Topics in American Art since 1945

By Lawrence Alloway | Go to book overview

THE PUBLIC
SCULPTURE PROBLEM

Most twentieth-century art is produced privately (initiated solely by the artist himself) and becomes public information later. Once the art object exists and gets circulated beyond an intimate audience that the artist can control, it enters the domain of public knowledge. Some artists accept, others resist, this diffusion; resistance obligates them to a programme of curatorship to reduce the proliferation of unanticipated readings. Oldenburg is an example of an artist who considers variable interpretations inevitable and Stella, who has displayed a development that claims evolutionary coherence at each step, is an example of the effort to exclude free readings by closing his work as he goes. In this sense the problem of 'going public' faces every artist, but the term public sculpture means something more specific. It refers to art that is intentionally public from the outset, designed to occupy an unregulated site (by which I mean a place outside gallery, museum, or park limits).

The nineteenth century closed the tradition of public sculpture and the twentieth has not established one. A part of the success of nineteenth-century monuments came from the artists' capacity to draw on extra-artistic fields of knowledge. They could represent a hero, a personification (of a virtue or a city), memorialize an individual or a battle, without any scarcity of legible signs. The choice of classical robes, ceremonial dress, or modern clothes, for example, all held iconographical meanings that were easily available in non-esoteric literary sources as well as in baroque or classical prototypes. In addition to an accessible iconography the public sculpture of the last century usually maintains a sense of scale that makes it visually distinct even in cluttered sites. Hence the clarity of iconography was equalled by a clarity of human contour and gesture. In earlier Documentas when the park was used for sculpture the eighteenth-century figures along the ruined wall of the Orangerie were always more coherent and readable against the sky than the Moores and Picassos and the rest of the hardware below.

____________________
SOURCE: From Studio International, 184 (October, 1972), 123-124.

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Topics in American Art since 1945
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Topics in American Art Since 1945 *
  • Contents 7
  • List of Illustrations 9
  • Introduction 11
  • Acknowledgments 13
  • Abstract Expressionism 15
  • The Biomorphic '40s 17
  • Melpomene and Graffiti - Adolph Gottlieb's Early Work 25
  • The American Sublime 31
  • Barnett Newman - The Stations of the Cross and the Subjects of the Artist 42
  • Jackson Pollock's Black Paintings 52
  • Jackson Pollock's "Psychoanalytic Drawings" 58
  • Willem De Kooning 62
  • The Sixties, I - Hard Edge and Systems 65
  • Leon Polk Smith 67
  • Systemic Painting 76
  • Serial Forms 92
  • Sol Lewitt 96
  • Agnes Martin - (with an Appendix) 100
  • Gesture into Form - The Later Paintings of Norman Bluhm 111
  • The Sixties, II - Pop Art 117
  • Pop Art - The Words 119
  • Jim Dine 123
  • Rauschenberg's Graphics 125
  • Jasper Johns' Map 136
  • Marilyn as Subject Matter 140
  • Roy Lichtenstein's Period Style 145
  • The Reuben Gallery - A Chronology 151
  • In Place 155
  • The Sixties, III - Problems of Representation 161
  • Hi-Way Culture - (with Notes on Alan D'Arcangelo) 163
  • Art as Likeness - (with a Note on Post-Pop Art) 171
  • George Segal 182
  • Photo-Realism 185
  • Art and Interface 193
  • Allan Kaprow, Two Views 195
  • Artists and Photographs 201
  • The Expanding and Disappearing Work of Art 207
  • Stolen - (with Arakawa: an Interview) 213
  • Radio City Music Hall 218
  • Robert Smithson's Development 221
  • Art Criticism and Society 237
  • Notes on Op Art 239
  • The Public Sculpture Problem 245
  • The Uses and Limits of Art Criticism 251
  • Index 271
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