It’s that time again: ArtSmart Roundtable day! This month, we’re revisiting the topic of sculpture, but in a more general sense rather than just public sculpture. I kicked around a few ideas such as architectural friezes, reliquaries, or Bernini, but I decided to go with a more contemporary sculptor: Roy Lichtenstein. If you had a brief introduction to Pop Art, you might be familiar with his paintings. Ever saw a painting in a museum that looked like a blown up comic page? That’s probably a Lichtenstein.
He wasn’t solely a painter. He took his painting imagery and translated it into 3D sculptures in wood and metal. His “heads” and “brushstrokes” are famous images used in sculpture. If you’ve ever been the the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, there is a black and white metal brushstroke sculpture in their small sculpture garden. Go take a look as there are far fewer people there than the NGA’s sculpture garden. I love the simplicity of the piece. He takes the hard outlines of comic book illustration, the iconic image of the brushstroke and the act of painting, and he enlarged it into an abstract gestural sculpture. It implies liquid and action, yet it’s a cold metal, static object.
His head sculptures are really interesting to me. Rather than a traditional bust, his images are more like flat drawing bent into a 3D shape. Some are more like a Cubist amalgamation of facial features, some are brushstrokes that evoke the idea of a face. His Barcelona Head looks like the wind is blowing a comic book drawing back into a crumbled, angled shape. Yet from the side, it looks more like his brushstroke series. His sculptures are playful because you almost have multiple works in one depending on from which angle you view it. The side, rear, and front views are all interesting rather than a clearly frontal work, like classical sculpture for example.
This piece at the DeCordova seems to blend the head and brushstroke motifs. It is composed of four strokes, but the top two seem to make a woman’s profile to me. The red bit looks like a face in profile, and the orange looks like hair. A sculpture so simple, just four shapes, can either be totally abstract or reminiscent of a human figure depending on how you look at it. The idea that an image is more than meets the eye is a theme than pops up in his paintings, screenprints, and sculptures again and again. Pop Art took everyday objects and made them fine art, blurring the line between “art” and “non-art”.
Another fun subject? His optical illusion house sculptures. I’ve seen the one at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the one in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden in Washington DC. The photo above is the one in DC. Looks like a cartoon house, right? That corner where the white and yellow walls meet is actually further away than the two outside lines of the house. But from certain angles, that point looks like it projects out from the two edges instead of bending inwards. Here’s a video by Matthew Rodriguez that shows the illusion.
The next time you see a piece in a sculpture garden, take a closer look. You might just see something different if you spend a few minutes walking around it.
What is ArtSmart? A couple fellow travel bloggers with an interest in art and I decided to do a roundtable series focused on making our readers “art smart”, e.g. understanding why certain works of art are famous and worth the visit while traveling. At the end of this post are links to the other ArtSmart posts by participating bloggers. Interested in joining the Roundtable? Check out our Facebook page or email me.
All photos are mine except the front view of the Barcelona Head: Bert Kaufmann.
This Month’s Fellow ArtSmart Roundtable Articles:
Leslie of Career Girl Travels: Coming soon.
Jeff of EuroTravelogue: A Study of the Apollo Belvedere at the Vatican Museum in Rome
Ashley of No Onions, Extra Pickles: Rodin in San Francisco
Jenna of This Is My Happiness: Sculpture at Clos Pegase
Kelly of Travellious: Forgetting the Sculpture of Patrick Dougherty