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How 100 Sculptors of Tomorrow Were Gathered in a Single Book

  • Ramesh Mario - Nithiyendran Mud Men
September 4, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Thames & Hudson is unmistakably one of the leading publishing houses, constantly pushing boundaries by issuing latest contributions to art history. Recently, an exciting publication titled 100 Sculptors of Tomorrow was released under their wing. This particular book written by the director of London-based Beers gallery and author, Kurt Beers, offers a very nice insight into the latest production of sculpture on a global scale.

In 2014, Beers wrote his first book, 100 Painters of Tomorrow, which received quite a critical acclaim and enforced the careers of the mentioned artists. The new feature focused on sculpture is a result of year-long research aimed to determine the latest tendencies and in general question the very nature of the medium.

The selection process included recommendations by a jury consisting of various scholars specialized in sculpture, online open-call submissions, and sculptors found by Beers on Instagram and art fairs. The final one hundred artists featured in the book includes a diverse group consisting of collectives, male, female and non-binary artists coming from different countries, exploring various themes spanning from technology to ecology. Each sculptor is equally represented with a short text including biographies, their artist statements, as well as an additional list of emerging artists, and recommended reading.

To find out more about this book, we decided to ask Kurt Beers to share his thoughts on the selection process and upcoming plans.

Left Portrait of Kurt Beers Right 100 Sculptors of Tomorrow book cover
Left: Portrait of Kurt Beers / Right: 100 Sculptors of Tomorrow book cover

Unraveling The Latest Tendencies

Widewalls: Although you are the director of a prominent London based gallery and a person familiar with latest art tendencies, I must argue that it is very difficult to set the standards of categorization and undertake various approaches, sensibilities, and persuasions of the artists operating on a global scale under one publication. Therefore, I have to ask you: how did you make up your mind to write the surveys on both painting and sculpture?

Kurt Beers: I would of course very much agree that it is nearly impossible to delineate any set of standards under one publication, so the book purports to be a sampling, or rather a survey, as opposed to a comprehensive or utterly definitive guide. It would be a misconception to say that ‘this is it, these are the only important artists’ but rather, this is about providing a cross-section, a sampling of what is happening now in sculpture across the globe.

From small, table-top sculpture-like Damian Hoar de Galvan to monolithic land-art performance works of Emmanuel Tovar, we wanted to broaden the definition of sculpture for a 21st-century audience, and redefine what sculpture means, and how it can be received. I see a lot of joy in the book, and what we realized (just like with the first book) we discovered such a breadth and diversity within what we perceive as sculpture. 100 Sculptors is ultimately a celebration of art. It is at once a project, a movement, a publication, and in many respects a fraternity linking this very diverse group of extremely talented artists.

After the first book, 100 Painters (2014), I felt that we would be remiss if we didn’t pursue the possibility of creating a legacy of books. I see this as something that is bigger than the sum of its parts, and the possibilities for both the book and the trajectory of the artists included is limitless. At the time I began the first book, I felt there was a gap in the market that focused solely on emerging painters.

At the same time, we were a relatively new gallery that was also interested in the same thing, emerging painters. Plenty of artist monographs, plenty of books on established painters, and also a number of books that focused on emerging artists working in all disciplines, but there wasn’t anything that celebrated the new and up-and-coming voices in painting only.

So I approached Thames & Hudson and they were very excited about the project. The second book, 100 Sculptors, seems like a natural segue.

Widewalls: What are the most recurring subjects and motifs present among the selected group of artists?

KB: A lot of found-object art, firstly. A lot of people working in very conscientious, heavily scientific methods that at times would simply boggle my mind. Rachel Ara, Kader Attia, Rachael Champion, Haroon Mirza, Euyoung Hong, or Olaniyi Akindiya… these aren’t artists with technologically or complex machinic ideas but rather dense, complex historicities surrounding their work and ethos, that at times proved very difficult to … whittle down, shall we say, into palatable entries. The problem is how to accurately paraphrase what they are doing in a brief write up is very challenging. You don’t ever want to include an artist and then do them a disservice by under-explaining their thought processes.

Further, geography plays a large part: I don’t think its surprising that many artists from more ‘privileged’ countries talk about materiality, whereas like Rushdi Anwar (Kurdistan/Iraq), Catalin Badaru (Romania), Haffendi Anuar (Malaysia), Saad Qureshi (Pakistan), Tuan Andrew Nguyen (Vietnam), Beili Liu (China), Serge Attukwei Clottey (Ghana), are concerned with contentious, polemic political ideas and powerful statements. I also found that I ended up loving some things I originally thought I didn’t like. Knowledge is a powerful thing, and suddenly you get an understanding of what this artist is actually talking about, and I would respond differently to it.

I think sculpture is a slower burn than painting. A harder sell, but incredibly powerful medium. Virginia Leonard is one powerful example…her work is so poignant and personal… But you’ll have to pick up the book to read about her journey.

