Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sculptures vs. Paintings

A tiny clay sculpture of John the Baptist at the Bode Museum in Berlin is attributed to the 15th-century Luccan artist Matteo Civitali.
There was a fascinating article on New York Times on the attractions of sculptures versus paintings by Michael Kimmelman.  He related that when he was in the Museum Island in Berlin, he was struck by the observation that people flocked to see multiple colored paintings and left the sculpture sections deserted, in many museums, including the Bode Museum which showcased the sculptures of John the Baptist by Matteo Civitali (left) and he deemed the sculpture as "all exquisite ecstasy and languor".

He continued that "a few minutes' walk from the Bode, the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, the rebuilt neo-Gothic former church designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the 1830s, houses its own sublime assortment of 19th-century sculpture. It's usually even emptier than the Bode, and it is free to boot. I'll occasionally spend an hour or so there, feeling small and unimportant before the portraits of Kant and the great German archaeologist Johann Winckelmann. Except for the doleful guards, I rarely encounter another living soul."

Greek _8213
Roman and Greek Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York
In retrospect, he conceded that "sculpture does still bear something of the burden of its commemorative and didactic origins. It's too literal, too direct, too steeped in religious ceremony and too complex for a historically amnesiac culture. We prefer the multicolored distractions of illusionism on flat surfaces, flickering in a movie theater or digitized on our laptops and smartphones, or painted on canvas. The marketplace ratifies our myopia, making headlines for megamillion-dollar sales of old master and Impressionist pictures but rarely for premodern sculptures."

I am a painter, not a sculptor, therefore I am afraid that my visits to museums often concentrated on the painting wings.  I had been asked to make sculptures many times but just couldn't abandon my tubes of paints, even temporarily.  Same thing happened to printmaking, etc.  I did make one sculpture of clay, a golden fish, in elementary school.  It was not very interesting, I think.

I understand sculpture less well than paintings, therefore, sculptures need to have higher quality and meaning to attract my attention.  I can enjoy completely innocent and whimsical paintings but for sculptures, if they failed to touch me with visceral impacts, I lose my interesting quickly.  This is not to say that I'm crazy about colors.  My palettes are often muted and even monochromatic.  I do see not being bound to verisimilitude in paintings as a plus in art creation.

Marble Tors, Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University
I'd thought that the invasion of 3D would have prompted more appreciation of sculptures.  But I perhaps am wrong.  Successful 3D adventures usually are espoused to colorful presentations, demonstrated in the seminal movie Avatar.  Perhaps, over-stimulation of our senses contributed to our depreciation of sculptures.

I just saw the last installment of Harry Potter movies, IMAX, 3D version.  It was not a good movie.  The 3D effects neither added nor subtracted.  The whole experience was actually more aural-based.  The theater blasted its high-tech sound system during commercials, previews and the feature.  I watched the entire movie with my ears plugged and hear the movie as clearly as any other normal movie experience.

It seems that nowadays anything less flashy would be appreciated less accordingly.  In order to make a big impact with art, even paintings - however colorful - are in no position to gloat.

It must be a gargantuan installation, and better still to have performing elements built in.

Soon, painters would bemoan our abandoned fates as those old sculptors.  I felt like a medieval monk already.

Nezha by Zhang Huan _8735
Nezha by Zhang Huan, San Francisco

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