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Sculpture that Declares the Space Around it: John Atkin
by Robert C. Morgan


Sculpture as metaphor has recently been encroaching on the territory of the late Modernist anti-aesthetic of the literal, that of the Minimalist cube. Yet sculpture requires a context, and that context exceeds the presence of the work. It requires a sense of space or a conceptual framework in relation to space. This extended context has been the bane of three-dimensional art since it began to vacate the cathedral façade in the early Renaissance. Today, there are too many site-specific commissions that take a purely material/formal approach without considering the space around (or within) the forms as part of the work. For artists who work on large-scale, public sculptures that depend on a spatial as well as a formal encounter for a proper reading, this is a central problem. All too often, commissioning agencies and architects forget or do not understand that sculpture is more than the thing itself. Its intention is not merely to construct an iconic logotype. What the object becomes after the artist’s conception and execution of the work is something else. (Could Gustave Eiffel have predicted that his cast-iron tower would become the logo for thousands of travel agencies worldwide, not only in Paris but throughout Europe?) For sculpture to resonate—rather than simply to exist in public space—requires a clear attentiveness to the space around it.

NZ323135, 2005.
Cor-ten and stainless steel, 5 meters high.


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