publication of the International Sculpture Center
Mirrors and Reflective Materials in Contemporary Sculpture
Jane Ingram Allen
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Yamazaki, Sky Project, 2003. Twelve polished copper discs,
each approximately 20 in. diameter. View of installation in park
Sakai City, Osaka, Japan.
sculptors are using mirrors and reflective materials in exciting new ways
to expand space and engage viewers. The mirror theme also seems to be
popular with curators, and reflective surfaces are popping up in many
group shows, including the 2004 Whitney Biennial. Several museums and
galleries have had recent exhibitions featuring artists using mirrors
and reflective materials for sculpture and installation works.
2002, the MASS MoCA exhibition Mirror, Mirror focused on the
psychological implications and perceptual phenomena associated with mirrors.
The exhibition, curated by Jane Simon, featured works by 10 artists including
Olafur Eliasson, Jeff Koons, Maureen Connor, and Alyson Shotz among others.1
sculptures using mirrors were also featured in her recent one-person exhibition,
A Slight Magnification of Altered Things, at the Tang Teaching
Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.2
A highlight of the show was the large-scale outdoor installation Mirror
Fence. This knee-high picket fence covered entirely with mirrors was installed
along the edge of a campus green near the gallery. The many pieces of
the fence, reflecting the changing landscape of Skidmore and the moving
feet of the passing students, glistened in the sun and provided a fascinating
Eliasson, one of the artists included in Mirror, Mirror, has
repeatedly used mirrors along with other materials that explore the act
of perception. In 2002, while the Museum of Modern Art was renovating
its Manhattan sculpture garden area, he created Seeing yourself sensing,
a striped mirror and clear glass wall that gave viewers a fractured view
of the garden and themselves as they rode the escalators or peered through
to see the construction work. Eliasson was also one of the artists included
in Air (2003) at James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea.3 Eliassons
work in this show, Waterfall Mobile, was a multi-media suspended installation
that juxtaposed a multi-faceted star-like form made of mirrors with lumps
of lava and a photo-collage ball showing different waterfalls. Eliasson
also created a site-specific installation using mirrors in 2000 at Tonya
Bonakdar Gallery, New York.4 For your now is my surroundings, he placed
mirrors around the gallery's skylight, which he opened to the elements.
Viewers received an intense, but controlled perceptual experience, seeing
themselves reflected, the grid of the skylight frame multiplied, and other
perceptual marvels that brought the outside into the gallery. Eliassons
one-person exhibition at the ICA Boston in 2001 also featured works using
Eliasson, New York artist Susan Leopold uses mirrors to reorganize our
perceptions. For her 2002 exhibition at MASS MoCA, titled Susan
Leopold: Mixed-Up Worlds, she combined mirrors, photographs, and
angled walls in diorama-like constructions that broke apart and reconstructed
everyday images, creating maze-like optical illusions.6 For her sculptural
diorama Up the Down Stair, Leopold photographed a series of public schools
with a variety of architectural features and different staircases. The
work included a video of childrens feet running up the down
staircase, with the mirrors and angled walls fracturing space, extending
it, and multiplying the viewers perceptions.
University of Massachusetts, University Gallery at Amherst also hosted
an exhibition with a mirror theme in fall 2003. Mirror Tenses: Conflating
Time and Presence, which featured eight contemporary artists, included
works by Louise Bourgeois and Michelangelo Pistoletto, both well known
for their works incorporating mirrors. Bourgeois has used mirrors in several
of her works over the years, most notably for her site-specific Unilever
Series installation (2000) at Tate Modern, London. The installation
in Turbine Hall consisted of three towers with spiral staircases and huge
round mirrors that encouraged viewers to contemplate their own reflections
as well as the architecture of the immense space.
has also used mirror-like reflective materials in figurative sculptures
such as The Couple, 2002, which was included in upon reflection
(2003) at Sean Kelly Gallery, New York.7 This exhibition focused on artists
using reflective materials or employing references to the act of reflection
and included works by 15 artists in addition to Bourgeois, among them
Marina Abramovic, Jeff Koons, Pia Stadtbaumer, Douglas Gordon, and Ann
elements and a concern with female self-image link Sarah Havilands
sculptures using mirrors to those of Bourgeois. In Havilands Quickening
(1997), the body of a stylized, self-absorbed female figure made from
wire mesh wraps around a mirror that reflects the viewers gaze.
