Sculpture from Modernism to Globalisation?

Astrid Schumachter & Tati Freeke-Suwarganda, Sonsbeek project-coordinator & bussiness director
photo by Ronald van Wieren

Review Sculpture lives on: from modernism to globalization

sculpture network, XII. International Forum
The Hague / Otterlo, The Netherlands 3 – 5 October 2013
Curator: Anne Berk
Judith Collins, keynote speaker, Former Senior Curator at Tate London,
author of Sculpture Today, Phaidon, 2007
Jaap Bremer, The Netherlands, former Deputy Director of Kröller-Müller Museum
Riyas Komu, India, Artist and Co-founder of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale Biennial
Eylem Aladogan, The Netherlands, Artist
Nick Ervinck, Belgium, Artist
Heri Dono, Indonesia, Artist

Sculpture networks XIIth International Forum Sculpture lives on – from modernism
was a fantastic event which where 130 participants from 15 countries networked
and made friends, listened to lectures, exchanged thoughts about sculpture. We
were made very welcome by the Kröller-Müller Museum, where the symposium
took place. During the excursion program, we visited other interesting sculpture
venues such as Museum Beelden aan Zee, Atelier van Lieshout,
sundaymorning@EKWC and DordtYart. The Dutch Association of Sculptors gave a
presentation on sculpture in public space in The Netherlands.
And a curated selection of sculpture network artists gave a flashy presentation in
90 seconds on sculpture. The contents of the symposium and choice of lecturers
were highly appreciated, as well as the astonishing art and locations.

This famous collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum was the starting point for
the conference, providing an opportunity for international experts, artists and the
participants to reflect on modernism in 20th century sculpture and the
globalization of sculpture today.
The Kröller-Müller Museum celebrates its 75th anniversary, with an exhibition of
iconic artworks, such as The Beginning of the World (1924) by the Romanian
sculptor Constantin Brancusi, and Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, a visionary
image of man in the age of technology.
The Italian Futurist Boccioni made it in 1913, exactly a hundred years ago.
Where do we stand a century later?
Anne Berk photo by Ronald van Wieren

Today the artist is a thinker, reflecting on life, Anne Berk

In the turbulent century that lies behind us, the face of art has radically changed.
But according to Anne Berk (The Netherlands) art critic and curator of this XIIth
International Forum, the biggest change concerned the role of the sculptor.
Take the Gates of Hell (1880-1917) of Rodin. The French sculptor was inspired by
Dante’s Divinia Commedia, but instead of offering the hopeful prospect for
Eternal Life, we only see a man, The Thinker, who contemplates the human
passions and sufferings, presenting it to the viewer without any judgements.
The Thinker epitomizes the position of the artist today.
Instead of working on commission, visualising religious, political, or commercial
messages, the sculptor is free to express him/herself individually, reflecting on
life, or ordering the visual world around him/her. In the globalised 21st century
this individual approach of art making has spread over the world.
In theory, you are free to make anything anywhere. You can make your work
public through the Internet and the many art biennales in the world, which offers
new opportunities.
What is the influence of the place where you live? Are you working for a national
or worldwide public? Glocal of global? How to be understood?
How do you relate to the world heritage of art available on the web? Who are
your artistic forefathers? And what is the added value of the physical object in
the computer age? Do you work with your hands, or 3D-printing?

So what should you make as a sculptor today?

Jaap Bremer photo by Ronald van Wieren

‘Formal art- art for art’s sake’

