Public Art Fund recently released a catalogue of its 2010 City Hall Park exhibition, “Statuesque” (now on view at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas through August 21). The original show featured 10 works by six artists—Pawel Althamer, Huma Bhabha, Aaron Curry, Thomas Houseago, Matthew Monahan, and Rebecca Warren. PAF installs sculpture in many locations around New York City, but the City Hall Park exhibitions are considered among their “major initiatives with established artists.” (“Sol LeWitt: Structures, 1996–2006” is on view there through December 3.)
“Statuesque” was Nicholas Baume’s first exhibition as PAF director and chief curator. By bringing together this group of artists, he wanted to show a range of approaches that challenge conventional views of the figure: “The language of sculpture since the 1960s has moved even further from the figurative tradition, primarily filtered through the radical ideas of minimalism, conceptualism, installation, site specificity, and post modernism. In a sculptural landscape broadly dominated by postminimalism, the figure has become a very rare species.” While figurative sculpture can be rare in the entire “sculptural landscape,” it still maintains a presence as public art. PAF is currently showing Rob Pruitt’s The Andy Monument in New York, and it included Robert Melee’s work in a 2009 City Hall Park exhibition. Both Steinnunn Thorarinsdottir and Jaume Plensa have public exhibitions on view this summer. Nor are “Statuesque” artists unknown or marginalized—though the exhibition did mark the first showing of their works together and in public.
In his essay, Baume argues that “the works attest to a number of important affinities that distinguish them from other artists associated with the human form.” He believes that one affinity can be found in process. This group eschews live models and “prefer[s] to reference the figure rather than replicate it.” Their works “tend toward abstraction rather than realism, assemblage rather than the readymade,” which separates them from their predecessors. Baume’s introductory essay explains his curatorial choices, but the book does not answer the question that he proposes from the start: “How might figurative sculpture, become once again, an influential form of public art?”
The individual artists are each introduced with essays by Miguel Morcuende González, and their own thoughts appear in the form of short interviews or excerpts from a lecture. (PAF sponsors a lecture series featuring talks by artists whose works are on display in the city.) In the interviews, Baume asks basic questions about process, media, and larger bodies of work. While it is always interesting to hear an artist’s perspective, the interviews seem like a missed opportunity. None of these artists have shown work in a public setting before, as Baume notes. The interviews could have provided a forum for a more in-depth conversation about how their sculptures might continue the evolution of the figurative tradition and its relationship to public art. The exhibition itself may have provided more answers to this question, but the catalogue skims the surface without delving into a deeper discussion.
Statuesque provides an introduction to the work of six artists who create evocative forms that should be seen by a wider audience. It also demonstrates PAF’s main success: taking established and emerging artists out the galleries and putting them on full view for a diverse New York public.
by Nicholas Baume
New York: Public Art Fund, 2011
171 pages, 150 illustrations. $29.95