November 19, 2008
One of my students alerted me to Christopher Knight’s LA Times piece on an exhibit by sculptor Jason Meadows. Meadows invited some fellow sculptors to show work and he made pedestals for the resultant sculptures. As a “meditation on the pedestal in the age of late Conceptual art,” Knight’s essay touches on Constantin Brancusi and the pedestal controversy.
Knight, as ever thoughtful and gently provocative, asks a few questions that indicate our contemporary anxiety about “sculpture in the expanded field” and whether we need to worry about pedestals. Rhetorical or not, I came up with some answers to these questions and want to share them. Christopher Knight’s questions are followed by my “answers” in italics:
Question No. 1: Is a pedestal made by a sculptor the base for a work of art, or is it another sculpture?
Neither: it's a comment on the pedestal as art theory. As theory, it assumes we are aware of art history and plays off of our recognition of the advancement of Modernist sculpture. Like other ‘critiques’ of art posing as art, it has the advantage of being ‘hip’ through historicization.
Question No. 2: Is a sculpture placed atop another sculptor’s pedestal one work of art or two – or maybe even three?
If the sculptors were aware of Jason's final format, then it's collaborative work. The ultimate test, as always, will be decided at “the register” – will collectors purchase Jason’s piece or the work that sits atop it, or both?
Question No. 3: Does a pedestal lend meaning to the sculpture that sits on it? Or does the pedestal draw its meaning from the sculpture on top? Or does it go both ways – or neither?
If it is collaboration then the pedestals provide “meaning” to both the pedestal itself and the sculpture that sits on top through the evidenced criticality. By representing the contemporary sculptures within a pre-Modernist critique, the entire sculptural unit is both parodying Modernism and art theory. And the true way a pedestal will “draw its meaning from the sculpture on top” is through its “consumption” or function as base: to paraphrase Marx, a pedestal becomes really a pedestal only by supporting a sculpture.(1)
Question No. 4: What would Constantin Brancusi, who raised the pedestal issue in the first place, have to say?
Image: Chocolate Gnaw (1992); 600 lbs. of chocolate on marble pedestal; © Copyright by Janine Antoni.
1. “A dress becomes really a dress only by being worn.” From A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, (S. Ryazanskaya, trans.), New York, 1970, 195-196.