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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Reflective Sculpture

Cloud Gate (The Bean), 2006, Millennium Park, Chicago, Anish Kapoor
Of all the sculpture mediums known to man, no other is more dramatic in its visual effects than that which reflects back the viewer's own image. We sometimes call this a "mirror image" but in fact, I'm not really talking about mirrors at all. We tend to think of them as hanging on a wall, and almost by definition they are considered to be made of silvered glass. Yet in terms of a sculpture medium, a glass reflective surface is almost always flat, and usually quite difficult to craft. If you've ever tried cutting glass, you know it can be tricky, at best. Trying to cut a glass mirror, for some reason, I've always found to be at least twice as difficult. In any case, a glass surface nearly always demands some form of mounting and any curvilinear surface demands tiny pieces of mirrored glass adding still more problems for the artist. Therefore, today, the biggest and best reflective sculptures are not made of glass nor are they technically mirrors. Perhaps the greatest master of reflective sculpture today is the British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor. If you've never heard of him, there's at least a high likelihood you've seen one of his works, his Cloud Gate (above), since 2006, permanently installed in Chicago's Millennium Park. The locals refer to it affectionately as "The Bean." (Check out the amateur video at the bottom.)

Sky Mirror, London, Anish Kapoor,
seen here in New York.
Tall Tree and the Eye,
London, 2009, Anish Kapoor
"The Bean" is just one of Kapoor's reflective sculptures located in major cities around the world. Though they reflect with much the same brilliance of a mirror (especially being outdoors) they are not made of glass. "The Bean" is 110 tons of polished stainless steel, as are all of Kapoor's works. That's not to say that all reflective sculpture on the monumental scale of Kapoor's pieces are made of steel. The mirrored sculpture at the west entrance to the Cook Convention Center in Memphis, Tennessee (below), is, in fact created using mirrored glass, but as mentioned earlier, such works require a great deal of framing, which quite often detracts from the overall effect.

Mirrored sculpture, Cook Convention Center, Memphis, Tennessee
Modern-day mirrors, as we've come to know them, are a relatively recent invention, dating back only to 1835 and the German chemist Justus von Liebig. Glass mirrors, of course, existed long before that, originating from 16th-century Venice and the glass-making island of Murano, though they involved a costly tin-mercury amalgam. Previous to that various polished metals served the purpose (not unlike Kapoor's polished stainless steel, only not as reflective). Moreover, they were always extremely expensive. I suppose, as a result, few women did their own makeup.

Mirror Sculpture Braunschweig
Sculpture by David Harber
Needless to say, the bigger the reflective sculpture the more impressive, and the more likely it will be placed out-of-doors. There, an attractive natural environment further enhances the effect as seen in the Mirror Sculpture Braunschweig (above) or the David Harber donut-shaped cone (left). However, even when installed within the limited space of a gallery (some of which aren't so limited anymore) the reflective sculpture can still be quite impressive. If you've ever had enjoyed making your way through a mirrored "fun house" at an amusement park, you might have some idea of the visual effect of Mirror Labyrinth (below) by Jeppe Hein. It looks like fun, which is, in fact, the whole point of creating and enjoyed reflective sculpture. They remove, or at least distort, the real world to create a moving fantasy existence for the viewer.

Mirror Labyrinth, Jeppe Hein
Mannequin Covered in Mirror
Shards, Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen
Quite apart from the large-scale reflective environment, we find artists fascinated by reflective objects as well, such as the Mannequins Covered in Mirror Shards (left), by Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen. The tiny shards of glass are mounted into what appears to be plaster covering the mannequin foundation. She certainly has a glittering personality. Quite similar to the larger scaled environmental pieces, is Michel de Broin's Mirror sculpture (below). I'm not sure if it is also stainless steel or perhaps fiberglass given a mirrored surface. On a smaller scale, and this time a wall-mounted piece, I found a mirrored sculpture by Graham Caldwell (bottom) fabricated using convex truck mirrors to form a spherical effect. Just don't try to use it for shaving.

Mirror sculpture, Michel de Broin
Mirrored Sculpture, Graham Caldwell

Click below for an amateur video of "The Bean"--


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