[“Il Fascio della Tela” (1980), Michelangelo Pistoletto, painted canvases & string. “Avenza,” (1968-1969), Louise Bourgeois, latex & fiberglass. “Schlitten (Sled)” (1969), Joseph Beuys, Sled, felt, belts, flashlights, fat and rope.]
“The Irreverent Object,” a group exhibition of European sculpture from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, is up at Luhring Augustine through December 19, 2009. Including work by Arman, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Marcel Broodthaers, Lucio Fontana, Georg Herold, Martin Kippenberger, Jannis Kounellis, Piero Manzoni, Mario Merz, Reinhard Mucha, Giulio Paolini, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gerhard Richter, Dieter Roth, Jean Tinguely, Rosemarie Trockel and Franz West, the exhibition examines the subversive nature of sculptural practice employed by European artists from the 1960s through the 1980s. These artists expanded historically limited expressions of the sculpture creation by elevating nontraditional media and rebelling against the accepted canon. Unorthodox construction, diverse pairings, and alternative materials blurred conventional distinctions between aesthetic and utilitarian forms—opening floodgates for unprecedented appropriation and giving rise to dynamic new formal vocabularies.
Bucking tradition through recontextualization and display of recognizable objects, artists such as the highly literate and witty Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976), Arte Povera sculptor Giulio Paolini, kinetic Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), and passionate and influential Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) referenced and bypassed the playful and infamous ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Especially incorrigible was the work of Tinguely, which satirized the mindless overproduction of material goods in advanced industrial society.
Besides Paolini, other “practitioners” of Arte Povera appear in this exhibition. The works of Mario Merz (1925–2003) revealed prehistoric and tribal features hidden within limitations of time and space. Additionally, his neon words are hallmark in their transcendence. Michelangelo Pistoletto—a prime mover in Arte Povera—issued “Progretto Arte,” a manifesto proclaiming creative and socioeconomic unification of the entirety of human existence.
Broodthaers' wall piece, “Moule,” presents a dense group of empty mussel shells affixed to board, and Paolini's “Intervallo (Torsi)” divides the classical plaster cast of a figure emerging from opposing walls. Disparate mechanical parts appear functional in Tinguely's ultimately impractical floor and wall sculptures, and Joseph Beuys’ “Fluxusobjekt” is a grouping of intentionally arbitrary elements such as a cardboard box, fat, oil, a rubber ring, and a child's toy. By removing ordinary items from their familiar context, these artists often use humorous presentation and language to accomplish a dormant artistic potential within objects around us. “Emas Bluse,” was created in 1961, the year that Gerhard Richter fled from the German Democratic Republic and relocated to Düsseldorf. A significant turning point in the artist's career, the work marked Richter’s abandonment of the Socialist Realist style officially sanctioned by the former GDR. Immediately upon arrival in the German Federal Republic, Richter confronted and absorbed Abstract Expressionism.“Emas Bluse” marks a transition toward the artist’s eventual (and signature) destination of photo-based painting.
Finding inspiration from her childhood in her works, the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois incorporate a sense of vulnerability and fragility—often with a sense of sexuality or downright eroticism. German conceptual artist Rosemarie Trockel studied from 1974 to 1978 at Köln’s Werkkunstschule—then heavily under the spell of Beuys. Trockel is known for her knitted works—ironic comments of the traditionally feminine occupation placed in a context of mass production—as well as her overall feminist themes.
Other artists in “The Irreverent Object” employed everyday items to address existential notions of mortality. Swiss-German Dieter Roth (1930-1998)—sometimes known as Dieter Rot for using rotting foodstuffs in his sculptures—reflected a somber perspective in “Motorcycle Driver's Misfortune,” with its implied demise of the titular character and the decaying composition of the organic materials making up the work. Similarly, the prolific and provocative Martin Kippenberger (1953-1997) used dark humor in “Baby Püppi” to address issues of mortality and artistic legacy. His absurd juxtaposition of a baby stroller and a bronze cast of a pig leg in place of a child elevates the sculpture to an object of high art and, in a literal replacement of progeny, suggests that his artwork provides a kind of immortality.
The Irreverent Object: European Sculpture from the ’60s, ’70s, & ’80s
Through December 19, 2009
531 West 24th Street, New York, NY 10011