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Revival and Invention

Sculpture through its Material Histories

Edited By Sébastien Clerbois and Martina Droth

Materials may seem to be sculpture’s most obvious aspect. Traditionally seen as a means to an end, and frequently studied in terms of technical procedures, their intrinsic meaning often remains unquestioned. Yet materials comprise a field rich in meaning, bringing into play a wide range of issues crucial to our understanding of sculpture. This book places materials at the centre of our approach to sculpture, examining their symbolic and aesthetic language, their abstract and philosophical associations, and the ways in which they reveal the political, economic and social contexts of sculptural practice. Spanning a chronology from antiquity through to the end of the nineteenth century, the essays collected in this book uncover material properties as fundamental to artistic intentionality.


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Sébastien Clerbois and Martina Droth - Introduction xix


Sébastien Clerbois and Martina Droth Introduction Sculpture has long been the more marginal field relative to painting, treated as a specialism, a subject apart, rather than one that is integral to the history of art. This situation has begun to change markedly over the past twenty years or so, perhaps at least partly because of shifts in contemporary prac- tices, which have given sculpture a newly configured place within wider, more loosely-defined approaches. The history of sculpture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is one that is marked, if anything, by the disap- pearance of works that may be defined as ‘sculpture’ with any clarity, while at the same time evidencing a trans-disciplinarity within which few works are made that do not evoke some kind of ‘sculptural’ aspect. Materials have been central to this. For the avant-gardes of the early twentieth century, sculpture’s perceived conventionality was inextricably bound up with its objecthood, which in turn was innately defined by mate- rials. The desire for the reinvention of a sculpture for the modern age, as articulated, for instance, by Umberto Boccioni’s 1912 Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture, was ultimately based on a rejection of sculpture’s mate- rial traditions (‘It is necessary to destroy the pretended nobility, entirely literary and traditional, of marble and bronze, and to deny squarely that one must use a single material for a sculptural ensemble’).1 Although Boccioni’s own proclaimed attempts to create a model for sculpture that would break new ground were ultimately contradicted by...

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