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Introduction to Art Chapter 11: Sculpture 108
Chapter 11: Sculpture
Three-dimensional media occupies space defined through the dimensions of height, width and depth. It includes sculpture, installation and performance art, craft and product design. Two processes are responsible for all three-dimensional art: additive, in which material is built up to create form, or subtractive, where material is removed from an existing mass, such as a chunk of stone, wood or clay. The different categories we’ll examine are not necessarily exclusive from each other, and we will look at some examples of three-dimensional art that arguably cross over between categories.
Types of Sculpture
Sculpture is any artwork made by the manipulation of materials resulting in a three-dimensional object. The sculpted figure of the Venus of Berekhat Ram, discovered in the Middle East in 1981, dates to 230,000 years BCE. It is the oldest example of artwork known. The crudely carved stone figure will fit in the palm of your hand. Its name derives from the similarity in form with so- called female fertility figures found throughout Europe, some of which date to 25,000 years ago. For example, the form of the Venus of Willendorf below shows remarkable skill in its carving, including arms draped over exaggerated breasts, an extended abdomen and elaborate patterning on the head, indicating either a braided hairstyle or type of woven cap. Just as remarkable, the figure has no facial detail to indicate identity. The meaning behind these figures is difficult to put into context because of the lack of any written record about them or other supporting materials.
Venus of Willendorf, c.25,000 BCE. Natural History Museum, Vienna. Image in the public domain
These earliest images are indicative of most of the cultural record in sculpture for thousands of years; singular figurative objects made within an iconographic context of myth, ritual or ceremony. It’s not until the Old Kingdom period of Egyptian sculpture, between 3100 and 2180 BCE, that we start to see sculpture that reflects a resemblance of specific figures. Sculpture can be freestanding, or self-supported, where the viewer can walk completely around
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the work to see it from all sides, or created in relief, where the primary form’s surface is raised above the surrounding material, such as the image on a coin. Bas-relief refers to a shallow extension of the image from its surroundings, high relief is where the most prominent elements of the composition are undercut and rendered at more than half in the round against the background. Rich, animated bas-relief sculpture exists at the Banteay Srei temple near Angor Wat, Cambodia. Here humans and mythic figures combine in depictions from ancient Hindu stories.
Bas-relief sculpture at the temple Banteay Srei, Angor, Cambodia. 10th century. Sandstone. Image in the public
The Shaw Memorial combines freestanding, bas and high relief elements in one masterful sculpture. The work memorializes Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty fourth regiment, the first African-American infantry unit to fight for the north in the civil war.
Carving uses the subtractive process to cut away areas from a larger mass, and is the oldest method used for three-dimensional work. Traditionally stone and wood were the most common materials because they were readily available and extremely durable. Contemporary materials include foam, plastics and glass. Using chisels and other sharp tools, artists carve away material until the ultimate form of the work is achieved. A beautiful example of the carving process is seen in The Water and Moon Guanyin Bodhisattva from 10th century China. The Bodhisattva, a Buddhist figure who has attained Enlightenment but
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decides to stay on earth to teach others, is exquisitely carved and painted. The figure is almost eight feet high, seated in an elegant pose on a lotus bloom, relaxed, staring straight ahead with a calm, benevolent look. The extended right arm and raised knee create a stable triangular composition. The sculptor carves the left arm to simulate muscle tension inherent when it supports the weight of the body. In another example, you can see the high degree of relief carved from an original cedar wood block in the Earthquake Mask from the Pacific Northwest Coast Kwakwaka’ wakw culture. It’s extraordinary for masks to personify a natural event. This and other mythic figure masks are used in ritual and ceremony dances. The broad areas of paint give a heightened sense of character to this mask.
Earthquake Mask, 9” x 7”, early 20th century. Kwakwaka’ wakw culture, North American Pacific Coast. Burke
Museum, University of Washington, Seattle. Used by permission.
Wood sculptures by contemporary artist Ursula von Rydingsvard are carved, glued and even burned. Many are massive, rough vessel forms that carry the visual evidence of their creation. Michelangelo’s masterpiece Statue of David from 1501 is carved and sanded to an idealized form that the artist releases from the massive block, a testament to human aesthetic brilliance.
