Architecture often attempts to play with several spatial and formal concepts but the extent of this experimentation is often limited by budgetary and engineering constraints. Sculpture is a medium with which formal and spatial tests can be performed to an aesthetic extent without architectural limitation. There are several modern sculptors whose products can be seen as architecture. Here we will look at the works of Robert Smithson, Richard Serra and Anish Kapoor.
Robert Smithson is most markedly known for his monumental earthworks. By means of his experiments with the natural world, Smithson experimented with disorientation mixed with an intimate connection between a structure and its natural materials. “Spiral Jetty” is arguably Smithson’s most noted work. This man-made outcropping uses simple gestures to produce both monumentality and an awe inspiring interaction. Smithson’s other earthworks also deal with a sense of monumentality and unnatural intervention by natural means. In his smaller works Smithson plays with materiality, scale, reflection and a manner of deconstruction. By using natural material mixed with an array of mirrored surfaces, Smithson plays with perception and a small scale artificial landscape.
Working with a more structural palette, Richard Serra pushes the boundaries of engineering and materiality. Using molded and contorted steel slabs, Serra tests both gravity and human nerve. Literally “bending” the walled contours of the space allows for a play between a concept of a realistic norm and an actual idealism. Within his breadth of work Serra creates visually interesting and monolithic sculptures that bend both metal and mind. Serra’s view of space and the world can be inferred from his sculpture, manipulation of space and material create a surreal sensation and yet a concrete sensation of adherence to the earth. The sheer scale and size of his pieces both create their own space yet play off of the given space to create a harmony that resonates in both those versed in and new to art.
Within each structure there is a sense of a loss of place and time which gives each viewer a sense of intimacy and wonder at the space they have just entered. Possibly inspired by a less than warm view of architecture, Serra’s work creates its own manner of space which breaks quite readily from architectural views. Monolithic as they are, Serra’s sculptures seem to defy and yet be enslaved by gravity. Held together by simply a few welds these works are a testament to the power of gravity and weight to which we ourselves are subjected. Though these works dwarf the human form, in this way they are connected to it and though they inspire the viewer to look up and experience the sky and warped space, when they look down they are much more aware of the concrete nature of their connection to the earth.
Anish Kapoor’s works can be described as monumental and minuscule, bold and restrained, shaped by and shaping space; it is his versatile nature that makes Anish Kapoor palatable to almost every taste. By using a space to literally and/or figuratively reflect back on itself Kapoor always has a sense of self, purpose and place. Kapoor’s “Svayambh” installation at Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany and the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Nantes, France he shows his ambition to both reflect and pay tribute to works’ surroundings. In contrast yet correlation to this physical reflectance of its surroundings Kapoor’s various reflective mirrored pieces use perspectives and views of a space that are existent in order to achieve a higher understanding and appreciation of the space.
Kapoor’s “Sky Mirror” installations do exactly that and when placed at angles, juxtaposing concave and convex, a normally enclosed and claustrophobic cityscape opens up and reveals new perspectives to passersby. A simple gesture with relatively simple materials becomes artwork simply by reflecting its habitat, just as “Svayambh” does at a much more visceral and tactile level. The “Marsyas” installation provides a very different yet arguably similar feeling. Its scale is a large factor in it being its own rooted and monumental space yet it still feels and acts as if it is a reflectant product of the space. This can be argued from several different viewpoints; its scale matches that of the space in which it lives, reflected a monolithic nature of the room and structure overall. Anish Kapoor’s ideas of space, scale, reflectance and grandeur.
References: Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson
Photographs: Marie Aschehoug-Clauteaux, Shell Belle, Wally Gobets, Jeff Stvan, Matt Hobbs, Debbie R, Angeline Evans, Mike Lowell, Panos Kouros, James Diewald, Marc Lacoste, Pauline Shakespeare