International Sculpture Center
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Sculpture cover


May 2005 Vol.24 No.4
A publication of the International Sculpture Center

Complete text in print version available at fine newsstands and through subscription.

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From the Chairman

Because of its many-sided character, sculpture is subject to a great deal of interpretation. This is the very nature of the dialogue at the ISC. Decade by decade, we witness the evolution of individual contributions rather than schools. The “isms” of the past are replaced by art fairs and marketing, but at the same time there is an engagement with many more ideas and much more diversity. There is, in fact, a meteoric rise in talent, energy, and general exposure to sculpture. The evolution of sculpture as a phenomenon is fundamental to modern art and culture, wresting from painting the title of ruler of avant-garde thinking and design. From Duchamp and Brancusi to David Smith, Tony Smith, and Louise Bourgeois, to the recent efforts of such contemporary artists as Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the evolution of sculptural directions has seen colossal shifts in ideas, paradigms, and materials.

Recently it seemed that the entire world walked through The Gates in Central Park—whether we experienced them directly or through the media. They appeared in giant form in photo spreads and on banner headlines. They glowed on computer screens and served as the topic of bemused TV conversation. Why so much attention? Is the world secretly attracted to orange? The first answer is scale: 7,500 separate gates covered paths across the 23-acre park. On the ground, they seemed to go on forever like the Yellow Brick Road. Second, the simple post-and-lintel structure of each gate created a special place in which viewers could see something new enlivening a familiar setting. Third, everyone could participate in The Gates: all the activities of the park became part of the sculpture. Christo and Jeanne-Claude achieved what all artists strive for—a unique, nearly indescribable experience, shared by many but different for each individual.

The Gates built a brilliant conceptual plan on a classic paradigm: man versus nature. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s repetitive structures followed the paths of Olmsted’s blueprint, set against the colors and patterns of nature in mid-winter. The rectangular forms punctuated the organic web of tree limbs and branches. The visual contrast was brilliant too. Added to this were the masses of people delighted by the simple act of walking through and passing under a gate.

Central Park is an oasis for the city; with The Gates, it became a staging ground for something described as “enchanting,” “memorable,“ cool,” “tremendous,” “magical,“ and “marvelous.” Even the cynics applauded. Many people asked if it was art. The resolute reply was yes, because it took the ordinary and made it extraordinary.

At the same time, New Yorkers could also experience three outdoor steel works by Mark di Suvero in Madison Square Park, a selection of works by Julian Opie in City Hall Park, and Tom Otterness’s bronze creatures displayed along lower Broadway. New York is not alone (although the scale of its efforts may be greater); cities in America and around the world are aware of the impact of art, its contribution to the quality of life, as well as to tourism and economic vitality.

Sculpture, like architecture, can define and contribute to the energy and dynamics of a metropolitan community. Sculpture lives in the streets, in plazas, and in parks, and it functions well in all of these contexts. Are we entering an era when sculpture will be, as it is in other parts of the world, a characteristic of urban design and planning? If so, we welcome the opportunity, if not, we want to recommend the approach.

Michael Klein
ISC Executive Director

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