MA in the History of Art

Twentieth-Century Sculpture: Production and Perception

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Course Description

This course starts from the realisation that since Rosalind Krauss's Passages in Modern Sculpture (1977), there has been no sustained effort within English-language art history to redraw the lines on which an account of the radical redefinition of sculpture in the 20th century might be understood.

Krauss based her argument on the linked concepts of space and time; this course will consider how the story might be written if the emphasis were to fall instead on criteria rooted in production and perception. This approach necessitates close attention to the remarkable diversification of the techniques and means of production employed by sculptors throughout the century, and more than that, raises the question of the relationship between sculpted objects and wider technologies and materials of making, both present and past. There was a time when such relationships were lumped under terms like "primitivism", "archaism," and "constructivism," yet these terms often do more to efface the terms in which 20th-century art objects relate to the long history of material production than they do to throw it into helpful relief.

The course will adopt several strategies to make its way through what is an exceptionally rich, yet dispersed body of material.

The first is to pay close attention to selected writings of historians and critics of various periods of sculpture that shed light on issues of sculptural technology, production and perception (among them, Krauss, Alex Potts, Richard Neer, Malcolm Baker, Jacques de Caso; Julia Bryan-Wilson).

It will also closely examine the works and writings of artists for whom questions of making seem particularly rich in their implications. Here examples may include Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, David Smith, Anthony Caro, Robert Morris, Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, Gabriel Orozco, Charles Ray, and where possible, will involve on-site visits to collections featuring these artists work.

Finally, the history and philosophy of technology itself will provide another body of material, and selected readings in such diverse authors as Karl Marx, G. W. F. Hegel, Andre Leroi-Gourhan, Bernard Stiegler, David Pye, Cyril Stanley Smith, and Judith Butler will also be undertaken. Students should be prepared to assimilate this range of materials, and to think creatively about it.

Language and other requirements

Prior exposure to some aspect of the history of Western sculpture, though not required, will be an asset to those enrolled in the course.