Women are redefining sculpture | Financial Times
“Sculpture is not rape,” British sculptor Barbara Hepworth reminded art critic Robert Hughes in astonishment that she was so small. “People… Still regard sculpture as a male occupation. There’s this cliché, a sculptor is a muscular bully who attacks a piece of inert stone.
Breaking the mold: sculpting women since 1945, an Arts Council exhibit launched at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, tells the exhilarating story of what happened when this cliché unraveled and British sculpture in the 21st century came to encompass such things as rotten flowers – Anya Gallaccio’s withered gerberas squeezed between vintage doors, “may like to remember the question and the answer” – or dog chew and soap, as incorporated into the cross sections of the Holly Hendry’s cement and plaster body “Gut Feelings.” Rose Finn-Kelcey’s “The Bog of God” is a jesmonite toilet twisted into a seashell. Laser-cut limbs glued with pin-up photographs flare out like an open book in Anthea Hamilton’s “Leg Chair (Jane Birkin)”.
In this company – extroverted, explicit, teasing foul-smelling metaphors for bodily sensations and physical decay – Hepworth’s beautiful, smooth, shiny, pierced abstract form, “Icon” (1957), the earliest major work here, resembles a vestige of another civilization.
Overlooking the YSP presentation, the largest and most rowdy room will be ‘Untitled: Dunce’, Phyllida Barlow’s dilapidated three-meter assembly of roughly painted plywood boards topped with what looks like a huge paper bag. brown. Anti-heroic, burlesque, disorderly, this staggering parody of the weight, the rigor and the grand declarations of traditional sculpture is part of a long debate. “Because you’re a woman, I’m not very interested because at 30 you’re going to have babies and make jam,” sculptor Reg Butler explained to Barlow in 1963. “Other than Barbara Hepworth, name a woman. sculptor. , let me tell you there is none.
Who is the dunce now? Hepworth hated being called a female artist, but the collision of feminism with minimalism and conceptual art in the 1960s-1970s insists that post-war sculpture is told in terms of gender – even, in part, like a revenge drama. In 1961, a Slade tutor told Jann Haworth that “the girls were there to keep the boys happy. There was no need to look at the student portfolios. . . just to their photos. Haworth’s response was to adopt the “sarcastic choice of fabric, latex and sequins as backings.” . . a female language to which male students did not have access. In her “Calendula Cape”, the suggestion of a life-size figurine emerges through sewn scraps of fabric in vivid patterns: soft, home-woven, hand-made.
In half a century, the innovative use by women of fabric and other ephemeral or natural mediums – paper, wax, earth – has revolutionized the idea of what art could be: something draped, stacked , superimposed, sewn. In the 1970s, Margaret Organ wrapped paper around the wire to create delicate shapes balanced between wall and floor, such as’ Loop ‘:’ The softness in sculpture is invariably stronger than [an] aggressive facade, ”she said. In 2010, Sarah Lucas brutalized refinement: her “NUD CYCLADIC” series of padded, bulging nylon stockings suggesting tangled, twisting, strangely marble-like limbs pokes fun at classical statuary.
Lucas and the young British artists came of age in the 1980s, when a pioneering generation of women subverted sculpture into antimonumentality – in a period of rampant expansion, often via industrial manufacture, by male sculptors on both sides of the world. the Atlantic (Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Jeff Koons).
Cornelia Parker laid hundreds of three-inch models of Big Ben flat on the ground, then gathered them into the “Ephemeral Monument” cone, pushing the (phallic) linearity transformed into an elegant curved spiral. Helen Chadwick’s “Ego Geometria Sum” staged her autobiography in everyday objects – police, pram and, here, gym: “The horse, 11”. Shirazeh Houshiary evoked archaic colonies crossed with strange animal shapes in the fragile clay / straw “Listen to the Tale of the Reed”, assimilating Persian poetry (“since they cut me off from the reed bed, my moans made men and women cry ”) In long, low pieces that seem to cling to the ground, eternal and yet an image of environmental threat and transience.
The most important British artwork of the 1990s has disappeared: Rachel Whiteread’s “House”, a cast of the interior of a demolished Victorian house – the servant as public art, the solid as a ghost. “House” was destroyed in 1994. Breaking the mold Characteristics of that year’s “Untitled (6 Spaces)” by Whiteread: voids cast of spaces under domestic chairs using translucent resin – as light and shiny as the forms are hard and heavy. The work has minimalist austerity but a human touch and the shimmer of process and memory, traces of everyday past lives imprinted on worn surfaces.
Whiteread won the Turner Prize in 1993 – a time when, as she drily told me a few years later, “the prize still meant something.” She was the first woman to receive the award. In the 1990s, Tate director Nicholas Serota commented, “Suddenly it seemed like art could be young, feminine, and directly connected to the viewer’s everyday experience.
Developments since have been paradoxical. As YSP director Clare Lilley puts it, the lingering differences between male and female artists in the marketplace and the gallery still place limits on fabrication – a ‘bronze ceiling’ – because ‘the sculpture-object is by its materially and spatially affirmed nature, therefore a sculptor needs logistics and material. Support. “But institutional power is shifting towards women, with disturbing levels of new conformism. Among the possible vast array of British artists of any gender or gender, three white conceptual sculptors – Lucas, Barlow, Cathy Wilkes – have been selected to represent Great Britain at the last three Venice Biennials The presentations by Wilkes and Lucas were particularly weak.
The Arts Council, as YSP’s choices demonstrate, has a good, but not flawless, art acquisition that matters. But today he increasingly ignores work outside of what has become conceptual standards. Hepworth looks stuck in this show, but his sculptural medium thrives beyond that. Emily Young’s eloquent stone female heads, enveloping a passionate ecological / geological view, for example, are a stunning omission from this account of British female sculpture.
“What is the peculiarity of the sculpture of women?” Penelope Curtis asks in an excellent catalog essay. “Are we looking at something that can be described in its own terms? I think it’s dangerous to do that. . . nevertheless, one could consider the way in which the women sculptors helped to remove the sculpture from the plinth. . . scale it down. . . do it in new materials.
Now that these battles are won, we might also consider greater inclusion of female artists, with no gender agenda other than that, as Hepworth argued, “The feeling of being a woman presents yet another side of the world. ‘sculptural idea’.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park, From April 1 to June 13, then on tour at the New Art Gallery, Walsall; The Institute of the Arts, Plymouth; Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham; Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, dates to be confirmed
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