Jaap Bremer (The Netherlands) shed light on modernism and the quest for the
new in the 20th century. Being Curator and Deputy Director of the Kröller-Müller
Museum in the seventies and eighties, he selected minimalist and Arte Povera
works for the Kröller-Müller Museum and sculpture garden.
Using the KMM-collection as a starting point, he illustrated a linear development
from the naturalist Crouching Woman (1885) by Rodin; the universal egg shaped
Beginning of the World (1924) by his pupil Brancusi; who in turn inspired the
American Carl André to further minimize his sculptures into a structure of
wooden beams; followed by the simple signs by the Surinam born Stanley
Brouwn. His signs remind the visitor of the footsteps the artist left on the lawn of
the sculpture garden. Brouwn presented a philosophical idea about being in the
world, that needn’t be materialized.
This ‘art for art’s sake’, as Bremer called it, ultimately ended in a state of
formlessness, a blind alley for sculptors with only one way out. Back to form.
Back, into the world.
Bremer’s lecture ended with one of the latest acquisitions of the Kröller-Müller
Museum: Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s pierced tigers, which evidences the art
world’s globalization.
Anne Berk and Judith Collins photo Ronald van Wieren

‘Contemporary sculpture has endless possibilities’

Keynote speaker Judith Collins (United Kingdom) outlined developments, which
opened up the interesting panorama of contemporary sculpture. Working
consecutively with the Art Council and the Hayward Gallery, before becoming
Senior Curator at Tate London, she closely observed the latest developments,
recording them in many exhibition catalogues, books, and the benchmark
Sculpture Today (Phaidon, 2007).
Written from a global perspective, Collins describes the flourishing of
contemporary sculpture after modernism, illustrated by the work of more than
300 sculptors from the seventies onwards. ‘After the end of painting, threedimensional
art had more challenges to offer. Sculpture has endless possibilities
and develops in multiple directions.’

Collins concentrated on five themes outlined in Sculpture Today: the human
figure, nature, accumulation & recycling, traditional crafts and

The human figure is pivotal for narrative art. Collins starts with Feeling Material
2003 by Antony Gormley (United Kingdom), consisting of spiralling lines, which
interweave themselves with their surroundings. Most of Gormley’s figures are
derived from casts of his own body (which his wife gently removes with a razor,
as Collins relates). Inspired by Buddhist Vipassana meditation, Gormley invites us
to become aware of the invisible energy, which transcends the limits of our
bodies: ‘We are one with nature’, Gormley says. Pawel Althamer (Poland) made
vulnerable portraits of his wife and himself in straw and leather, which are
doomed to decay, like us. Meanwhile the iconic Self (1991) by Marc Quinn
(United Kingdom) touches on the topic of death, showing the artist’s skinless
head made with frozen blood. Every five years he adds another self-portrait,
testifying to his aging body.

Clothing and architecture are close to the body, a favourite conceptual format to
question human behaviour and social issues. Lucy Orta (United Kingdom)
designed Refuge Wear: portable architecture to protect tramps living on the
street from the weather. The Palestinian American Emily Jacir created a memorial
for 418 Palestinian villages, which were destroyed by Israel in 1948. Palestinian
and Israeli people got together to embroider the names of the villages on a
refugee tent (2001).

Tania Kovats (United Kingdom) and Zhang Wang (China) address nature. Wang
reproduces whimsical rocks in hammered, glittering stainless steel. Traditionally,
these ‘philosophers’ stones’, were favoured in Chinese gardens to contemplate
nature. ‘But the world has changed, this is out-dated now. Therefore I
transformed natural rockery into manufactured forms,’ says Wang.
Indeed, nowadays most people live in a completely manmade environment,
which offers an abundance of discarded materials to recycle, either as a
comment, or as a form of play. Tom Friedman (USA) built thousands of toothpicks
into a meticulously crafted, vibrating star. The humorous Miss Understood & Mr
Meanor (1997) by Tim Noble and Sue Webster (GB) is a constructed pile of
garbage, which, when put in front of a spotlight, accurately reveals the artists’
shadow profiles.

And beware of Your friendly neighbourhood Dinosaur! This pink dinosaur, by Jiten
Thukral & Sumir Tagra, made out of squeeze bottles, will tramp into your daily
life. As an Indian version of pop art, Thukral &Tagra give light hearted criticism on
the globalization of consumer culture, which is taking over Indian society today.