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Michelangelo, David, 1501, marble, 17’ high. Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence. Image in the public domain
The additive method of casting has been in use for more than five thousand years. It’s a manufacturing process by which a liquid material is usually poured into a mold, which contains a hollow cavity of the desired shape, and then allowed to solidify. One traditional method of bronze casting frequently used today is the lost wax process. Casting materials are usually metals but can be various cold-setting materials that cure after mixing two or more components together; examples are epoxy, concrete, plaster, and clay. Casting is most often used for making complex shapes that would be otherwise difficult or uneconomical to make by other methods. It’s a labor- intensive process that allows for the creation of multiples from an original object (similar to the medium of printmaking), each of which is extremely durable and exactly like its predecessor. A mold is usually destroyed after the desired number of castings has been made. Traditionally, bronze statues were placed atop pedestals to signify the importance of the figure depicted. A statue of William Seward (below), the U. S. Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln and who negotiated the purchase of the Alaska territories, is set nearly eight feet high so viewers must look up at him. Standing next to the globe, he holds a roll of plans in his left hand.
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Richard Brooks, William Seward, bronze on stone pedestal, c. 1909. Image by Christopher Gildow. Used with
More contemporary bronze cast sculptures reflect their subjects through different cultural perspectives. The statue of rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix is set on the ground, his figure cast as if performing on stage. He’s on both of his knees, head thrown back, eyes shut and mouth open in mid-wail. His bell-bottom pants, frilly shirt unbuttoned halfway, necklace and headband give us a snapshot of 1960s rock culture but also engage us with the subject at our level.
Daryl Smith, Jimi Hendrix, 1996, bronze. Broadway and Pine, Seattle. Image by Christopher Gildow. Used with
Doris Chase was also a strong sculptor. Her large-scale abstract work Changing Form from 1971 is cast in bronze and dominates the area around it. The title refers to the visual experience you get walking around the work, seeing the positive and negative shapes dissolve and recombine
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with each other.
Doris Chase, Changing Form, 1971. Bronze. Image by Christopher Gildow. Used with permission.
Modeling is a method that can be both additive and subtractive. The artist uses modeling to build up form with clay, plaster or other soft material that can be pushed, pulled, pinched or poured into place. The material then hardens into the finished work. Larger sculptures created with this method make use of an armature, an underlying structure of wire that sets the physical shape of the work. Although modeling is primarily an additive process, artists do remove material in the process. Modeling a form is often a preliminary step in the casting method. In 2010, Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man (c. 1955), a bronze sculpture first modeled in clay, set a record for the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction.
Construction, or Assemblage, uses found, manufactured or altered objects to build form. Artists weld, glue, bolt and wire individual pieces together. Sculptor Debra Butterfield transforms throw away objects into abstract sculptures of horses with scrap metal, wood and other found objects. She often casts these constructions in bronze. Louise Nevelson used cut and shaped pieces of wood, gluing and nailing them together to form fantastic, complex compositions. Painted in a single tone, (usually black or white), her sculptures are graphic, textural façades of shapes, patterns, and shadow. Traditional African masks often combine different materials. The elaborate Kanaga Mask from Mali uses wood, fibers, animal hide and pigment to construct an other worldly visage that
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changes from human to animal and back again. Some modern and contemporary sculptures incorporate movement, light and sound. Kinetic sculptures use ambient air currents or motors allowing them to move, changing in form as the viewer stands in place. The artist Alexander Calder is famous for his mobiles, whimsical, abstract works that are intricately balanced to move at the slightest wisp of air, while the sculptures of Jean Tinguely are contraption-like and, similar to Nevelson’s and Butterfield’s works, constructed of scraps often found in garbage dumps. His motorized works exhibit a mechanical aesthetic as they whir, rock and generate noises. Tinguely’s most famous work, Homage to New York, ran in the sculpture garden at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1960 as part of a performance by the artist. After several minutes, the work exploded and caught fire. The idea of generating sound as part of three-dimensional works has been utilized for hundreds of years, traditionally in musical instruments that carry a spiritual reference. Contemporary artists use sound to heighten the effect of sculpture or to direct recorded narratives. The cast bronze fountain by George Tsutakawa (below) uses water flow to produce a soft rushing sound. In this instance the sculpture also attracts the viewer by the motion of the water: a clear, fluid addition to an otherwise hard abstract surface.
George Tsutakawa, Fountain. Bronze, running water. City of Seattle. Image by Christopher Gildow. Used with
Doug Hollis’s A Sound Garden from 1982 creates sounds from hollow metal tubes atop grid-like structures rising above the ground. In weathervane fashion, the tubes swing into the wind and resonate to specific pitch. The sound extends the aesthetic value of the work to include the sense of hearing and, together with the metal construction, creates a mechanical and psychological basis for the work.
