Indifferent Matter: From Object To Sculpture is the summer offering at the Henry Moore Institute, exploring how the knowledge surrounding an object, the way it’s displayed and the cultural and historical values attributed to it are malleable. It challenges our understanding of what can be a sculpture.
The exhibition houses four twentieth-century sculptures by four American artists whose work questioned people’s understanding of sculpture and art, and is somewhat reminiscent of the ready-made DADA movement, if not quite as scandalous as Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). These are paired with objects – some ambiguous, others simply unknown – from archeological and geological collections around the country.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s ‘“Untitled’ (Placebo)” (1991) is a blanket of silver-wrapped sweets on the gallery floor, there to be freely eaten by visitors. The Institute is responsible for returning the sculpture to its original mass every morning. It is paired with Chinese Neolithic jade bi discs and t’sung columns found in Liangzhu (3400-2250 BC) burial sites, of which barely anything is known for certain. The homogeneous glistening mass of ‘“Untitled’ (Placebo)” is a puzzling sculpture made up of objects that everyone is very much certain about: sweets, something to be eaten. A sugary consolation when confronted by the ambiguous jade discs, which are colourful and mysterious artifacts.
A couple of Roman sculpture fragments, housed within a display structure by British artist Steven Claydon, are surrounded by Andy Warhol’s “Silver Clouds” (1966), large helium balloons floating about, perhaps more of an installation than a sculpture. The solid, durable marble fragments, not that different from others that can be found in numerous classical collections, stand protected behind the glass, while the degradable balloons deflate and deteriorate as visitors play about with them.
Two other pairings bring the natural world into the exhibition. Hans Haacke’s “Grass Cube” (1967) is essentially a Perspex box sprouting grass. The blades pale in interest as they are paired with a new mineral species, recently discovered and waiting classification. Yet in the fourth pairing, the chipped flint eoliths have lost their uniqueness as it has now been confirmed that they are naturally occurring rather than man-made. There’s also a lump of waste, something found in the industrial process of producing steel (Robert Smithson’s “Aspalt Lump” ). Having been singled out as unique by the artist, it becomes a sculpture that strikes and prods at more traditional ideas of what a sculpture is.
Indifferent Matter: From Object To Sculpture is an exhibition of fragments, of objects that on their own or gathered together are displayed to be admired according to the words that the artist, archeologist or geologist has labelled them with. It’s on until October, it’s free, so head down, chew on a sweet (or two, or three) and enjoy some sculptures.
Indifferent Matter: From Object to Sculpture runs at the Henry Moore Institute until 20th October 2013.