Become a sculpture

Erwin Wurm | Instructional drawing (detail) 2012 | Plinth, found objects, instructional drawing, realised by the public | Commissioned for ‘Sculpture is Everything’ | Collection: The artist © The artist

Sculpture is Everything‘ explores the extraordinarily diverse and surprising field of contemporary sculpture.

Though not grand in scale or complicated technically, the video One minute sculptures by Erwin Wurm has become a favourite work in the Collection. In the video Wurm choreographs people and objects in awkward positions for up to a minute in duration. The sculpture dissipates when the precariously balanced objects fail to hold, or the participant becomes bored. The work brings out a ephemeral performance of sculpture rather than those that galleries attempt to preserve art works for posterity — although the video recording of the performance is preserved.

Erwin Wurm, Austria b.1954 | One minute sculptures 1997 | DVD: 47 minutes, colour, stereo | Purchased 2003. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

Sculpture is Everything’ was a great opportunity to bring this video to life in the gallery by commissioning one of Wurm’s instructional works which consists of a written instruction, a drawing of the instruction being played out, and the necessary props. Previous pieces have included ‘Lean against the wall and think about the void’ or ‘Put your head in the sacco and think of Sigmund Freud’. Recently Wurm has been creating drinking sculptures, each dedicated to to a famous (artist) drinker — from Jackson Pollock to Martin Kippenberger. The participant must stand within a modified piece of furniture and drink the alcohol provided; Wurm says the work is only completed when the viewer is drunk!

Erwin Wurm, Austria b.1954 | Sigmund Freud modern…, instructional drawing 2006 | Instructional drawing realised by member of the public | Installation view,The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, Japan, 2006 | Images courtesy: The artist © The artist

Visitors to GOMA come across a plinth with a pile colourful plastic cleaning containers and a toilet brush. On the wall above the plinth is a drawing that includes these object and a person who is precariously balancing them against the architecture of the gallery, written below the drawing is an invitation from Wurm ‘Follow the instruction and realize the piece.’ Laughter and plastic hitting the floor can be heard across the gallery as attempts to become a sculpture are momentarily realised only to come to a crashing halt. On behalf of Erwin Wurm, I would like to invite you into the gallery to realise the work.

Sculpture is Everything the accompanying publication explores the diverse and often unexpected forms we may consider sculptural and is available from the QAGOMA Store.

Erwin Wurm | Instructional drawing 2012 | Plinth, found objects, instructional drawing, realised by the public | Commissioned for ‘Sculpture is Everything’ | Collection: The artist © The artist

Sculptures Ticking and Spinning

Martin Creed | United Kingdom b.1968 | Work no. 189 1998 | Mechanical metronomes, beating time, one at every speed | 39 pieces | Purchased 2008. The Queensland Government’s Gallery of Modern Art Acquisitions Fund | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

Galleries are not always quiet places; whether it be mechanical metronomes beating to different times or the whir of car wash brushes, the sounds of objects ticking and spinning will fill the galleries across the ground floor of GOMA as part of the forthcoming exhibition ‘Sculpture is Everything: Contemporary Works from the Collection’.

Work no. 189 by Martin Creed precisely articulates the full range of beats contained by a single metronome and yet collectively create a cacophony of ticks. The combination of conceptual precision and off-beat sound brings to mind the work of John Cage, while visually the work’s  repetitive, minimalist arrangement references the work of Donald Judd. Despite only reaching 11.5 centimetres high, the work looms large sonically as the sound of the metronomes permeates the length of the gallery.

Gummo IV 2012 by Italian artist Lara Favaretto, who currently has an exhibition at MOMA PS1 and a much talked about site-specific work in dOCUMENTA (13), will be on display for the first time in ‘Sculpture is Everything’. The work comprises five carwash brushes, each in a different shade of blue, spinning at irregular intervals. Like Duchamp’s Bicycle wheel 1913, these car wash brushes do not serve the purpose for which they were designed, but instead revel in non-productivity. Pointing to their often carnivalesque character Favaretto calls her art works macchine del divertimento (fun machines).

Lara Favaretto, Italy b.1973 | Gummo IV 2012 | Iron, car wash brushes and electrical motors | Purchased 2012 with funds from Tim Fairfax, AM, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

Field guards 1989 by the late Dennis Oppenheim is from a series in which figures are animated by power tools. From below, hand drills send the scarecrows spinning at timed intervals. The artist has made no attempt to hide the mechanisms of the work, and it appears as if Oppenheim created it from objects he found in an average suburban shed — from the power drill to the plastic sensor that sets the work into action. This DYI aesthetic adds to the precarious nature of the work, we always expect homespun experiments to breakdown so we watch this work in the anticipation that one of scarecrows might fly off the rocking steel structure and into the gallery.

Dennis Oppenheim | United States 1938–2011 | Field guard (from ‘The power tool’ series) 1989 | Anodized aluminium, steel, enamel, electric drills, electric cord, electric plugs, timer, cloth figures and straw | Gift of the Oppenheim Foundation, New York 1997 | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

Like all of the artists mentioned above, Roman Signer mines the materials of the everyday. Ladder with barrel 2001, which you may remember from ‘21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ will be shown alongside a group of videos made by the artists between 1992 and 2012 that incorporate the barrel and balloon. Signer distinguishes three phases in his work: the composition of a situation, its enactment and its aftermath. Ladder with barrel 2001 belongs to the first of these phases with the latter two implied but endlessly deferred. While all three phases are brought to life in Signer videos; for example in Unfall als Skulptur (Accident as Sculpture) 2008 a truck laden with barrels full of water hangs by a thin rope on the edge of a custom built ramp, the rope is burnt through by a flame releasing the truck down the ramp, only to flip upside down and crash to a halt, sending the barrels careering across the floor.

