The shape of things to come: new sculpture
The sculpture exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea is the latest exhibition made up of a mix of old and young sculptors, making their anarchic presence felt in the space that was once an army barracks. There are works by David Altmejd, John Baldessari and Rebecca Warren to name but a few.
In the first gallery are two huge pieces made by David Altmejd, The New North made of wood, foam, resin, paint, magic-sculpt, magic-smooth, epoxy, glue, mirror, horse hair, quartz crystals and wire. An imposing, visceral, magical anthropomorphic figure cast in a state of metamorphosis. This is an exploration of boundaries between the traditional figuration of subjects embedded with a sense of the other. Altmejd has attempted to meld spatial, spiritual and psychological worlds in a way to reconceptualise the sculptural figure. The New North is four metres tall making it a very large work. Contained within it are microcosmic worlds created by the artist using quartz crystals, mirrored rhomboid shapes, wires and horse hair.
The Healers is a work that has many parts overlapping such as hands, wings, kneeling and kissing figures. They look sexually charged though in the middle of physical agony. Both these works have a strong sense of presence. I felt compelled to look, look and look. They drew me in and kept my gaze making me want to stop and stare for as long as I could.
In John Baldessari’s work we see a very large ear piece entitled Beethoven’s Trumpet. (With Ear) Opus # 133. This large scale-work questions the paradox of communication’s incompleteness – a sculptural sound piece about a deaf composer. Baldessari’s montage of associations is an attempt to create something that highlights how through our senses we can find meaning that operates beyond vision. Until the viewer speaks in to the trumpet the work is silent but then a section of Beethoven’s six last quartets are heard but only very quietly. The question then is if this is Beethoven’s deaf ear, is the meaning of what is said connected to the sounds that are heard, and what do the seemingly random fragments mean?
In Gallery 8 Rebecca Warren shows her work Croccioni made from reinforced clay on two painted plinths. Her amorphous sculptures create a bold new figure for the standing female nude. Using the one of the most traditional art forms in art history she subverts them filling them full of inherited clichés connected to the genre. This is itself is perhaps a redefinition of what sculpture should be or look like. Their earthy, unfinished look create a tension between thought and process while at the same time seem to gather these together making a unique sculptural piece of work. She is inspired by Picasso’s work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Boccioni and 1970’s rock culture. Merging ideas and references together enables her to re-engage with traditional art and re-make it as her own.
In most of the 15 galleries the room sized sculptures represent abstract concepts of space, time and matter giving a sense of fragility as opposed to stability. Perhaps this could be how we may be able to define human knowledge. Is this what Saatchi is asking us to do? Does he regard the works in this exhibition as a defining moment in art history and the human condition?
There is also the question of where sculpture sits in terms of its assumed relationship to the human scale and in contrast to the conceptual forms of minimalism? Could this exhibition represent a messy aesthetic which is both alluring, charming and ugly without much reference to beauty?