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We Chose Ten Famous Sculptures to Celebrate the International Sculpture Day

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April 24, 2016
Runs, does yoga.

A great initiative was inaugurated last year, and now it’s time for its first anniversary – time to celebrate the existing famous (and the lesser known) sculptures, and all the ones that are yet to come. Of course, appreciating sculpture is something you can “do” every day, but it’s nice to have a special date on which this admiration takes on another level. That day is today, April 24th, when all the art lovers from across the world unite to express their commendation of the medium, through a series of events, workshops, exhibitions, talks, discussions, parties and gatherings organized by the International Sculpture Centre. The aim is to help the world understand the immense value of sculpture, as a precious contributor to culture and the society in general. Although the idea for such a celebration seems to come at a somewhat late time, it is possible that the new media are presenting themselves as a threat to the traditional ones, such as painting and sculpture, which adds to a list of reasons why this day could become very important in the future. As a way of supporting the initiative, and celebrating this day in our own way, we give you ten sculptures which helped define and push the boundaries of the medium – how can we understand it today? Is there a clear difference between contemporary sculpture and an art installation? Let’s see!

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Umberto Boccioni - Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

Let’s go through the list in a chronological order, reflecting on some famous examples from the 20th and the 21st century, crucial for the modern history of sculpture. So what better way to start this survey than to talk about the emblematic artwork, which has had substantial influence over the art world, possibly even directing the course of Modern thought? It’s the icon of futurism – Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. Futurism was a movement partly responsible for the big “come-back” of sculpture, a medium that had seemed to belong to the past. “These days I am obsessed by sculpture! I believe I have glimpsed a complete renovation of that mummified art” was what Umberto Boccioni said in 1912, a year before the first cast of the legendary sculpture was made. The piece is believed to embody the features that exemplify futurism as such – movement, speed, forceful dynamism.

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Constantin Brâncuși - Bird in Space

Out all the visually beautiful works by the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space series represents the most heroic one. As a true representative of modern sculpture, Bird in Space aims not to depict the physical appearance of a bird flying, but rather to embody its motion. There are seven editions made of marble and nine in bronze. There are some interesting trivial stories related to the artwork, regarding the court battle over its taxation by the US customs, who did not believe that a thin piece of polished bronze was a work of art.

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Alberto Giacometti - The Walking Man I

The Walking Man (L’Homme qui marche) used to be the world’s most expensive sculpture until May 2015, when it was superseded by another Giacometti work (Pointing Man). The bronze sculpture series consists of six numbered editions and four artist proofs, made in 1961. The piece was obviously one of the most important highlights of Alberto Giacometti’s career, and it is also one of Modern Art’s most iconic sculptures. Thin and shrunk but inexplicably life-sized, Giacometti’s “men” have marked an important turning point in the course of art history, and in term of understanding and re-defining sculpture. In addition, the piece is often described as a potent symbol of humanity.

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Alexander Calder - Man

The entire oeuvre of Alexander Calder can be considered as revolutionary since he is an artist who had introduced kinetics to sculpture, in a more engaging way than the futurists did. The nature of his early works can be defined as a delicate crossover between sculpture and “mechanical toy”, which move in response to touch or air movements. His later works are different – monumental and stable, although one can still discern a sense of movement as an important factor which generates the materiality and shape of these sculptures. One of these giant works is Man, a 65 ft tall piece, commissioned for Montreal’s Expo 67.

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Henry Moore - Reclining Figure 1969-70

The famous English artist Henry Moore has made a myriad of eminent sculptures throughout his career, and it is hard to pick just one. Reclining Figure is how a series of his sculptures is called, and one of the most famous reclining figures is the one from 1969, currently displayed at the Lola Beer Ebner Sculpture Garden. The figure supposedly represents a woman resting on one side of her body, supported by her arm, her right hip and her legs, with one arm lifted up in the air. The pointy cone, located in the chest part, probably represents a breast. The expression seems to be right in the middle, between abstraction and figuration, allowing for the mind to contemplate but to stay captivated by the unknown.

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Jeff Koons - Balloon Dog

Both Jeff Koons and his Balloon Dogs are true icons of Postmodernism. Large, adorably banal Balloon Dogs are made in series of different color, each representing a unique piece, each suggesting a careless, positive outlook on life. The way these “blown-up” toy-like sculptures converse with their surroundings always puts smiles on our faces – a giant balloon toy occupying the baroque interior of Château de Versailles, or standing casually on a platform, in front of a building in Venice. When you touch the sculpture and realize that it is not covered with latex, chances are that you will either become a bit disappointed, or completely amazed.

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Richard Serra - The Matter of Time

Active and renowned in the field of contemporary sculpture, but always flirting with architecture – Richard Serra has mastered the task of sculpting and handling the impossibly large metal sheets. Something that seems to be plain simple when put into words turns out to be a signature style for the US sculptor. The Matter of Time is one of his world famous artworks made from weathering steel of uncommon scale and proportion. The steel sheets reshape the gallery space in a way which makes the sculpture perform as an architectural tool, a set of curling walls that interact with each other and define the walking path of a viewer, contributing to a unique experience. Probably the most amazing and unexpected fact is the weight of these curly surfaces – 1034 tones!

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Rachel Whiteread - Nameless Library

Rachel Whiteread is one of those few artists who have an amazing ability to redefine the notion of a seemingly established term. Her art has shown the world what a cast could actually be all about. Whiteread’s works explore potential weak spots which appear in a sequence of events – as in, which one comes first – the cast or the mould? With this presence of the absent in mind, Rachel was commissioned to make the Nameless Library in 2000, in order to honor the Austrian Jews who died in the Holocaust.  It is located in Vienna, at Judenplatz, and it is made out of cast concrete, which was shaped by rows of books.

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Anish Kapoor - Marsyas

If you were taught that sculptures were made by carving and modeling, a.k.a. sculpting, you are going to have to change your mind and broaden your views, since one of the most famous sculptures from the early 2000s is made out of a PVC membrane stretched across Tate Modern’s Turbine hall, spanning between three giant steel rings. The piece is called Marsyas, and it was designed by Anish Kapoor. The membrane takes on a previously generated form, and it pushes the boundaries of a material’s performance, simultaneously playing with our perception of sculpture as such. Its size makes it impossible for a viewer to see the entire structure from a single vantage point, which creates a strange, immersive feeling of being “inside”, while actually standing in front of it.

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Marc Quinn - Breath

When it was showcased at the 2013 Venice Art Biennale (and in front of a church, by the way), the bold Breath sculpture by Marc Quinn gained a lot of attention, the good and the bad kind.  It was supposed to reflect on the human body, as a unique “survival mechanism”, representing the body of the 8-month-pregnant Alison Lapper, an artist born with phocomelia. The sculpture represents a pure example of contemporary sculpture, being deliberately positioned in a visible place in large scale, addressing the issues related to social equality and the ever-problematic definition of beauty. Quinn’s inflatable sculpture was made after the original marble sculpture from 2005.