Thinking about Sculpture
Nov 3, 2003 – Oct 1, 2004

Although the current installation includes paintings, photographs, and even a drawing, it is intended as a rumination on sculpture in art of the last five decades. Just as most of the critical artistic breakthroughs of the 1950's and early 60's were in the realm of painting, as evidenced by Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, one could equally argue that in the decades that followed, the most significant art was in the realm of sculpture, and the environmental, conceptual, film, and video art that have been sculpture's offshoots.

"Thinking about Sculpture" examines several aspects of recent sculpture. One attempts to locate this shift from painting to sculpture not in the history of modern sculpture but in painting itself. It is no coincidence that many of the most important sculptors of the postwar period such as Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, and Eva Hesse began as painters; that Richard Serra's emergence as an artist of note was with a work in which he splattered liquified lead on the floor much in the manner of Jackson Pollock—not as an existential exploration into pictorial space, but as an inquiry into sculptural process and how form can be defined; and that virtually all the sculptural work of Robert Gober (to look at an example of a younger generation) derives from a series of painted images he made at the beginning of his artistic maturity.

Works in the gallery, dining room, bedroom, and master bath of the Rachofsky House examine this shift from painting to sculpture. For example, the Jo Baer diptych of 1966–74, whose stretcher-bar images mirror the canvas structure, explores the endgame of painting, the dilemma of how to portray the three-dimensionality of a painting on a two-dimensional surface. Similarly, in stitching together three separate canvases. Jannis Kounellis emphasizes the "objectness" of painting Lunedì, Martedì, Mercoledì, from 1963, The gallery installation focuses quite simply on sculptural form—its relational nature (Serra), and on the impact of drawing on recent sculpture (Tuttle, Barney), while the dining room delves into the influence of women artists (Baer, Truitt) and artistic traditions associated with women.

The bedroom installation explores this shift in relation to perception. In a relief painting of 1952 (at the dawn of exploration of outer space) and a canvas from 1964, Lucio Fontana expressed his awe of the cosmos, its spatial and philosophical infinity, by piercing his paintings' surfaces and thereby creating reliefs whose space he considered to be sculptural. In 1968–69, Robert Irwin, originally a painter, made one of his last discrete art objects whose blurred image and edge ponder the infinite nature of perception; thereafter he made only environmental installation works. Younger artists continue these explorations: Tom Friedman takes the most immaterial artistic expression—a drawn line—and transforms it into a dissonant relief whose space seems simultaneously both flat and immeasurable, while Jim Hodges, in his mosaic "painting," represents the infinite nature of perception in the reflective surface of mirror.

The current installation, conceived to honor the opening of the Nasher Sculpture Center, was rooted in the desire to install the five Donald Judd sculptures in the Rachofsky Collection in the same space. These works, spanning the artist's career, represent the artist's different paradigmatic forms and various materials while displaying his extraordinary contributions as a colorist. In the surrounding spaces, works by Robert Gober, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Marc Quinn, and Do-Ho Suh examine how younger artists have reinterpreted the abstract language of Minimalism to explore issues of identity and the self.

Similarly, the decidedly representational works in the kitchen, library, and third floor hallway explore issues of psychological fragmentation. In the kitchen, the sub-theme is portraiture: two self-portraits and the third a portrait of a place. One work in the library whose relevance may not be obvious is Laurie Anderson's Handphone Table—Remembering Sound of 1979. Here a viewer is invited to sit with one's elbows on the table's scooped out surface and while cupping one's ears sound travels from the table through the body using the viewer to conduct sound. Here the figure is the viewer, whose participation completes the sculpture. The figurative presence shifts depending on whether one is the participant at the table or the observer watching the "live" sculpture.

The two primary strains of recent sculpture explored here—the shift from painting to sculpture (a line rooted in abstraction), and the figurative exploration of identity—are far more related than might at first appear to be evident. In a sense, one bred the other. Indeed, what we propose here is that the urge away from modernist pictorial space into real space, from painting to sculpture, produced an art historical shift from art about art to art about life that has established the tone for art ever since.

Allan Schwartzman
Director of the Rachofsky Collection