Figure It Out
NY Times: "This is all museum grade...That it is in Peekskill is thrilling."
A comprehensive survey of the best figurative sculpture and video today
featured 29 artists from 17 countries: Marina Abramovic, Berlinde DeBruykere,
Tom Friedman, Red Grooms, Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama, Mark Manders, Paul
McCarthy, Juan Munoz, Shirin Neshat, Nam June Paik, Evan Penny, Patricia
Piccinini, Rona Pondick, Kiki Smith and emerging artists - Folkert de Jong,
Will Ryman and others.
The genre of highly realistic figurative sculpture is time honored with a deep tradition going back over two thousand years. Proficiency is prized but even in this genre the most enduring work, such as Michelangelo's David
, has emotional impact. Indeed, the larger-than-life size of David adds to the power of the work. In the modern era, one easily thinks of Dwayne Hanson's beautifully made figures, which are so realistic that they deceive the viewer by appearing truly human. But once the deception is revealed, the work runs the risk of becoming static. In contrast to these figures, Giacometti's thin, anorexic people are emotionally compelling. The artist's disregard of anatomical correctness and their peculiarity impart universality. We are pushed to add narrative and implication.
Nam June Paik
More recently, Red Grooms and Nam June Paik have laid some of the groundwork
for developments in contemporary figurative sculpture. Grooms used distortion
and pedestrian materials to convey humor and emotion. Paik integrated video,
TVs and radios into his well-known robots that were reflections or parables
of what man has become.
In recent years a growing number of sculptors have integrated this discourse
into work that leans more heavily on impoverished or unexpected materials:
Tom Friedman, Olav Westphalen, Will Ryman, Oliver Herring, Bonnie Collura
and Paul McCarthy. McCarthy's Michael Jackson
, a riff on Jeff Koon's
well-known ceramic sculpture, appears to be an unfinished sculpture made
of chocolate. Friedman's humorous Garbage Can
is made of paper. It
portrays a man's head unseen in a garbage can with only the feet extending,
ending with carefully rendered New Balance sneakers.
Some artists, like Kiki Smith, Rona Pondick, Berlinde DeBruykere, and Takashi
Murakami, have followed a more modernist path. DeBruykere's wax figures
and sewn human and animal figures are highly classical but confound anatomy
with missing or wrongly placed parts. Murakami's luxuriously rendered human
and animal sculptures are energized by cartoon-like features and an implied
In every example the success of these works is in part related to distortion
in the service of its emotional intention. This becomes more evident in
the highly technical sculpture that is in ascendancy just now. Keith Edmier,
and Patricia Piccinini are among a growing group of artists whose figures
are extraordinarily proficient and yet frequently capture the humor or pathos
that we see in Grooms. Human and animal figures are being made of silicon,
resins and other materials with such exactness that they sometimes appear
super-real, capturing anatomical details that can be easily overlooked.
Ron Mueck, Tony Matelli, Evan Penny, Takashi Murakami, and Patricia Piccinini
employ modern technology first used for Sesame Street figures. (Mueck worked
for the program.)
While Figure It Out
focuses primarily on the work of a younger generation of figurative sculptors who honor proficiency but imbue the work with invention and metaphoric power, seminal work by Red Grooms and Nam June Paik are included in the exhibition as a point of reference.
Among the artists whose work is included in Figure It Out
Deborah Butterfield (US), Bonnie Collura (US), Berlinde DeBruyckere (Belgium),
Folkert de Jong (Netherlands), Keith Edmier (US), Tom Friedman (US), Red
Grooms (US), Mathilde ter Heijne (Germany), Oliver Herring (US), Damien
Hirst (UK), Karsten Krejcarek (US), Mark Manders (Belgium), Tony Matelli
(US), Paul McCarthy (US), Ron Mueck (UK), Takashi Murakami (Japan), Juan
Munoz (Spain), Nam June Paik (Korea), Evan Penny (Canada), Patricia Piccinini
(Australia), Rona Pondick (US), Will Ryman (US), Claudette Schreuders (So.
Africa), Kiki Smith (US), and Olav Westphalen (Germany) and video artists
Marina Abramovic (Holland), Maria Marshall (UK), Shirin Neshat (Iran) and
Yayoi Kusama (Japan).