Havilands recently installed Copper Beech: Peoples Trust,
at the Arts Exchange, White Plains, New York, also incorporates a mirror
to involve viewers in the contemplation of their own reflections. This
work features a tree-like form of copper mesh commemorating a local historical
beech tree saved from destruction during urban renewal. A recessed mirrored
floor expands the space and allows one to see up into the heart of the
tree. The square-shaped mirror pool echoes the structure of
the ceiling in the Peoples Trust bank building, erected in 1929
and now revitalized as a site for the arts.8
of these mirror shows, among them upon reflection at Sean
Kelly Gallery, have included works by Robert Smithson, one of the most
influential artists to make use of mirrors. In his series of Slideworks
created in the late 1960s, Smithson used mirrors to displace and fracture
the landscape, installing one or more rectangular mirrors at various sites
around the world, which he photographed and then removed.9 These photographscomposed
to show the fractured, reflected landscape, usually a barren and remote
spotare the artwork: there was no audience at the installation sites
except Smithson himself, and nothing is reflected except the landscape
and the sky. These works form part of Smithsons exploration of entropy
and time and of site and non-site.
Yamazaki's Sky Project series is closely connected to the
Slideworks, although the Japanese artist says that she is
not familiar with this aspect of Smithson's work. Yamazaki places highly
polished reflective copper disks in a randomly spaced line on the ground,
leaving them outdoors to gradually oxidize and reflect images of the sky
and passersby. Yamazaki, unlike Smithson, is interested in viewer interaction
with her work and how it changes over time and calls attention to the
land and sky. But she shares Smithson's interest in the site and how mirror-like
materials fracture, multiply, and reflect their surroundings. She recently
installed Sky Project pieces in Sakai City, Japan, as well
as in Sumter, South Carolina, for the public art exhibition Accessibility
2003.10 Yamazaki gathers the disks after their public exhibition
and makes prints on paper from the oxidized surfaces, further emphasizing
the element of time.
Japanese artist, Kaoru Motomiya, also uses mirrors in some of her site-specific
installations to explore the element of time and to engage viewers with
their own changing images. During her participation in the ISCP international
residency program in New York (200102), she created leak, an installation
that focused on arresting a moment in time (the water leaking from her
studio skylight). Motomiya captured the droplets in mid-air with her use
of small transparent resin capsules hanging on clear monofilament lines.
The suspended capsules were filled vials of an anti-aging lotion, and
on the floor were broken mirror bits and clear glass that reflected the
capsules and the viewers face. This work commented on the aging
process experienced by buildings as well as humans.
Yamazaki and Smithson, New York artist Suzi Sureck places her mirrors
in the landscape, but her outdoor sculptures are located underwater. Surecks
Many Moons for Bass (2000), Art Omi in New York, consisted of submerged
mirrored disks that reflected the changing sky, along with humans and
any other creatures that happened to swim by. The reflected images were
further refracted by the water above them, in itself a type of mirror.
Sureck has also made sculpture installations for indoor settings that
use light with mirrors, including Spin(e) (2001), a suspended cascade
of mirrored disks installed at Robert Pardo Gallery, New York.
use of mirrors and light recalls the work of Yayoi Kusama, who has for
many years used mirrors and lights in her mirror rooms. For
her 2003 exhibition at Robert Miller Gallery in New York, Kusama created
a Fireflies on the Water, with hundreds of lights magnified and reflected
to infinity. Seemingly a reprise of her earlier mirror rooms from the
1960s, this work still provided a magical experience.11 Stairway to Heaven,
a newer looking work in the exhibition, used fiber optics with mirrors
to create a strong repetitive image with an interesting conceptual bent.
