NoDef Art Writer Kathy Rodriguez heads to the tucked-away downtown gallery, Homespace, and gets a reminder about sculpture's historical importance in the art world.
In 1648, Charles LeBrun, artist and advisor to the French monarchy, helped found The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris. In the 1660s, Le Brun had become official painter to the King, Louis XIV, and director of the Academy. In his morceau de reception, or reception piece, submitted to the Academy in 1686, Le Brun’s student Nicolas de Largillièrre depicts him like a monarch. Rather than setting the painter in all the lavish accoutréments indicative of the excessive riches of the aristocracy, Largillièrre depicts him surrounded by the trappings of academic training: classical busts, prints, and drawings. In the background, Largillièrre copies Le Brun’s work from the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, The Conquest of Franche-Comté. History painting like this, which is meant to represent the political and military power of the king, was considered the highest academic art. Le Brun gestures towards this precipice in his portrait, signifying painting’s importance above other artforms, as well as his own influence in the future of academic arts training.
The relegation of “sculpture” after “painting” in the title of the Academy is more immediately telling of the relationship between the two media. Though the Academy elevated them from other artisanal crafts, sculpture served painting. Sculpture enjoyed some recognition for its capacity to represent and glorify the elite, but it often found itself represented elsewhere in two dimensions.
In the years after the Industrial Revolution, which began mere decades after the death of Louis XIV, modernity’s pushes toward innovation began to realize themselves in sculpture. Still, our art history texts somewhat describe sculpture’s progress as a reaction to the content of painting – it continues to serve its less-dimensional master. Major painters far outnumber the sculptors, and art history follows the trends that shaped various movements through more examples in painting.
The recently opened show, “Redheaded Stepchild,” at HomeSpace Gallery confronts the issues that have affected historical perceptions of sculpture. Local artist Cynthia Scott and recent returnee Brian St. Cyr co-curated the exhibit at the request of Kevin Kline, regular curator for the gallery. At the onset of their curatorial statement, they admit that sculpture is inconvenient both spatially and conceptually. Besides struggling beneath the weight of the brush, sculpture’s own weight – both physical and metaphorical – has dissuaded a certain degree of interest in showing it.
For example, an installation like Scott’s, which in this instance extends everyday detritus like yogurt containers and plastic rings across the walls of the space, is at first disarming. The familiarity of these objects is confused in the gallery context, especially when paired with a small sound and video element. Waves wash back and forth within the frame of a tiny screen set into the chaotic but web-like lines of the plastics attached to the walls. Water and animal sounds emanate from the work. The installation itself is complex, intricate, and time-consuming to install. Despite the effort, it is composed of objects that receive minute attention. All this points to the obsessive nature of the behaviors that resulted in the accumulation of these materials, and brings attention to their consuming presence in our broader daily lives. It is a considerably heavy topic; especially after reading that this small sample represents only what was saved after three years – not what was discarded, or where it went.
Sculpture takes time to experience and requires the viewer to consider his or her relationship with it in space. Like Scott, both Kevin Baer and Kourtney Keller use everyday materials to construct their work. Baer’s Mountains – two stalactite-like black and white forms that vertically mirror each other – hang in a corner, leaving just enough space for the viewer to inch around and see it from all sides. This arrangement forces the viewer to change they way space affects perception of the piece in close and distant vantage points. The delicacy of the common plastic used to layer the craggy black and white forms reveals itself in the close inspection it demands from one position. The lightness of the material is belied when viewed from a distance – the forms appear massive, and heavy. Still, they seem strangely free from gravity as they sway and spin between ceiling and floor. Keller’s sculptures, assembled from glass, mirrors, and light, rotate more mechanically. The effect is dramatic in dim light – almost magically, they cast fluid reflections on the wall and floor suggesting continual change. Again, there is a contrast between weightlessness and gravity. The sharp edges and small but floorbound mass of these objects reveal themselves as lovely, soft patches of light shimmering across the room.
Thor Carlson and Jonathan Pellitteri use more traditional materials, but the results are surprising. Carlson notes in his statement that the majority of his work is made with industrial media like cast iron and steel. Somewhat within the tradition of the sculptor/architect, Carlson refurbishes these materials into haunting forms far more emotional than the machine-like coldness connoted by their typical use. For example, Carlson’s Deep Silence is a submarine form riddled with holes, positioned on the floor like a dark, sea-buried relic, once powerful, and now diminutive and forlorn. Pelliterri, who is represented by the Brunner Gallery in Covington, makes work with architectural character. Organic materials like wood and sod join investigative lenses, sometimes on movable rods, in very geometric structures that directly reference the idea of balance. Monument is an upside-down obelisk or ziggurat that appears to precariously teeter on its tip. Fuel Level positions a tube filled with brown liquid between two symmetrical hills. Pelliterri analyzes balance between industry and landscape, at the same time suggesting the disparity between the speed of human time and the slow pace of geology.
HomeSpace is small compared to other galleries, and the center of its main room is dominated by the constant presence of a nineteenth century piano. It increases the already close proximity of the sculptures in the show to each other, but it also serves as a resting point. Walking into the space is like approaching a new world filled with objects that demand us to experience them rather than just view them, so it helps to have something familiar, and sculptural in itself, to guide us.
The work saturates the space, both inside and out; Baer also placed a delicate installation of red painted tree branches on the neutral ground outside the door. It looks like exposed arteries – vulnerable, but life-sustaining vessels. Perhaps this work is a symbol for the show as a whole. No matter what history dictates, sculpture is essential to the art beat.