Dan Flavin is one of the first artists to explore the possibilities of light as a sculptural medium. Since the 1960s his work has incorporated fluorescent bulbs of different colors and in various
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arrangements. Moreover, he takes advantage of the wall space the light is projected onto, literally blurring the line between traditional sculpture and the more complex medium of installation. Installation art utilizes multiple objects, often from various media, and takes up entire spaces. It can be generic or site specific. Because of their relative complexity, installations can address aesthetic and narrative ideas on a larger scale than traditional sculpture. Its genesis can be traced to the Dada movement, ascendant after World War I and which predicated a new aesthetic by its unconventional nature and ridicule of established tastes and styles. Sculpture came off the pedestal and began to transform entire rooms into works of art. Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau, begun in 1923, transforms his apartment into an abstract, claustrophobic space that is at once part sculpture and architecture. With installation art the viewer is surrounded by and can become part of the work itself. British artist Rachel Whiteread’s installation Embankment from 2005 fills an entire exhibition hall with casts made from various sized boxes. At first appearance a snowy mountain landscape navigated by the viewer is actually a gigantic nod to the idea of boxes as receptacles of memory towering above and stacked around them, squeezing them towards the center of the room.
Rachel Whiteread, Embankment, 2005. Source: Wikipedia, licensed through Creative Commons
Ilya Kabakov mixes together a narrative of political propaganda, humor and mundane existence in his installation The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment from 1984. What we see is the remains of a small apartment plastered with Soviet era posters, a small bed and the makeshift slingshot a man uses to escape the drudgery of his life within the system. A gaping hole in the roof and his shoes on the floor are evidence enough that he made it into space.
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Ilya Kabakov, The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment, 1984. Source: www.wikiart.org, Fair Use
Performance art goes a step further, involving the artist as part of the work itself. Some performance artworks are interactive, involving the viewer too. The nature of the medium is in its ability to use live performance in the same context as static works of art: to enhance our understanding of artistic experience. Similar to installation works, performance art had its first manifestations during the Dada art movement, when live performances included poetry, visual art and music, often going on at the same time. The German artist Joseph Beuys was instrumental in introducing performance art as a legitimate medium in the post World War II artistic milieu. I Like America and America Likes Me from 1974 finds Beuys co-existing with a coyote for a week in the Rene Block Gallery in New York City. The artist is protected from the animal by a felt blanket and a shepherd’s staff. Performance art, like installation, challenges the viewer to reexamine the artistic experience from a new level. In the 1960’s Allen Kaprow’s Happenings invited viewers to be the participants. These events, sometimes rehearsed and other times improvised begin to erase the line between the artist and the audience. Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece from 1965 specifically invites members of the audience to interact with her on stage. This same idea – using the artist’s body as subject, is evident in the performance art of Marina Abramovic . In The Artist is Present she sits quietly as individual visitors sit across the table from her, exchanging silent glances and stares. Today we see a new form of performance art happen unexpectedly around us in the form of Flash Mobs: groups of people who gather in public spaces to collaborate in short, seemingly spontaneous events that entertain and surprise passersby. Many flash mobs are arranged in advance through the use of social media. An example of flash mob performance is Do Re Mi in the Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium in March of 2009. License and Attributions
Video: Ancient Greece – The Parthenon, Athens:
Video: Ancient Rome – Augustus of Primaporta:
Video: Ancient Rome – The Colosseum
Video: Bronze Casting – The Lost Wax Process:
Video: India – The Great Stupa at Sanchi:
Video: Japan – Haniwa Warrior:
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Chapter 19: Ancient East Asia
Imperial Chinese history is marked by the rise and fall of many dynasties and occasional periods of disunity, but overall the age was remarkably stable and marked by a sophisticated governing system that included the concept of a meritocracy. Each dynasty had its own distinct characteristics and in many eras encounters with foreign cultural and political influences through territorial expansion and waves of immigration also brought new stimulus to China. China had a highly literate society that greatly valued poetry and brush-written calligraphy, which, along with painting, were called the Three Perfections, reflecting the esteemed position of the arts in Chinese life. Imperial China produced many technological advancements that have enriched the world, including paper and porcelain. Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism were the dominant teachings or religions in Imperial China and most individuals combined all three in their daily lives.
In China, writing is first seen as inscriptions on oracle bones, a hallmark of the Shang dynasty (1700-1027 B.C.E.). Made of the shoulder blades of oxen or the underbellies of turtles, oracle bones — as their designation indicates — were used for divination (foretelling the future). Up to that point, China had already developed a rich culture ranging from pottery and clay figurines to carved jade and bronze ritual vessels — the latter of which would have a lasting influence on Chinese art and design. Also, a central motif of Chinese art — the paired dragon and tiger, symbolizing water and wind in Chinese cosmology — first appears during this period. The earliest known example is a river-shell mosaic representation from c. 5300 B.C.E., excavated in a royal grave at Xishuipo, Henan province.
Representations of dragon and tiger, mosaic of river clam shells, c. 5300 B.C.E., royal grave no. 45, Xishuipo,
Henan province (diagram: Feng Shi, “Henan Puyang Xishuipo 45 Hao Mu de Tianwenxue Yanjiu,” Wenwu, vol. 3, pp. 52-69).