Kusama seems primarily interested in mirrors for their ability to create
an infinite space and multiply her obsessive imagery. This repetition
ad infinitum can be seen in her paintings and works on paper, as well
as in her installations. One notable example is her outdoor installation
of mirrored balls, Narcissus Garden, from the 1966 Venice Biennale. With
her new work, Kusama may be generating even more interest among contemporary
artists in mirror-like materials.
Richter, featured in a retrospective at MoMA, New York, in 2002, has explored
the tradition of painting throughout his career, and he has used mirrors
as part of this investigation. For a 2003 installation at Dia Chelseas
lobby space (designed by Jorge Pardo), Richters stainless steel
mirror ball KugelSphere (1992) was placed on the multi-hued tile
floor to reflect the surroundings. Another two-part mirror piece (Spiegel
IMirror I and Spiegel IIMirror II) hung on the walls further
altering viewers' perceptions of the exhibition space and themselves.
Graham is also known for his viewer-engaging works using mirrors. His
Rooftop Urban Park Project (1997), a site-specific rooftop installation
at Dia Chelsea, provides viewers with an opportunity to stroll through
a maze-like environment and contemplate their own and others reflections
captured and multiplied in mysterious ways by his use of one-way mirrored
glass. Another Graham work, Two-way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth
(1994), for the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis,
also uses one-way mirrors to create an interactive environment.
by Brooklyn artist Peter Scott in his one-person exhibition at Schroeder-Romero
Gallery, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (2003), used one-way mirrored glass in
a new and intriguing way. Scotts installation featured framed rectangular
mirrors hanging on three adjoining walls, creating a comfortable home-like
environment. At first glance, these appeared to be normal mirrors, but,
on closer inspection, one could see ghostly figures through the glass,
which also reflected the viewers own image. Scott's carefully crafted
realistic paintings, placed behind the mirrors, portrayed strange and
somewhat scary images of violent crime scenes. The installation made you
feel as though there was someone, maybe not so safe and friendly, watching
you watching yourself.
work, like the mirror paintings of Michelangelo Pistoletto, an Arte Povera
artist, explores the three-dimensional within the two-dimensional aspect
of mirrors. Pistoletto has used mirrors in his work since the early 70s
to examine the uneasy shift between reality and representation. During
the early and mid-70s, he produced many figurative paintings on
mirrors and fragmented mirrors.13
Mirrors have long been used in folk art, outsider art, and craft. Decorative
works composed of myriad found objects and bits of broken mirrors and
reflective glass are common in outsider art, as well as in the ethnic
arts and crafts of India, Mexico, and other cultures. Mirrors and mirror-like
materials are also used in a variety of ways by interior decorators to
expand the space and create visual interest. Fine artists also enjoy working
with the decorative aspects of mirrors and mirror-like materials. For
instance, Andy Warhol used reflective Mylar to make his installation Silver
Clouds, stuffed pillows filed with helium and hung in space.14
Marti, The Flowers of Romance, 2003 (Installation view).
Mylar and mixed media. Courtesy of the artist.
Photo by by John McInerney.
at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art by Virgil Marti recalls
Warhol's work in the interior decorating mode. Martis stairway ramp
project, The Flowers of Romance (2003), consisted of cascading sheets
of free-hanging reflective silver Mylar imprinted with spider web imagery.
