Within the realm of artistic genres, the area of sculpture has perhaps become the most elastic in definition. Installation is sculpture. Performance is sculpture. Assemblage is sculpture. For many the word still evokes the traditional figurative carvings of Michelangelo or the rounded bronze castings of Henry Moore, but ultimately the term is endlessly pliable. For New York-based artist Arlene Shechet, sculpture is about action as well as form, about painterly experimentation as well as material. Her abstract, textural work is on view now at the Institute of Contemporary Art in a comprehensive retrospective that has introduced me to her art for the first time.
With large-scale paintings that seemingly ooze innards and self-portraits brushed with racial signifiers, Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão does not hold anything back. Her works offer a pointed commentary on contemporary race relations by referencing colorism, colonialism, co-mingled cultures, and cannibalism. The latter is the unifying theme of the artist’s first US solo exhibition, curated by Anna Stothart, though she and Varejão prefer the term “anthropophagy”- coined by Brazilian modernist poet Oswald de Andrade to describe the assimilation (“devouring”) of European culture by native Brazilians as a means of surviving during the colonial period.
When I heard that one of the newer exhibits at the Institute of Contemporary Art would feature stop-motion animation, I was pretty damned excited. Basically all I ever want in any visual entertainment is stop-motion animation, for real. But that description is only scratching the surface of Nathalie Djurberg’s work, produced in conjunction with her partner, Hans Berg, a composer. Djurberg combines elements of installation, sculpture, video, and sound to create her immersive room-size works, the newest of which is titled A World of Glass. For this piece, viewers enter an enclosed dark room lined with several rows of long tables, upon which rest hosts of small translucent sculpture- resembling glass but actually rendered in polyurethane.
Last month the Institute of Contemporary Art debuted two new exhibitions in their main galleries. One is a phenomenal video installation by William Kentridge, which I cannot recommend enough, but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about Nick Cave. The Chicago-based sculptor and performance artist who’s been making a big splash in the art world just within the past few years. I don’t think I’d heard of him before 2011 or so, and now I feel like I see him everywhere. He is known for his Soundsuits, a series of meticulously crafted wearable sculpture that can be displayed statically or worn in dance performances.
The human body as a subject has long fascinated visual artists. It has fallen prey to distortion and monstrosity, to sexualization and idolization, and so many other representations. In the 1970s many artists involved in the rising feminist movement turned to the female form as a symbol of oppression as well as power, some referencing Mother Earth metaphors and others satirizing 1950s domesticity and feminized consumerism. It became easy for any woman artist to be labeled “feminist” (a dirty word to many) regardless of her actual intentions or activism.