Art is a constantly evolving continuum and a reflection of the times in which it is created. Through the practice of modern and contemporary sculptors, the three-dimensional art form has certainly come a long way since the marble busts and butts of yore. Throughout the 20th century, sculpture artists reconsidered, redefined and reworked the very concept of the sculpture in a more profound way than it had ever been before. During the important period between the 1960s and 1970s, sculptors began experimenting with a wide array of new materials and different approaches to creating their work. Surrealist imagery, anthropomorphic abstraction, new materials and combinations of new energy sources and varied surfaces and objects became characteristic of the medium. Following the dominance of Abstract Expressionism, Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism, which reduced sculpture to its most essential and fundamental features, sculptors started adding motion and monumentality to the theme of purity of line that led contemporary abstract sculpture in new directions.
In the contemporary art landscape, the sculpture has many manifestations. It exists in and defines not just physical space, but psychic space, conceptual space, political space, but also out presence in it, our relationship to it, our movement through it, our responsibility for it. Thus, the sculpture is far more than the physical thing itself. From artists working on a smaller scale to those constructing monumental works that correspond to or reflect their environments, sculptors on our list are the most ambitious variety, each occupying a different vision of what sculpture can be.
We have compiled a list of the most influential sculpture artists in contemporary art that you should know about.
Featured image: The studio of Tony Cragg, via artflyer.com; Tara Donovan – Untitled, via inhabitat.com; Sarah Sze at 55th Venice Biennale, via sarahszevenice2013.com; Richard Serra – East-West West-East, via archdaily.com; Richard Deacon Sculpture, via thetalks.com; Lynda Benglis, Installation View at the Hepworth Wakefield, via cfileonline.org; Kate MccGwire Sculpture, via bleaq.com; Damián Ortega, Installation View, via punkwasp.com
Richard Serra - The Minimalist Sculptor
As one of the most celebrated American artists, Richard Serra is best known for his large-scale minimalist sculptures. Mostly working with steel, Serra has been making works that are both minimalist and monumental. These site-specific structures are colossal, strangely balanced and self-supporting pieces that reflect the nature of the material. In the very essence of his practice is the exploration of the man’s relationship with the surrounding world, radically seeking to discover the essence and purpose of space.
Featured image: Richard Serra, via unpointculture.com; Richard Serra – Band, via serenayang.com
Damián Ortega - Exploring the Commodity Consumption
The Mexican sculptor Damián Ortega explores specific economic, aesthetic and cultural situations through his work. With intellectual rigor and sense of playfulness, his pieces explore how regional culture affects commodity consumption. His sculptures are made of the wide range of mundane objects that are explored through their complex social and political implications. His works are punning commentaries on politics, consumer culture and the process of perception that underlie material culture. For him, the meaning is something that is produced through various relationships and interactions.
Featured images: Damián Ortega, via thenewyorker.com; Damián Ortega – Controller of the Universe, via 20minutos.es
Kate MccGwire - A Feather Artist
Specializing in the medium of feathers, the British sculptor Kate MccGwire explores the play of opposites at an aesthetic, intellectual and visceral level. Appealing to our essential duality as human beings, she works with materials capable of embodying a dichotomous way of seeing, feeling and thinking. She uses pigeon feathers as a waste product of “the rats with wings”, elevating them to the status of art. Having something disquieting and a consistent otherness, her pieces are positioned beyond our experience of everyday reality.
Featured images: Kate MccGwire; Kate MccGwire – Gyre, 2012
Antony Gormley - Exploring the Human Body
Fascinated by the human body, the British artist Antony Gormley explores the intricate relationship of our physicality within the confines of space and time. Creating anthropomorphic figures that convey emotions and stories based on their body language, he invites the audience to rethink the relationship with their own body. He has developed a critical engagement with his own body and those of others in a way that confronts fundamental questions of where human beings stand in relation to nature and cosmos.
Featured images: Antony Gormley, viw prezi.com; Antony Gormley – Field for the British Isles, 1993, via theguardian.com
Sarah Sze - Working with Ordinary Objects
Sarah Sze is an American artist known for her unique sculptures and site-specific installations assembled from ordinary objects such as plastic plants, candies, packing materials, and aluminum ladders, attempting to navigate and model the ceaseless proliferation of information and objects in contemporary life. Continually collecting little things everywhere she goes, her works can be thought of as autobiographical records of where she’s been. These encyclopedic and accumulative landscapes penetrate walls and stretch across museums, become self-perpetuating systems, seemingly capable of aspiration, decay, and renewal.
Featured images: Sarah Sze, via thenewyorker.com; Sarah Sze – Still Life with Desk, 2013-2015, via artobserved.com
Lynda Benglis - Exploring the Feminist Politics
Radically re-envisioning the sculpture through her early works using wax and poured latex, the American artist Lynda Benglis is considered a pioneer of a form of abstraction in which each piece is the result of materials in action. Her work has always been the result of a fluid and organic working process, in which difficult-to-control materials help determine the final outcome. As an artist dealing with feminist politics and self-image, she addressed questions about female identity in relation to art, pop culture, and dominant feminist movements at the time.
Featured images: Lynda Benglis, via huffintonpost.com; Lynda Benglis, Installation View at the Hepworth Wakefield, via cfileonline.org
Richard Deacon - The Fabricator
One of the major British sculptors, Richard Deacon is widely known for his large, lyrical open forms. Creating voluptuous abstract forms, he has been moving between different materials such as laminated wood, stainless steel, corrugated iron, polycarbonate, marble, clay, vinyl, foam, and leather. As the artists explained in 2005, “Changing materials from one work to the next is a way of beginning again each time and thus of finishing what had gone before”. He describes himself as a fabricator, denoting to making something up, of fiction rather than truth.
Featured images: Richard Deacon; Richard Deacon, Installation View at Lisson Gallery, via lissongallery.com
Tony Cragg - Studying the Material and Material Forms
One of the world’s foremost sculptors, Tony Cragg has been constantly pushing to find new relations between people and the material world. He uses a variety of materials to conceive a variety of ideas and forms. He rose to prominence with his stacked works that blur the line between manmade and natural landscapes. Understanding form and meaning as interdependent, he perceives the sculpture as a study of how material and material forms affect and form our ideas and emotions.
Featured images: Tony Cragg, via artflyer.com; Tony Cragg, Installation View,via artflyer.com
Tara Donovan - Working with Banal Objects
Tara Donovan is an American artist best known for site-specific installations and sculptures that utilize everyday materials whose form is in keeping with generative art and resemble organic or molecular structures. Working with objects such as Styrofoam cups, paper plates, and No. 2 pencils, Donovan cites the unique material properties of the chosen material as the driving force behind her sculptural compositions. Known for her commitment to the process, she has earned acclaim for her ability to discover the inherent physical characteristics of an object and transform it into art.
Featured images: Tara Donovan, via arts.vcu.edu; Tara Donovan, Installation View at Pace Gallery, via oraclefox.com
Roman Langlois - Dissecting Natural Elements with Bronze
Romain Langlois creates intriguing sculptures that question the viewer’s perception. Finding his inspiration in the world around us, he mostly works with bronze, starting with expressive and anatomical modeling of the subject. He chooses the bronze for its perenniality and the vibrational quality, as well as its ability to lock and reveal placed emotions. As his stretched sculptures visually pull apart the natural objects that surround us, he aims to dissect these natural elements with the bronze that represents the inner energy harnesses by his chosen materials.