Furthermore, there is a renewed interest in traditional craft, see the abstract
textile improvisations of Alexandra Bircken (Germany), but also including new
computer possibilities. Tony Cragg’s (United Kingdom) fascinating, complex,
pulsating forms are the result of a happy marriage between the handmade – the
physical interaction with matter – and computer manufacturing, which make
them human. Apart from reflecting on social developments, there is also a
category of artists who like to play – eg. Michel Landy (United Kingdom) – and use
their imagination eg. Laura Ford (United Kingdom), which has its own merits.
Thukral &Tagra Now in Your Neighbourhood 2008,
32×8 feet, irregular made out of plastic. resin and iron.
Private Collection, Philadelphia, USA, courtesy of Nature Morte, New Delhi

Riyas Komu Photo Ronald van Wieren

‘I want to comment on my time’

Riyas Komu (1971, India) artist and Director of Programs and co-founder of the
Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the first art biennale in India.
In his videos, paintings and installations, he addresses human behaviour and
political topics, working both with new media and ancient Indian craft traditions.
Komu’s father owned a matchbox factory. He was always surrounded by the
smell of wood, and nowadays works in recycled teak, in cooperation with Indian
carvers. In this sense, he’s a local artist. ‘Why should you ignore 5000 years of
Watching the Other World Spirits from the Gardens of Babylon (2007) consists of
an armada of skulls with beautifully carved brains, mounted on wooden wagons.
A comment on the bloodshed caused by the American invasion of Iraq, but it
could also be seen as a universal image of the war machine. Beyond Gods, made
for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, 2011, is more specific. The French football
team’s carved, muscular legs are burdened by a huge beam with the text ‘Allahu
Akbar’ (God is Great). Three of the players have their heads between their feet,
instead of a football. For Komu, a fanatic football player who plays every
morning, the arena reflects power play in the world. Although the multicultural
character of today’s football teams modifies nationalism, they are hampered by
religious strife; in this case allegedly leading to the downfall of football star

As a Muslim living in the secular, communist state of Kerala, Komu cherished the
religious tolerance in this southern part of India. But to his regret, religions
polarize. While studying in Bombay, Komu experienced the riots and bloodshed
after the attack of the Babri Mosque in 1992, which had a lasting impact on him.
‘Leaving Kerala in early ’90s for Bombay at the threshold of liberalisation with a
swelling underbelly of corporate vices, religious bigotry, silence of the
marginalized and dislocated, and social injustices of a fast-emerging economy
with a fragmented cultural fabric, I have been ‘archiving time’ as a way of

Komu takes pride in his background. Situated near the sea, Kerala has always
assimilated different cultures, which is reflected by the participating artists of the
first Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012, which Komu organized. The international
Biennale was locally embedded: ‘This is my Biennale’, and drew 400.000 visitors.

Riyas Komu India Beyond Gods 2011 Installation view exhibition, Centre Pompidou, multimedia
Recycled wood, iron and bronze 188x993x96 cm

Eylem Aladogan photo Ronald van Wieren

‘Listen to your soul’

Eylem Aladogan (1975, The Netherlands) combines refined craftsmanship with
modern technology. While her visual motives are derived from Moorish
architecture, warfare, biology, and the culture of North-American Indians, her
ideas are inspired by her personal life: she looks into her soul.
Her installations offer a symbolic space for experience, visualizing the
psychological challenges of a journey into the unknown. ‘My work involves an
attempt to control the uncontrollable. When you feel the urge to change
something in your life there is always your own fear that you have to deal with
first. The emotional and psychological processes that are encompassed by this
effort, fascinate me and serve as my point of departure.’
Aladogan grew up as the daughter of Turkish-Kurdish immigrants in the provincial
town of Tiel, unfamiliar with the art world, but fond of drawing. It was not self
evident to become an artist. Aladogan has persistently been searching her own
way, psychologically stretching her boundaries, which eventually became the
main theme in her work.
Dendrogram Rooms (2002), is a work with layered meanings, that was inspired by
the shearing of sheep, which Aladogan witnessed in Tasmania. She visualised the
powerlessness of these living creatures, subjected to external forces, which
mirrored her state of mind at the time.
Aladogan likes to make solitary trips to, for example the mountains and deserts of
the USA. ‘In these desolate places you are confronted with yourself’. Once she
rode along an abyss in the dark, but instead of backing out, she mobilized her
willpower to overcome her fears. An experience, which led to the installation
Before Departure (all my changes were there) 2008, in the shape of a crossbow,
‘You have to go forward.’

