Saturday, August 13, 2011

Kimmelman's case against sculpture .
BERLIN — Sometimes on a whim I stop into the Bode Museum here to commune with a tiny clay sculpture of John the Baptist.

It’s in a corner of a nearly always empty room, a bone-white bust, pretty and as androgynous as mid-1970s Berlin-addled David Bowie. The saint’s upturned eyes glow in the hard light through tall windows. Attributed to the 15th-century Luccan artist Matteo Civitali, the sculpture is all exquisite ecstasy and languor.

...Is it me, or do we seem to have a problem with sculpture today? I don’t mean contemporary sculpture, whose fashionable stars (see Koons, Murakami et alia) pander to our appetite for spectacle and whatever’s new. I don’t mean ancient or even non-Western sculpture, either. I mean traditional European sculpture — celebrities like Bernini and Rodin aside — and American sculpture, too: the enormous universe of stuff we come across in churches and parks, at memorials and in museums like the Bode. The stuff Barnett Newman, the Abstract Expressionist painter, notoriously derided as objects we bump into when backing up to look at a painting.
His first examples are minor theatricalized works, melodramatic and near kitsch: almost contemporary.

...In an age of special effects, we may also simply no longer know how to feel awe at the sight of sculptured faces by the German genius Tilman Riemenschneider or before a bronze statue by Donatello. We can’t see past the raw materiality and subject matter. Never mind that Donatello may have been the greatest creative genius until Picasso; he long ago got lapped in the public’s imagination by Madame Tussaud, who has given way to “Avatar” in 3-D and Alexander McQueen’s trippy costumed mannequins.


The people who lined up at the Met are fond enough of melodrama, but what they see in McQueen is both the indulgence and the attempt to rise above it. People are looking for order where they can recognize it. Kimmelman's tastes are both less extreme and more earnest than those of McQueen's audience, but they aren't much different. His preferred choice of works, with exceptions, are defined by just those elements that opponents of sculpture claim as defining all of it.

Also the language regarding Donatello and Picasso is absurd.

For an earlier discussion of sensibilities in common (and McQueen) go here, or click on the tags below.

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