Roman Signer | Switzerland b.1938 | Ladder with barrel 2001 | Metal ladder, barrel, balloon | Ladder and barrel | Purchased 2005. The Queensland Government’s special Centenary Fund and the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

Roman Signer | Unfall als Skulptur (Accident as Sculpture) 2008 | HD video, 0:50 minutes, colour, sound | Camera: Tomasz Rogowiec | Collection: The artist | Image courtesy: The artist © The artist

Tapitapultas (Capapults) 2012, a video by Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker, begins with a tightly cropped shot of hands flexing plastic spoons doubling as catapults to launch brightly coloured plastic bottle tops, a glimpse of the forest setting captured in the background. This separation between man made and nature is mirrored in the soundtrack; the ‘tick tack’ of each plastic cap hitting the concrete platform dominates over the bird calls from afar. The video concludes by revealing the mountain of plastic bottle tops that have fallen through the hole at the centre of platform. The site was once part of a United States military installation during its occupation of the Panama Canal Zone, and is now an observation deck in Panama City’s Metropolitan Natural Park, one of the surviving fragments of forest in the area. As each cap falls onto the mound below it creates a ripple effect down the mountain, enlarging the pile of bright plastic debris on the forest floor.

Donna Conlon, United States/Republic of Panama b.1966 | Jonathan Harker, Ecuador/Republic of Panama b.1975 | Tapitapultas (Capapults) 2012 | HD video, 3:40 minutes, 16:9, colour, stereo | Purchased 2012. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation| Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Image courtesy: The artists and DiabloRosso, Panama City © The artists

While these works all have movement in common – or implied movement in the case of Signer’s Ladder with barrel — they also draw on the long history of the found object. Their materials encapsulate the exhibition title, from metronomes to car wash brushes, from power drills to plastic bottle caps, sculpture is everything.

Sculpture Is Everything: Contemporary Works From The Collection‘ showcases the Gallery’s Collection and featuring a group of major new acquisitions that explore the extraordinarily diverse and surprising field of contemporary sculpture — from found objects to kinetic structures, from monuments to installation and land art, from pop assemblages to ritual objects. Form, material and three-dimensional space have been considered to define the medium of sculpture; the exhibition points to how these sculptural concerns are played out in film, photography, painting and performance.

Women artists and the Belle Époque

Marie Bashkirtseff | Ukraine/France 1860–84 | Portrait de Mme X (Portrait of Mme X) c.1884 | Purchased 1885 | Collection: Musée d’Orsay, Paris | Photograph: © RMN (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

While the Belle Époque often brings to mind scenes of bustling bars and crowded cabaret halls, upper-class women did not participate in Paris’s lively nightlife.

The six women artists included in ‘Modern Woman: Daughters and lovers 1850-1918: Drawings from the Musée d’Orsay’ focus on domestic scenes, often intimate moments within the home and in private gardens. Furthermore, the models for female artists were frequently family and friends and, as a result, these works regularly convey a sense of intimacy and familiarity with their subjects.

One of the female artists featured in ‘Modern Woman’ is the Ukrainian-born Marie Bashkirtseff, who studied at the Académie Julian, which was one of the few schools open to women wanting to study painting in Paris in the late nineteenth century. In 1877, Bashkirtseff described the joy she found in creating art: ‘In the studio all distinctions disappear. One has neither name nor family; one is no longer the daughter of one’s mother, one is one’s self . . . one feels so happy, so free’.

Bashkirtseff was critical of the way that the best art schools, including the state-run École des Beaux-Arts, would not accept women and found her inability to explore the world without a chaperone restrictive to her art. She wrote of the constraints faced by female artists under the pseudonym Pauline Orell in the journal La Citoyenne, which was first published in 1881, and was an advocate for women’s suffrage in France.

Louise Breslau | Bavaria/France 1856–1927 | Deux jeunes filles assises sur une banquette (Two young girls sitting on a banquette) 1896 | Acquired from the Salon of 1897 | RF 2062 Recto | Photograph: Hervé Lewandowski

Bavarian-born Louise Breslau, who is also featured in the exhibition, studied alongside Bashkirtseff at the Académie Julian, and exhibited at the Salon from 1879. She received a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in 1889 and again in 1900, and was later awarded the Legion of Honor. In spite being well acknowledged during her lifetime there is relatively little published on Breslau’s life and work compared to the other major figures of the time.

Modern Woman: Daughters and Lovers 1850 — 1918 | Drawings from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris’, an exhibition of drawings by artists working in France in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, is showing exclusively at the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) until 24 June. It celebrates the changing roles of women during the Belle Époque as depicted by artists of the leading time, including Marie Bashkirtseff and Louise Breslau. These artists increasingly abandoned idealised representations of the female figure, and turned to women from a diverse range of socioeconomic backgrounds, depicting them in their family lives and domestic activities, as well as in the public realm as spectators, performers and workers. Through these fascinating drawings, we see French society undergoing radical transformation.

An illustrated publication is also available which includes an essay by the exhibition’s curator, Isabelle Julia, the Musée d’Orsay’s Curator in Charge, Department of Graphic Arts, who investigates the expressive medium of drawing and various aspects of modern life through images of maternity, women in love and alone, portraits, nudes and women at leisure — in city streets, cafes and on the stage.