Eylem Aladogan NL Before Departure (all my changes were
there) 2008 (Ceramics, leather, felt, metal, walnut) 320 x 750 x 850
cm Kröller- Müller Museum photo: Willem Vermaase

Nick Ervinck Photo Ronald van Wieren

‘I’m a child of the computere age’

As a child of the computer age Nick Ervinck (1981, Belgium) is familiar with the
physical, as well as the virtual world. This challenged him to extend the
vocabulary of sculpture.
‘I am interested in new construction principles, like the blob, which were
invented by the architect Greg Lynn and artists such as Henry Moore or Barbara
Hepworth, who introduced space in sculpture. In a way I’m a virtual sculptor,
creating organic, experimental or negative spaces, which I translate in 3
Nick Ervinck is a real maker, with an interest in the latest technologies and an
insatiable appetite for new shapes. In that sense he is a modernist. One shape
develops out of the other, or is triggered by the many commissions he gets. Up to
the age of 14, Ervinck played with Lego. Then he became addicted to computer
games like Simcity or Warcraft, in which you are master of your own universe.
After studying architecture for a while, he opted for the freedom of art, in which
anything is possible.
Ervinck’s first computer aided design, XOBBEKOPS (2007), an expanding organic
shape in an architectural framework, was born out of necessity. It requires
neither studio nor materials, but enables him to experiment and show his ideas.
Toying with architectural constructions, morphing existing shapes like corals,
Rorschach inkblots, Chinese rocks or anatomical parts, Ervinck fuses nature and
technology into a perfect, parallel world, for which new words have to be
IKRAUISM (2009) is a concoction of the whimsical rocks he saw in a Chinese
garden and Henry Moore’s sculptures. Both design and mould were printed layer
by layer, so the mould was resolved. Ervinck is not satisfied with virtual designs.
He wants to make them tangible, by combining 3D printing with labour intensive,
old-fashioned craft.

Nick Ervinck, OLNETOP, 2010-2012, iron, polyurethane, polyester, 820 x 705 x 615 cm
Heri Dono Photo Ronald van Wieren

‘As an artist, you have freedom. You operate from an independent position. Art is a language. It’s a tool to reflect on the time I live in.’

Heri Dono (1960, Indonesia) is a pioneer of Indonesian contemporary art, combining contemporary art with elements from Wayang Béber and Flash Gordon comic books. The first art academy in Indonesia (the current ISI), was founded by president Soekarno in 1950, a painter and collector himself. At the academy in Yogyakarta, the cultural heart of Java, Dono was pushed to choose between realism, expressionism or abstract art. But rather then choosing one of these western ‘isms’, Dono dropped out to become an apprentice of Sukasman, master of the Wayang shadow theatre. ‘We have to reinvent tradition and create a cultural dialogue between East and West. In our culture there is no separation between disciplines. So I make paintings, installations and performances with local people and artisans.’ It was deeply moving when Dono started chanting at the conference, rather then lecturing, addressing the public on a spiritual level. As a child he dreamt of becoming a Javanese priest. ‘In my culture, there is no difference between ourselves and the universe. The microcosm reflects the macrocosm. That’s why the traditional Javanese houses have a stairway which goes up – to see the stars – and then descends, to get down to earth again.’
However, Dono choose to become an artist. He grew up as the son of a freedom fighter, who fought for
independence side by side with Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia.

