How to Bump into a Sculpture
In the fifties the abstract painter Barnett Newman once quipped that “sculpture is what you bump into to see a painting.” Put crudely, sculpture for the museum-goer was a literal pain in the ass. It says much about the development of contemporary art since Newman’s time that yesterday’s insult is today’s compliment. For the sculptures and reliefs in this exhibition by Davide Balula, Isabelle Cornaro, and Rachel Harrison all in one way or another ask viewers to “bump into them,” so to speak. Ironically, they do so through the very sculptural form that Newman himself (following in the footsteps of Brancusi) had rescued from the art historical grave: the monolith.
Traditionally, the primary mission of the monolith — and its horizontal sibling, the plinth — was to make sculpture monumental, that is, to erect it within a ceremonial, idealized, almost ritual space highly disconnected from our own. The artists of “How to Bump into a Sculpture” all question this isolation by re-inserting the object back into the world. Davide Balula’s Vent (HHH 3) and Vent (4884: SW, SE, E, NE, NW) do this in the most literal way. Seemingly innocent abstract reliefs actually blow air onto viewers as they approach them. These works continue Balula’s longstanding interest in the fluid boundaries in today’s world between the natural and the artificial, the biological and the mechanical. Isabelle Cornaro’s Homonymes and Untitled (P#1-5) series, in contrast, dramatizes the moment when art, like all commodities, loses the special qualities that animated it, and, like cast-off jewelry or dated language, becomes inert, metaphorically “dead” material. Rachel Harrison’s funky Casabella takes yet another approach, that of the irreverent do-it-yourselfer whose seemingly make-shift day-glo assemblages are the sculptural equivalent of the rowdy intruder who has no problem violating rules of proper decorum. The ventilator, the tombstone, the prop-piece — these are just three modalities available to contemporary sculpture. To keep one’s distance or not? That is the question.
Davide Balula (b.1978) lives and works in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include 37,5°C, Galerie des Enfants, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2018); Mimed Sculptures, Art Basel Unlimited (2016); La main dans le texte, Prix Marcel Duchamp, FIAC, Paris (2015). Recent group exhibitions include Clepsydre, FRAC Poitou Charentes, Angoulême (2018); Le Grand Ecart : 10 nommés du Prix Marcel Duchamp, Tsinghua University Art Museum, Beijing (2018); 14e Biennale de Lyon, Mondes flottants, La Sucrière/MAC Lyon, Lyon (2017). Recent performances include Endless Pace (Mechanical Clock for 60 musicians), Carte Blanche YACP, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2018); Calories and Dance Moves for the Internal Organ Systems, Nacht der Museen, Schirn (2018); Brief Encounters ’18, Lustwarande, Tilburg, Netherlands (2018). Balula’s work is held within notable public institutions such as, Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris; Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, Paris; Musée d’Art Contemporain du Val–de–Marne, Vitry–sur–Seine; Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain Poitou–Charentes; and Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain Provence–Alpes Côte d’Azur.