In my previous post, I gave my own short history of Painting, and I thought I would do the same for sculpture and installation.
Now I have always had a bit of a rocky relationship (excuse the pun) relationship with sculpture and installation, and I think that this can probably be said for a large number of the public. Where I can study a painting or etching for what seems like hours, I often struggle to fully appreciate sculpture. To be honest, I am not sure why this is, maybe because all of my life I have been conditioned to think that painting is the purest form of art (may I add in here, that this does not reflect my personal opinion), and where I am not exactly against sculpture, I generally feel ambivalent towards the art form. Despite this, I do find that there is something exciting about 3D work, how you can walk all the way round something, examine it from all angles. And so, hopefully this look back into the history of sculpture will help me appreciate the form better.
The Lion Man
Ok, so I will start with the earliest form of figurative sculpture discovered to date: The Lion Man. The story of this remarkable piece is thought to have begun over 40,000 years ago, made from mammoth tusk. Fragments of ‘the Lion Man’ were first found in August 1939 in the Swabian Alps (Germany). Archeologists started to piece together this statue in the 70s with around 30% of the fragments missing, and further excavated shards were added in the 80s. However, believing that this restoration is not an accurate portrayal of the original, modern day specialists have begun to redo the reconstruction using computer technology, and believe that the result will be far more correct. I find it mind-blowing that 40,000 years ago, beings were producing works of art such as this:
To begin with, and up until relatively recently, sculpture was the act of removing excess material to reveal a form from within the starting material. Materials used in sculpture include stone, ice, wood, ivory/bone, ceramics and more recently, metal. The majority of the surviving works from Ancient civilisations (such as Greece, India and China) were carved from stone. Not only this, but because sculptures were so expensive to produce, statues and the like were normally reserved for religious or political expression.
Heres something I didn’t know: There are two main distinctive groups of sculpture –
1) Sculpture in the round: A 3D sculpture that is unattached to another panel (excluding a base) eg. statues
2) Relief: At least partly attached to a background surface eg. facades of buildings or jewellery
Of course, when we think of sculpture, the Egyptians often spring to mind; the detailed hieroglyphics that they created and their use of monumental sculpture. A technique frequently employed by the Egyptians was ‘sunk relief’ in response to the bright sunlight. Egyptian pharos were seen as deities, and as a result, were often immortalised in statue form, and most of the larger sculptures that survive today were found in tombs or Egyptian temples. Statue of Tuthankhamun, 18th Dynasty
The idea of large sculptures being displayed and admired as public art goes back to the Egyptian era, almost 4,500 years ago.
Ancient Greek societies are well known for their sculptures, especially statues that were used to depict the Gods, typically made from marble and bronze. After the Greeks came the Roman sculpture, then moving on to the Early Medieval and Byzantine eras, one can see a huge development in the production of sculpture. What I have noticed in my research, is that up until fairly recently, the main subjects of sculpture were religious/sacred symbols, in contrast to the more abstract creations of today. This can also be seen in the Gothic period; the sunken reliefs attached to the facades of churches and houses built at this time. Baroque and Rococo sculptures took on a more energetic look, conveying the dynamism of the human form, similar to what we see in sculpture produced today.
Moving towards Modernism
Sculpture produced in the 19th and 20th Centuries were not vastly different to what had come before, but were moving gradually towards modern art. In America, for example, there was a large amount of variation within the world of sculpture; on the one hand, the Native Americans were producing totem poles and canoes and on the other hand, the colonialist Americans were producing monuments and the like such as Mount Rushmore (1927-1941, Gutzon Borglum and Lincoln Borglum).
From this time forward, we have been inundated with a large number of contemporary sculpture that, in some ways, subvert the traditional notion of what a sculpture ‘should be’. Degas’ ‘Little Dancer of Fourteen Years’, for example, although it is essentially a classic depiction of a human form, the stance in which he has chosen to present her is far from from typical. Furthermore, in 1911, Amedeo Modigliani produced his abstract interpretation of a “Female Head”, which is a far cry from a majority of the ancient sculpture mentioned previously. Modern day sculpture legends such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth are revered for their incredible manipulation of materials. And even more recently, artists such as Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and Bruce Nauman have started to change the way that we look at sculpture, and what we understand to be sculpture.
I have so much more to say, so many more artists to mention, but alas, I said that this was a short history so I must end here.