Jebila Okongwu - Banana Sculpture
Jebila Okongwu – Banana Sculpture No. 17, 2013. Banana boxes, fishing line, foam, resin and wood, 180 x 184 x 62 cm. His works come from a Native African perspective using rubbish and ubiquitous disregarded banana boxes in order to elevate them to new forms. They are both lowbrow and highbrow and comment on the imposition of a first world upon third world countries.

21st Century Sculpture

Widewalls: Could you share a bit more on the whole research process and decision making while preparing the book?

KB: When doing the first book, (my first book) I learned a lot. I was put through the ringer in terms of learning not only how to write and publish a book, but how to cast, catalog, and critique an entire seemingly endless catalog of art. It is in no sense a small feat, but we wanted to create what we called a ‘water-tight’ system that would be above criticism or flaws in the process itself. That was a very important ethos that guided us throughout, and I am and was grateful for what the Commissioning Editor at the time taught me.

But in retrospect, there was a certain shortcoming in that process, because all the artists from the first book were gathered through the open call. I think in lessening those restraints somewhat, we came out with a stronger product. Yes, we still conducted an open call. And at least 50% of the artists within the book were included via that avenue. But as the author, I wanted a greater say in who would be included. I also wanted to further empower my jury, so they were also asked to submit names, I think around 10 names each.

Finally, I felt the book would benefit if, during the course of its creation, I was able to see a deserving artist and put their name forward. I also had my ‘headhunters’ who would literally go out to fairs, exhibitions, and keep their ears to the ground and their eyes peeled and report back to me. One of my painters, Andrew Salgado, found both Genesis Belanger and Molly Larkey at NADA New York this way, and simply sent me their information and…well, they made the cut. And it was important to me to have the freedom and flexibility to include deserving artists – distinct from a so-called ‘democratic’ process.

It’s funny, I have a background in Canadian Politics, where I worked for about a decade, and I didn’t want this process to be political. I wanted to make a good book. And I’m incredibly proud of the outcome this time around.

Widewalls: Although this may sound a stereotypical question, could you briefly explain what sculpture is for you in the 21st century?

KB: The word that comes to mind is the possibility. I don’t think that’s as abstract an answer as it may seem at first, because the book takes the reader on a journey – and every time I open the book I myself find something new, something enticing.

I think in this world that we live in, putting down more parameters is so antithetical to what ‘art’ purports to be about, so the book is about blowing those categorizations wide open. I am compelled to think of Rachel Ara’s self-evaluating art-work, or EJ Hill’s roller-coasters that comment on race and identity, to the sound art of Haroon Mirza.

I think we tend to think quite narrowly about the disciplines in art, but really, as we quickly decided when doing the first book, we wanted to think broadly, approach the classification like a funnel, and allow ourselves to be inclusive. We have textile, performance, sound, even ecologically conscious art. Not everything included has to be monumental or life-changing, but the work throughout is playful, intelligent, thoughtful, comprehensive, and surprising.

Left Caroline Achaintre - Mad Cap Right Francis Upritchard – Marianne
Left: Caroline Achaintre – Mad Cap, 2017. Hand tufted wool, 270 x 204 cm. Caroline’s work is painting, as textile as sculpture / Right: Francis Upritchard – Marianne, 2016. Steel and Foil Armature, paint, modeling material and papier mache, 50 x 40 x 35 cm. Her practice deals with both historical artifacts and displaced narratives.

The Books To Come

Widewalls: Do you consider this book to be influential for the upcoming generation of researchers in the art history field?

KB: Absolutely. I think it has lasting appeal, just as the first book, now nearly 6 years later, is still relevant. I actually think given the avenues with which we selected the artists included herein, it will have a long-lasting appeal than the first book will, in all honesty.

Widewalls: Are we about to expect a new book focused on any other media in the future?

KB: I am hopeful we can create a legacy of books; I am very keen on photography next as I think that is a radically changing and currently a very contested media – how do we separate fine art photography in a day and age when millions of photographs are uploaded online every minute.

I would love to return to Painting Vol. 2, eventually. I have to talk to my publisher, but yes, so long as artists are creating, I think we can continue to enjoy books in some guise or another.

Editors’ Tip: 100 Sculptors of Tomorrow

Bypassing traditional art world channels, 100 Sculptors of Tomorrow is the culmination of a major, democratic open call for up-and-coming sculptors. From thousands of entries, an internationally renowned jury has identified the most exciting names in sculpture today, all showcased in this beautifully illustrated book. Following the much-respected 100 Painters of Tomorrow, which launched the careers of artists such as Michael Armitage, Yelena Popova, and Heman Chong, 100 Sculptors offers another powerful platform for artists and a fascinating, visually breathtaking experience for readers.

Featured image: Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran – Mud Men, 2016. Earthenware, glaze, gold lustre, MDF, cardboard, acrylic, enamel and porcelain, dms variable. His work is a completely zany conversation between various cultures (and religions) His work aims to create a completely new mode of representation by contrasting creation myths between religion and their differing representation of the body.All images courtesy Thames & Hudson.