Monday, 7 February 2011

On Sculpture Being Boring

“Why is sculpture so boring?” So said Charles Baudelaire in 1848. Sculpture in Baudelaire’s time was boring. In actual fact, with some notable exceptions, sculpture was, for a very long time, very boring indeed. Have a wander through the Musee d’Orsay or the second floor of the Met and you might well be struck by the disparity between painting and sculpture in the mid- to late- nineteenth century. On the one hand, there’s Gustave Courbet’s ferocious, gnarled tableaux of ugly peasants and aggressively sexual maidens; on the other, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s dreary trudge through mythological subjects. With the occasional blip – all of Degas’s sculptures and some of Rodin’s – sculpture at the birth of modernism looked like something we were planning to ditch once we worked out what paintings should look like. This wasn’t new in the nineteenth century – Leonardo da Vinci had famously already slammed sculpture as retrograde and coarse, something for the horny-handed working classes/Michelangelo – and nothing had really changed by the time of Ad Reinhardt’s dinner party witticism in the 1950s: “sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting,” after which he waggled his eyebrows and pinched an heiress on the backside.

Read the whole piece at Art21 here.

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