Three dimensional art works went through a heavy period of transition through the 20th century. At the start, sculpture could be summed up in Johann Gottfreid von Herder’s consideration of sculpture as “a harsh reality. ” Unlike painting and the other traditional media, sculpture was being redefined, both formally and technically. Painting, despite the many innovations and explorations that occurred in the 20th century, was still oil and pigment put on a flat surface.
But sculpture, rather 3 dimensional arts, became so much more dynamic and expansive. There was no requisite to make 3 dimensional artworks to be made of traditional materials like stone, bronze or wood; but instead, they could-and were-made of anything. One major development was installation art. Installation art was three dimensional works that was meant to engage and transform the exhibition space or whatever is in proximity to the work itself. Land art is the outdoor equivalent of this phenomenon.
Installation can be considered coming into real prominence during the 1970’s, but has its roots all the way back with Marcel Duchamp’s readymade sculptures The genre can include traditional and everyday materials, as well as new media such as video, audio, and performance. Before the nomenclature of installation was coined, these types of works were also called environments, project art, and temporary art. Its primary focus is to have the work of art exceed traditional media through the escaping of flat, square frames, and pedestals with isolated objects.
Instead, it attempts to immerse the viewer, the environment, and all its other adjunct factors in as a part of the art. For this reason, most installations are considered to have no definite specific media. Instead, it is said that time and space are the only persistent elements of this type of work. The overwhelming element of installations developed from Richard Wagner’s revival of Gesamkunstwerk in his operas. He incorporated every element of art to completely overwhelm the viewer. This is the intent of the installation artist.
In another vein, three dimensional arts, particularly the more traditional genre of sculpture, the element and philosophy of minimalism became dominant with the vanguard of David Smith. David Smith is a primary example of this. His sculptures were some of the most original and simplistic sculptures at the time. Among the greatest American sculptors of the twentieth century, David Smith was the first to work with welded metal. He wove a rich mythology around this rugged work, often talking of the formative experiences he had in his youth while working in a car body workshop.
Yet this only disguised a brilliant mind that fruitfully combined a range of influences from European modernism including Cubism, Surrealism, and Constructivism. It also concealed the motivations of a somewhat private man whose art was marked by expressions of trauma. Smith was close to painters such as Robert Motherwell, and in many respects he translated the painterly concerns of the Abstract Expressionists into sculpture. But far from being a follower, his achievement in sculpture was distinctive and influential.
He brought qualities of industrial manufacturing into the language of art and proved to be an important influence on Minimalism. Collage was an important influence on Smith, and it shaped his work in various ways. It inspired him to see that a sculpture, just like a paper collage, could be made up of various existing elements. It also encouraged him to combine found objects like tools into his sculptures; it later influenced the way he contrasted figurative motifs and informed the way he assembled the large-scale geometric abstract sculptures of his last days.
One of Smith’s most important formal innovations was to abandon the idea of a “core” in sculpture. This notion was pervasive in modern sculpture, fostering an approach that saw sculptural form springing from a center that was almost imagined to be organic and alive. But Smith replaced it with the idea of “drawing in space. ” He would use thin wire to produce linear, transparent sculptures with figurative motifs at their edges. Later he would use large geometric forms to create structures reminiscent of the vigorous gestures of the Abstract Expressionists.
One of the means by which Smith sought to keep the viewer at a distance from his sculptures – emotionally and intellectually – was to devise innovative approaches to composition. These were aimed at making it difficult for the viewer to perceive or imagine the entirety of the object at once, forcing us to consider it part by part. One method he used was to disperse pictorial motifs around the edge of the sculpture, so that our eyes have to move from one element to another. Another was to make the sculptures look and seem very different from the front than they do from the side.
He completely redefined the construction methods of sculpture, using a blow torch to weld instead of casting—the normal way to make sculpture. As a result, much of his work is highly original, and it is considered that he has a strong relation to painters. The method he uses is, in fact, more closely related to painting than the typical act of sculpture. He adds separate pieces of scrap metal and welds them together. He also pushed the boundaries subjectively in sculpture, producing some subjects that were never produced in three dimensional arts before.
Later on, he also began using a sander—which helped define the texture found on his cubi series. It was through this man that American sculpture was defined. Minimalism was his main influence in these later designs, in which he stripped forms of all their excess elements to give it the bare minimum representation. David Smith’s career encompasses a range of styles, from the figurative expressionism of his early relief sculptures, to the organic abstraction of his Surrealist-influenced work, to the geometric constructions of his later years.
In this respect, he drew on many of the same European modernist influences as his peers, the Abstract Expressionists. And, like them, one of his most important advances lay in adapting the language Even with David smith and the minimalist movement, there were still more stylistic developments in the 20th century. There was also a resurgence of figurative art during this period. IN 1960, art critic Pierre Restrany wrote a manifesto for a group who called themselves the new realists, and called for a new way of perceiving the real.
The term nouveau realisme, or new realism, has long been tied to the specific claims made by the critic Pierre Restany about the Paris-based art group he promoted. Restany convinced Arman, Yves Klein, Jean Tinguely, Daniel Spoerri, Martial Raysse, Jacques de la Villegle, Raymond Hains, and Francois Dufrene to sign on initially, and then added Cesar, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Gerard Deschamps, Mimmo Rotella, and Christo. His 1960 manifesto characterized their art as affirmatively summoning “the whole of sociological reality, the common good of human activity, the large republic of our social exchanges, of our commerce in society.
This movement led to a newfound interest in the human figure, which seemingly disappeared during the popularity of abstract expressionism and minimalism. To this group any image could be incorporated into the art of the new realists. They had a similar goal as the makers of installations—to bring the world of art closer and more applicable to real life. Therefore they tended toward realistic artwork. In the field of figurative art, they often focused on outside objects of the figure for identification, in an attempt to avoid the “traps of figurative art:” petty bourgeois and Stalinist social realism.
These artists also began a more collective attitude towards art, sometimes making works in collaboration with each other, with the intent of displaying the works anonymously. This massive new development in three dimensional work is partially due to the photograph making the realistic image somewhat obsolete, and thus at the beginning of the century an urgency of abstracted and eventually non representative work began to develop. Later on, abstract expressionism pushed boundaries even further to challenge the process of making art.
By the time the sixties come around, artists are on the edge of these two frontiers, and some manage to push the boundaries even further, exploring the process more through building installations out of anything and making sculpture from scrap. Others, however, feel a drought in the art world and call for a new, innovative way to display the real. All in all, disinterest in realistic images and a thirst for exploration are what mark the midcentury three dimensional art scenes.
Courtney from Study Moose
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