The installation created bizarre, twisted reflections lit by Martis
strange resin chandeliers cast from deer antlers and hung from macramé
cords. Marti, like Warhol, inserts high décor into fine art
contexts. His transformation of the ICA ramp into a grand, psychedelic
hall of mirrors
mimics the imposing hallways of stately European
homes. Rather than instilling reverence and respect, The Flowers of Romance,
evokes laughter, a creeping crawling sense of faded beauty and funhouse
Samaras has had long history of using mirrors in his crafty, obsessively
decorated box pieces (begun in the early 70s), as well as his mirror
rooms. His exhibition Unrepentant Ego: the Self-Portraits of Lucas
Samaras, at the Whitney Museum of American Art last winter, included
several of his signature boxes encrusted with a variety of materials,
including mirrors, and one of his mirror rooms. Viewers could enter this
corner structure, which is completely covered with mirrors, and contemplate
their various reflections. Samarass mirrored rooms are very similar
to Kusamas, which were created several years before his. Like Kusama,
Samaras creates an environment in which mirrors reflect other mirrors
to the point of infinity. It becomes a kind of fun-house experience, disorienting
for the viewer and recalling the hallucinogenic drug culture of the time.
sculptors enjoy using a shiny, highly polished, reflective surface and
are entranced with the ability to reflect. They also are interested in
how mirrored surfaces play with perception, multiplying and fracturing
the image. Mirrors also allow artists to actively engage viewersthis
fact might, in part, account for their current popularity among artists.
When viewers can see themselves reflected in a work, the art immediately
becomes of greater interest and provides a Narcissus-like fascination.
We all like to look at our own image and become caught up in how we can
change the artwork by moving ourselves. As people interact with mirror
works, a temporal element is also introduced. With the use of mirrors,
other people and the surroundings become part of the artwork. Mirrors
also expand the space visually, and sculptors naturally are interested
in this phenomenon since sculpture is above all about creating space.
1 Mirror, Mirror was on view at MASS MoCA, October 2002January
2003. See the Web site <www.massmoca.org/visual_arts/past_exhibitions/visual_arts_past_2002.shtml>.
A brochure is also available.
2 A Slight Magnification of Altered Things was on view at
Skidmores Tang Museum, <www.skidmore.edu/tang>, through December
3 The Web site <www.jamescohan.com/past> gives more information
about the Air exhibition.
4 For more information about Eliassons installation, visit the Web
5 For more about Eliassons work, see the authors article in
Sculpture October 2001: pp. 2933.
6 For more information about Leopolds Kidspace exhibition, visit
the Web site <www.massmoca.org/kidspace>.
7 For more information about upon reflection visit the Web
8 For more information and photos of Havilands work, visit the Web
9 For photos and more information, see Guglielmo Gargellese-Severi, editor,
Robert Smithson: Slideworks (Milan: Carlo Frua, 1997).
10 Visit <www.sumteraccessibility.org> and <www6.plala.or.jp/yumiko_y/a_prject/ae_fram.shtml>
for more information about Yamazakis Sky Project.
11 Kusamas first mirror room, Infinity Mirror RoomPhallis
Field, was shown at her one-person exhibition Floor Show (1965),
at Castellane Gallery, New York. See Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 19581968
(Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1998). Kusama discusses
many of her mirror installations in an interview available at <www.indexmagazine.com/interviews/yayoi_kusama.shtml>.
12 For more information about Richters Refraction installation,
13 The Web site <www.walkerart.org/generalinfo/press2001/press068.shtml>
gives more information about Arte Povera and the traveling exhibition
From Zero to Infinity, organized by the Walker Art Center,
Minneapolis. For more information about Pistolettos work with mirrors,
which shows his Broken Mirror, 1978. More photographs of works from his
2000 exhibition at Max Protetch Gallery, New York, are available at <www.artseensoho.com/Art/PROTETCH/pistoletto99/p1.shtml>.
14 For more information and photographs of Warhols Silver Clouds,
first shown in 1966 at Leo Castelli Gallery, see <www.ntticc.or.jp/Calendar/2003/EAT/Works/silver.shtml>.
15 ICA press release. For more information about the Marti installation,
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