Photo/Sculpure: Objects, Spaces, and Places in Reproduction
Since the mid-nineteenth century, photographs of sculpture have proliferated as documentary records of excavated objects, mass-produced images for popular consumption, illustrations for use in art history, or even as forms of visual self-promotion by artists or their studios. By the beginning of the twentieth century, modernist photographs of sculpture tended to represent objects against neutral, black backgrounds and under perfect lighting. They were meant to present sculpture in full visibility, resulting in clear, useful, and aesthetically pleasing images.
Following the 1960s, the clearly-defined medium of “sculpture” was challenged by minimalism, land art, performance, and early forms of installation. These practices transformed sculpture, a medium previously conceived as objects on pedestals or large monuments, into something increasingly destabilized, ephemeral, and remote. As such, they posed significant challenges to the conventions and validity of the modernist photographic document. For instance, how could one photograph a room full of rocks, an action performed with wax and felt, a pile of snow in a remote landscape, a room filled with projected light, or a living body meant to evoke the idea of figural sculpture?
Answers to some of the questions posed above often took the form of independently produced artists’ books and magazines, postcards, and illustrated exhibition catalogues. While some may ultimately succeed or fail to represent the object, place, body, or space in question, these publications reveal how sculptural practices between the 1960s and 1980s continually tested and contested photography’s ability to picture it.
Julie Warchol (MA 2015)
Table Of Contents
Information, ed. Kynaston L. McShine, Museum of Modern Art, New York, ABR NX427.N7 I5 (Restricted Access)
Let's Take Back Our Space, Marianne Lyra-Wex, 101.74
Project entitled "The beginnings of a complex..." (1976 - 77): Notes, Drawings, Photographs, ABR/REF N1 .A814
Equilibres, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, 118.21
Honeypump, Joseph Beuys, RA 2.585
De Sculptura: works in the city : some ongoing questions,Maria Nordam, 1100.10
100 Boots, Eleanor Antin, 20.19
Reproductions shown as comparisons
William Henry Fox Talbot’s two calotypes of the Bust of Patroclus
Alfred Stieglitz’s photograph of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain
Photographs of Richard Serra creating Splashing
Two photographs of Renaissance sculpture by Clarence Kennedy
Roger Fenton’s stereograph of the Discobolos in the British Museum
Display Case 2: Objects/Actions, Carl Andre & Joseph Beuys
12 dialogues, 1962 - 1963, Carl Andre, RA 2.522
144 blocks & stones, Carl Andre, RA 2.468
Carl Andre, sculpture, 1959 - 78 [catalogue of an exhibition held at] Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, March 17 - April 23, 1978. Carl Andre, ABR NB237 .A53 A4 1978b
Quincy Book, Carl Andre, RA 2.428
Postkarten, Joseph Beuys, RA 2.655
1a gebratene Fischgräte, Joseph Beuys, RA 2.335
Avalenche, 1970 - 1976, Cover featuring Joseph Beuys, Z15.1
Display Case 2: Reproductions shown as comparisons
Copy of Carl Andre’s Last Ladder by Hollis Frampton
Page spread from Carl Andre Whitechapel Gallery catalogue
Page spread on Carl Andre from Avalanche
Page spread of Joseph Beuys installing work for When Attitudes Become Form from Avalanche
Display Case 3: Places/Land Art
Robin Redbreast’s Territory/Sculpture 1969, Jan Dibbets, 9.41
3 Issues of Avalanche with Terry Fox, Robert Smithson, and Yvonne Rainer on cover, Michael Heizer’s work on cover, Z15.1
Mountains and waters, Richard Long, 8.46
The North Woods, Richard Long, 10.18
Two page spread on Jan Dibbets’ sculpture from Avalanche
Two two-page spreads on Robert Smithson’s Amarillo Ramp from Avalanche
Two page spread on Michael Heizer from Artforum
Display Case 4: The Body & Spaces as Sculpture
Self Portrait Frieze, John Coplans
Schematic drawing for Muybridge II, 1964, Sol LeWitt, RA 2.448
Documenta 7 Kassel catalogue (1982), ABR N6488.G3 K3718 1982a
Splitting, Gordon Matta-Clark, ABR TR647.M288 A4 1990
Rooms PS1 exhibition catalogue, RA ABR N6535.N5 I57 1977
Robert Irwin Whitney Museum catalogue (1977), Robert Irwin, ABR NA737.I78 W47
Reproductions shown as comparisons
Bruce Nauman’s Self Portrait as Fountain
Bruce Nauman Composite Photo of Two Messes on the Studio Floor (1967)
Two-page spread of Gilbert and George photo-works from Documenta 7 catalogue
Barry Le Va installation from Documenta 7 catalogue
James Turrell’s light works from Avalanche
Objects/Actions: Andre and Beuys
The sculptors Carl Andre and Joseph Beuys represent two very different attitudes toward the photographic representation of sculpture.
