Article by Graham Haught in Berlin; Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014
The Akademie der Künste is currently hosting the exhibition Lens Based Sculpture, which is set to explore contemporary sculpture’s relationship and indebtedness to photography and the ways in which photography has transformed sculpture as a medium. With over 200 displayed works by more than 70 international artists, Lens Based Sculpture develops the antiquated argument over the nature of these two mediums while bending the boundaries of their relationship to each other through an innovative curation by Bogomir Ecker, Raimund Kummer, Friedemann Malsch, and Herbert Molderings. This exhibition offers unique and interactive perspectives that challenge our conceptions of depth, spatial-limits, and relational approaches to objects and methods of display.
Pre-Renaissance sculpture can be divided into two temporal periods that split the intention of sculpture in half: the pre-Christian era and the Medieval era. Before the Medieval era emerged, sculpture was delicately interwoven within architecture, or as philosopher Martin Heidegger claimed: “we would have to learn to recognize that things themselves are places and do not merely belong to a place… [thus sculpture is] the embodiment of places.” The Medieval era shifted the focus of sculpture from ornament and development of “place” to the creation of sculpture intended to teach the will of the Church. With the reemergence of humanism and the Renaissance, sculpture began to signify something quite different: expression of the artist and his ability to convey the complexity of depth.
While modernist sculpture began to signify the opposite of “place” (i.e. negative space, or sitelessness) while maintaining self-referential aspects, photography’s ability to be reproduced easily and on large scales turned art away from what Walter Benjamin calls its “cult value” and, rather, emphasized its documentary character. Herein we have the two mediums of art presented in Lens Based Sculpture, where photography is used as a primary tool of catalogue and expansion for sculpture, while at the same time existing within itself as a form for displaying sculpture.
Walking into the first exhibition room, there are a series of pieces created by Umberto Boccioni, Marcel Duchamp, and Raymond Duchamp-Villion that lay the historical framework for points of departure in Lens Based Sculpture (the rest of the exhibition focuses on works created after 1960). Umberto Boccioni’s desire to catalogue modern industrial society in the early 20th century is embodied by Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913), a bronze Futuristic sculpture expressing the mechanical and fluid aspects of industrial life. Photographs of Marcel Duchamp’s notes and calculations for the production of Bicycle Wheel (1951) are displayed before the piece is presented. These photographs and notes allow the viewer a glimpse into the mind and meticulous progression of Duchamp’s groundbreaking piece.
Entering the second room of the gallery the visitor is confronted with sensory overload in the form of Reiner Ruthenbeck’s Aufhellungsversuch (2004), a film projected over a metal sculpture to distort its texture. The consistent sound of Bruce Nauman’s Bouncing Two Balls Between the Floor and Ceiling with Changing Rhythms (1967-1968) echoes throughout the entire exhibition, creating a solemn transitory interjection to every experience. Nauman’s piece is crucial in that it explores the demand that the spatial dimensions of any given room (provided there is a floor and ceiling) can be perceived as a form of sculpture that is pliable.
A large range of works, concentrated on pieces developed since 1960, are curated in the second and third rooms, displayed in a dense space so as to suggest interaction with each individual work rather than develop an understanding of all the works together. A few steps away from Augustine Rodin’s Robe de Chamber de Balzac (1897) is an almost exact replication of a miniature human being by Ron Mueck Untitled (Shaved Head) (1998), made from silicon/fiberglass and an acrylic sculpture cast from a clay model. The beautiful juxtaposition of Rodin’s sculpture met with the fresh contemporary hyperrealism of Mueck’s piece is a moment of well-curated harmony.
Lens Based Sculpture provides an interactive experience to recalculate what one may have once perceived as definitions of both photography and sculpture, by historically reconstructing them in the form of a genuinely illuminating exhibition.
Graham Haught is an artist and writer originally from California, now based in Berlin.grahamhaught.com