn, these sculptures afford us an opportunity to focus with unaccustomed intensity on the communicative powers of all objects, including our buildings and their furnishings. Inspired by a museum visit, we may scold ourselves for our previous prosaic belief that a salad bowl is only a salad bowl, rather than, in truth, an object over which there linger faint but meaningful associations of wholeness, the feminine and the infinite. We can look at a practical entity like a desk, a column or an entire apartment building and here, too, locate abstract articulations of some of the important themes of our lives.

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