While Andre had no problem with his close friend and photographer Hollis Frampton documenting his early wood sculptures, as seen in 12 Dialogues, 1962-63 (top shelf, far left), he later became very resistant to having his floor-hugging works in metal, stone, and wood photographed. For Andre, these later works were meant to be experienced as things to be walked on and around, heard, and sensed kinesthetically, not as objects to be looked at. As such, although photographers photographed his sculptures either as singular objects or vast expanses of material without the presence of people, the artist lamented photography’s inability capture the experience of his sculpture.
In his Quincy Book (top shelf, far right), produced in conjunction with a 1973 exhibition of Six Alloy Plains at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, Andre chose not to have his sculptures represented in a conventional exhibition catalogue. Rather, he asked ___ to photograph areas in his hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts. Instead of presenting his sculptures, we instead see views of a small snow-covered town, where piles of wood might evoke the idea--but not the literal representation--of Andre’s work.
Beuys, on the other hand, willfully used photography to document his “actions,” which were conceived as sculptures. He often produced books and sets of postcards in order to make his ephemeral practices and arrangements of materials, such as felt and wax, widely seen and known. Indeed, as he famously claimed that everything he did was “sculpture,” the artist even understood these photographic and printed records as sculptures themselves. Most often, Beuys himself was pictured in the act of making since, for him, the process or “action” was as much the “sculpture” as the objects themselves.
Places: Land Art in the 1970s
By the 1970s, land artists such as Robert Smithson, Richard Long, Jackie Winsor, Michael Heizer, and others capitalized on photography’s ability visually represent and disseminate their often immense and ephemeral works located in remote locations in the American West or, in Long’s case, in England or abroad. The illustrated artists’ book and magazine, in addition to presenting photographs and other forms of information in galleries, played a major role in showing their work.
Long has and continues to use the artists’ book format to make self-contained photographic presentations of his subtle impositions on the landscape, such as arranged sticks, rocks, or snow.
Smithson, Heizer, and others were often featured in illustrated magazines, such as Artforum (top shelf, far left) or the artists’ magazine Avalanche, published between 1970 and 1976 in New York (top shelf, center; bottom shelf, far right). Early photographic representations of land art simultaneously visually situate and decontextualize their works. While these land sculptures are shown in a vast, flat expanse of the surrounding land--often with a fairly specific indication of location--there is also a false sense that these works are merely “out there” or “nowhere.”
In many cases, the publications depicting works by land artists seem to fetishize the large format and long, horizontal spread of the page, which emulates the broad horizon of the landscape which acts as a photographic backdrop for their works.
Bodies and Spaces as Sculpture
In addition to objects and remote places, the ever-expansive category of sculpture came to include practices which used living bodies and temporary architectural spaces or installations.
Artists such as Bruce Nauman, Gilbert and George, John Coplans, and even Sol LeWitt used photography to blur the boundaries between living and sculptural bodies, as well as photography and sculpture more generally. Photographer John Coplans exploited the accordion-book format to reference the ancient traditions of figural frieze sculpture in his Self-Portrait Frieze (top shelf, left). In Self-Portrait as Fountain (1966-67; 1970), shown in a reproduction (top left), Nauman transformed his own body into a sculpture recalling Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), reproduced in the famous Stieglitz image in the first exhibition case. In the pages of the Documenta 7 exhibition catalogue from 1982, the “living sculptures” Gilbert and George present themselves in manipulated photographic works. In his early work Schematic Drawing for Muybridge II from 1964 (top shelf, second from right), LeWitt exhibited a long box-shaped sculpture in which viewers would peer through a peephole to view these photographs of an advancing female model, reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of moving figures in the 1870s and 1880s.
Architecture and installation poses its own challenges to the photographic document. In Gordon Matta-Clark’s photographs of his “anarchitecture” works (shown in a small exhibition catalogue, bottom shelf, left, on wall), the artist visualized works such as Splitting (1974) through composite photographs. While the sculpture itself consisted of a house sawed in half in Englewood, New Jersey, Matta-Clark visualized the work by photographing the site, cutting and manipulating the negatives, and printing them as photographs which augment and fragment the image of architecture just as he had done to the original structure itself. Robert Irwin and James Turrell’s spaces altered by projected light (bottom shelf, far right), however, expose how black and white photography might utterly fail to represent some newer forms of sculpture. Irwin in particular famously objected to his works being photographed, except in his later collaborations with the famous color photographer Joel Meyerowitz.
,” SAIC Flaxman Library & Special Collection Exhibitions, accessed September 20, 2018, https://flaxman.omeka.net/items/show/43.