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The Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi
The first emperor of China was Qin Shi Huangdi. First, he became king of the Qin (pronounced “Chin”) state at the age of thirteen. Eventually he defeated the rulers of all the competing Chinese states, unifying China and declaring himself “First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty” (Qin Shi Huangdi). He began the construction of his vast tomb as soon as he took the throne, and it took 38 years to finish, even with a reported 700,000 convicts laboring for the last 13 years of construction. These great numbers are, themselves, displays of the tremendous power of the emperor, and the work clearly bears the imprint of their astounding labors. As emperor, he was repressive —banning and burning Confucian books and executing the scholars who wrote and studied them. Not surprisingly there were at least two attempts to assassinate him. When his tomb was completed, it was covered in grass and trees, so that it would appear like a natural part of the landscape.
Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi today, (photo: CC BY-SA 3.0)
Today, from the outside, Qin Shi Huangdi’s burial mound looks like a hill. This explains how the huge tomb could have remained hidden until 1974 when rural villagers accidentally discovered it while digging a well. It blended into its surroundings, looking like a foothill of the Li Mountains.
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Plan of the tomb complex, Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (diagram Weixing Zhang)
As the plan of the tomb complex shows, the tomb itself was surrounded by a large number of other burials, including three pits containing warriors made from terracotta (which are known today as the “Terracotta Army”) There was also a pit filled with the remains of exotic animals, and the graves of followers executed at the time of the burial. So far, approximately 7,000 figures made from terracotta and 100 wooden chariots have been discovered in Pits 1, 2 and 3.
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Pit 1, Army of the First Emperor, Qin dynasty, Lintong, China, c. 210 B.C.E., painted terracotta (photo: mararie, CC
When we look at the vast rows of the 6,000 soldiers of the army in Pit 1 (the largest yet found) we see a view that no one had seen for more than two thousand years — from the time that the tombs were sealed until the excavations of the 1970s. The figures were set into paved channels of earth, reinforced with wooden planks and then buried. The soldiers are arranged in battle formation, with a vanguard of archers surrounding the bulk of the army. The hands of the archers are now empty, but they originally held wooden bows, of which some traces survive. These wooden bows, along with bronze weapons held by other soldiers, would have given the soldiers a more naturalistic appearance.
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Front and back view of Kneeling Archer, Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi
But why would an emperor wish to be buried with a terracotta army, with bronze chariots and teams of horses, and even with his concubines? In ancient China, death was seen not as the complete end to an individual but rather, a new stage in life. Therefore, the army was intended not only to demonstrate the emperor’s power in this life, but also to extend that same power into the world of the dead.
Maybe you can bring it with you…if you are rich enough. The elite men and women of the Han dynasty (China’s second imperial dynasty, 206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.) enjoyed an opulent lifestyle that could stretch into the afterlife. Today, the well-furnished tombs of the elite give us a glimpse of the luxurious goods they treasured and enjoyed. For instance, a wealthy official could afford beautiful silk robes in contrast to the homespun or paper garments of a laborer or peasant. Their tombs also inform us about their cosmological beliefs.
Marquis of Dai, Lady Dai, and a son
Three elite tombs, discovered in 1972, at Mawangdui, Hunan Province (eastern China) rank amongst the greatest archeological discoveries in China during the twentieth century. They are the tombs of a high-ranking Han official civil servant, the Marquis of Dai, Lady Dai (his wife), and their son.
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Nesting coffins of Lady Dai (Xin Zhui), 2nd century B.C.E., wood, lacquered exteriors and interiors, 256 x 118 x 114
cm, 230 x 92 x 89 cm and 202 x 69 x 63cm, from tomb 1 (Hunan Provincial Museum)
In Lady Dai’s tomb, archaeologists found a painted silk banner over six feet long in excellent condition. The T-shaped banner was on top of the innermost of four nesting coffins. Although scholars still debate the function of these banners, we know they had some connection with the afterlife. They may be “name banners” used to identify the dead during the mourning ceremonies, or they may have been burial shrouds intended to aid the soul in its passage to the afterlife. Lady Dai’s banner is important for two primary reasons. It is an early example of pictorial (representing naturalistic scenes not just abstract shapes) art in China. Secondly, the banner features the earliest known portrait in Chinese painting.
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Diagram of Funeral Banner of Lady Dai (Xin Zhui), 2nd
century B.C.E., silk, 205 x 92 x 47.7 cm (Hunan Provincial Museum)
Lady Dai and her attendants (detail), Funeral banner of Lady Dai (Xin Zhui), 2nd century
B.C.E., silk, 205 x 92 x 47.7 cm (H
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