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Monday, February 18, 2013

Continuous Sculpture

G & G at Via del Paradiso, 1972,
Gilbert and George, This type of work
photographs well.
About a year and a half ago  (10-07-11) I wrote regarding the work of Duane Hanson and the fact that if you tried to strike up a conversation with one of the security guards at a Hanson exhibit, you might just find yourself talking to one of the lifelike, life-size, figural sculptures in the exhibit. There is an obverse side to this experience as well. In 1972, at the Attico Gallery in Rome, two young British artists known only by the names, Gilbert and George installed themselves as works of art, together upon a pedestal, nattily dressed in three-piece suits, arranged in various static poses for the benefit of visiting gallery viewers. The work was titled G & G at Via del Paradiso (left).  They dubbed their work "continuous sculptures" as they posed, unmoving, for several minutes at a time before changing to a new posed relationship similar to what might be expected of two men standing on a street corner in Rome. Viewers commented, "They look so real."

Duchamp as Rose Selavy, 1923, as
photographed by Man Ray. The nude
photo was, thankfully, unavailable.
Some call it "Body Art." Some just call it just plain "dumb" (which is not exactly inappropriate in that the figures don't speak). Whatever the case, it's not really new. It wasn't even new in 1972. Our old friend, Marcel Duchamp (remember, Nude Descending a Staircase, or the incident with the urinal at the 1913 Armory Show), is said to have dressed as his feminine alter ego Rose Selavy, and on another occasion, posed nude, having covered various strategic parts of his body with shaving foam, all for the camera lens of his friend Man Ray. At another time, he had a star shape shaved on the back of his head, transforming it and himself into a work of art. And if you want to press the point, those exhibiting a fondness for tattoos have been doing it for years. (Which is why I'm not crazy about the designation, "Body Art." It's too broad.)

le Violin Dingres, 1924,
Man Ray's own version of Body Art
There awakened a new interest in Body Art in the 1960s as artists began to look for newer, ever more outlandish ways in which to make artistic statements amid the last, dying breaths of the era of Modern Art. Italian artist Piero Manzoni began sculpting with living bodies, posing them, and keeping them stone still for sustained periods of time. In Copenhagen last year, I saw a street artist (with tip receptacle) displaying this form of  art. He was quite good and somewhat startling. Fascinated, I watched him "not move" for several minutes. Going beyond "not moving" however, Manzoni even had the "displays" adorned with certificates of authenticity. In 1974, Gina Pane went still further, wounding herself with the thorns of roses in Azione sentimentale.  Her work assigned negative feelings to objects usually viewed in a positive context as she exalted not the beauty of roses, but the pain they could inflict. Austrian artist, Arnulf Rainer painted on himself, then had himself photographed in excruciating, unnatural poses, which he further emphasized by painting with strong, violent brushstrokes on the enlarged prints. I think I'll stick to canvas.
Azione sentimentale, 1974, Gina Pane--stopping to feel the rose's thorns.

Bad joke: Is there art after death?
Bad joke punch line: Only if you dig Body Art (as in disinter?).

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