Understanding and Collecting Sculpture

February 17, 2015

Would you like to know more about understanding and collecting sculpture? Every home has some type of sculpture. Why wouldn’t we say that coffee or teapots and cups are some kind of sculpture? Or some knick-knacks that many homes have as decorative elements? Many experts argue that these elements that every house has can be classified as sculpture. Other experts would refute those claims, and they would stress that three-dimensional objects need to have an artistic value. Of course, artistic value is something very subjective in its essence – it depends on how someone perceives the object. Yet, some certain unwritten rules and norms allow us to value the sculptures. However, before answering the question of how a sculpture can be valued, we should examine how sculpture can be understood.

Sculptures can be produced from a variety of materials such as metal bronze wood clay stone and new modern materials. The contemporary works of artists are more focused on the meaning behind the work rather than aesthetics.
Anish Kapoor – Concrete Forest 2012 Photo by Arts Observer

Understanding Contemporary Sculpture

Contemporary sculpture is a product of a century’s long practice to create three-dimensional objects that can be measurable by their width, height, and depth. These objects also occupy space, be that space the private or the public one. Since there are countless types of sculptures, the freestanding ones are probably those that provoke an extraordinary visual experience, putting additional value to these types of sculpture. Yet, the freestanding sculptures are not the only ones that matter in the art market. The reliefs, a sculptural form attached to a flat surface are also an inevitable part of contemporary sculpture. And they are quite popular in the art market as well. However, if someone wants to understand contemporary sculpture, experts’ advice is to get familiar with the historical developments of this important artistic medium.

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Having its roots in ancient times, the sculpture and its forms went through radical changes and transformations in the 20th century. The most important change introduced through artistic practices was the change of focus. The emphasis was put on the art object itself. The subject matter was not the main focus anymore. The influential artistic movement didn’t bypass the sculpture practices. Additionally, the growing conceptual art practices influenced the sculptors in the way that they started to pay more attention to the context – the spatial and cultural context in which the sculpture is created, the spatial and cultural context in which the sculpture is exhibited, and finally the materials that are used for the sculpture creation.

Throughout the history sculptures were produced from a variety of materials such as metal bronze wood clay stone and some new modern material
Charles Avery - Duculi (the Indescribable), 2013

Sculpture and Contemporary Art

The sculpture practices cannot be understood without the knowledge of dominant directions in contemporary art in the last few decades. For example, during the 1960s, the dominant social beliefs and principles were questioned, and Pop Art was an artistic response to those developments. One of the consequences was the penetration of minimalism into sculpture practices. Similarly, in the 1980s and 1990s, pluralism and postmodern practices introduced additional media that accompanied the sculpture itself. The range of styles began to be broader and broader. And finally, digital technology that provoked the challenges in art practices influenced the sculpture medium as well. This brief historical overview of the main developments in sculpture practices shows that sculpture cannot be understood without having in mind the broader context of contemporary art. Ways how contemporary art developed in the last decades largely influenced the changes in sculpture practices. Although sculpture and other contemporary art media are essentially linked, the sculpture has separate features that put additional value to this medium. The sculpture is characterized by three-dimensional objects, allowing a completely different visual experience to the viewer. That is something that many viewers and art lovers are attracted by. The possibility to communicate with the sculpture, to move around it, to move the sculpture itself around the space, to go inside the sculpture in some cases – all these features sculptures are characterized by is something that attracts many collectors.

Sculptures can be produced from a variety of materials such as metal bronze wood clay stone and new modern materials. In the recent years, digital works that are focused on the viewer's perception of space are being incorporated within the sculptural works.
Tadashi Kawamata - Berlin Tree House (courtesy of Berthold Stadler and HKW Berlin, for illustrative purposes)

Collecting Sculptures

The first tip to be given to the collectors when it comes to the contemporary sculptures would be to get familiar with as many as possible different forms and styles sculptures have today. The collectors should also pay attention to the materials used for the sculpture creation. Someone would prefer wood, someone recycled materials, someone metal. Finally, the collectors should have in mind that sculpture may occupy significant parts of space, be that indoors or outdoors. Yet, everything depends on personal taste and personal preferences. Just follow the new trends in sculpture practices, visit as many galleries and museums as possible, and the objective problems like space or price may not stop you from obtaining some of the sculpture masterpieces. The experts say that it is recommendable to buy sculptures when someone considers building a collection. If you ignore the sculpture, you ignore a big part of what contemporary art is today. Therefore, the collectors or potential collectors should not have any prejudice about the sculpture. In the art market, this medium is of the same importance as paintings for example. Probably one of the best ways to follow the trends in sculptures collecting is to visit or to follow the art fairs. For example, at the Singapore Art Stage 2015, the art fair dedicated to the Asian and Global art, some remarkable sculptures were exhibited. Similarly, if you just take a look at the program of the London Art Fair 2015, held in January, you will see the big presence of sculptures in the galleries' offers. The field of sculpture has expanded indeed, and today, this medium is an unavoidable part of the big collections.

Featured Image: Stephan Siebers – Cube Cross, 2010. Steel Patiniert
All images used for illustrative purposes only.