On Conceptual Sculpture
I read a sobering review by Roberta Smith, well known critic for the NY Times, on Adel Abdessemed’s solo show, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” at the David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea. In this review she briefly highlights a few “of the cliches endemic in the Conceptually motivated realist sculpture.”
What’s been concerning me recently is the whole idea of Conceptual Sculpture—a vein of work I would tell you I work within.
Conceptual Sculpture is fundamentally confused, or at very least a paradox. As I understand it sculpture is about creating objects—where Conceptual Art, in its purest form, was a movement that aimed to move completely away, or beyond the art object.
I feel the problem with Conceptual Sculpture is this sort of drive to make work that functions on a didactic level. Many will tell you Conceptual Sculpture is about communication—it is about having an idea and executing it as Art Object, so the viewer can come to the piece and experience a point of view that the artist is offering. But the best of them, I’d argue, claim they are out to make works of Art that function on multiple levels. Sure the artist has their own intent, and sure it is important. But will this intent really matter in 100 years?
Roberta Smith claims Adel to be reductive—and in respect for her tenure and wisdom on such matters, I’m inclined to agree with her.
But isn’t this sort of sculpture something the art critics and historians over the years have created? Conceptual Sculpture is something that feeds off references from culture, art historical discourse, and the cannon. Conceptual Sculpture in many ways is a mode of producing art that raises the critic and historian as an integral part of the greater purpose of art. Conceptual sculptors are saying, there is a purpose, a meaning to my work—and I want you all to talk about it. And in this conversation, between the object and the critic/historian, cultural artifact is produced.
Should Roberta be praising Adel, saying, “Here is someone smart enough and in tune enough to unashamedly pinpoint and reproduce every hot cliche the international art market is supporting at this very moment, and shoving it right back in our faces.”
Maybe Adel is pointing out the worst of popular contemporary art. Maybe he isn’t. But, in light of Conceptual Sculpture, who can really be the judge? If it is Art that is supposed to function on multiple levels, maybe it’s Roberta who is being reductive.
Although I do not believe this to be the case, I do find it jarring to read her review. Short, terse and unflattering, it makes an unknown “Emerging Artist” like myself shiver and think: God I hope somebody hates my work enough one day to write about it. But damn, it’d be cooler if they dug it.
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