The Political Clowns (1999) wear a mask, trying to conceal their intentions behind a smile. Getting up close, the observer can read: sex, money and power, on their foreheads; a universal comment on politics, with a specific Indonesian background. This piece was made in 1998 after the Reformasi, the revolts which led to general Suharto’s resignation and the restoration of democracy. Did the situation get any better? Proklamasi (2007) represents the generals Suharto, Sudirman and Sukarno, standing for Soekarno’s famous note: ‘We are the Indonesian nation and declare that we are free. Signed, 17th of August, 1945.’ The generals laugh, reach out to shake your hand, but have hand grenades hidden in their dinosaur tails… Wrapped up in absurdist imagery, the underlying theme of his work is a quest for freedom, for which, Dono more then once, was detained.

Heri Dono Indonesia 1999 Political Clowns Installation view, multimedia

‘Sculpture changes because we change’,
Judith Collins, Sculpture Today, 2007.
In the 20th century western art was characterized by a striving for the new, a belief in modernization and social and aesthetical progress. A new form language was created, finding inspiration in non-western cultures. The range of materials expanded to include the body and nature, so the concept of sculpture broadened to three-dimensional phenomena in space.

Instead of reproducing the visual world, artists searched for the essence behind it. This reduction led to abstract, autonomous’ art, freed from the task of conveying messages, and finally to an idea which didn’t need materialization.

Was this the end of sculpture?

Today sculpture is alive and kicking, developing in multiple directions. The optimistic belief in progress and a linear evolution of society and art gave way to a more modest, cyclical way of thinking. Instead of modern art, we speak of contemporary art. ‘New’ is not a prerequisite.

In the preceding period, formulating the ABC of art was what it was about, but now we have to form words, a new visual language to describe the complex world we live in, Tony Cragg (1990)

Listening to the stories of these sculpture experts, and looking at the works of these driven artists, at the turn of the 21st century, there’s a shift from abstract to narrative art, born from the need to reflect on life and the society we live in. Artists take their own experience – which differs in the world’s various places – as a starting point. They want to tell a story, and do so metaphorically, using a conceptual, reductionist language as in modernism. Some reconnect to figurative traditions and craftsmanship of the past. Some make critical ecological art. Others embrace the future, experimenting with new media and digital techniques.

In the wake of global capitalism, urban drift and increasing wealth, the
individual way of art making has expanded geographically.

As an artist, I have freedom. I operate from an independent position.
Art is a language, a way to create bridges when communication is
blocked, Heri Dono

With his Flying Angels (1996), Dono spreads his hope for freedom into the world.
In countries like Indonesia, this freedom still has to be conquered, urging nonwestern
artists like Dono to choose political subject matter. They hope to change
the world with their art and, in this sense, there is a parallel with modern artists
at the revolutionary beginning of 20th century.

The global artist travels worldwide and stays updated through Internet. Freely
mixing cultures, derived from the world heritage of art and local sources – as the
glocal artist does – using the same conceptual toolkit, expressing him/herself in a
universal language, thus fulfilling a modernist dream of cosmopolitism.

However, can global art be understood by anyone everywhere?

At the close of the 20th century, the ‘great narratives’ of communism or
Christianity have dulled, and the individual way of art making results in a
multitude of individual stories. While the local public might know the
background, for a wider audience, it takes patience to reconstruct the specific
context and get the artist’s message.

Global art is an international Tower of Babel

Personally, I think this is not a problem. After all, there is more to art than solving
a rebus. It is not merely the illustration of a verbal message. Sculpture has a
language of its own. Finally, it will be the esthetical and emotional impact of the
physical shapes, which decide what will survive.

On behalf of sculpture network and all the participants, I greatly thank the
lecturers for their fantastic contributions, which have given us so much joy and
new insights!!!

Anne Berk, The Netherlands,
Art Critic, Curator, Head of Forum 2013 sculpture network

Vltr Eylem Aladogan Riyas Komu Nick Ervinck Judith Collins Heri Dono Photo Ronald van Wieren
Regretfully Ms. Defne Ayas, Director of Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art,
the Netherlands and Director Arthub Asia was not able to attend due health reasons

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