Frank Stella, Harran II (1967); Robert Lazzarini, Brass Knuckles (2010)Her stepped boxes, ranging in size from that of a footlocker to that of a chiffonier, immediately posed the question of whether they were art, only to solve it in the next instant with their painted surfaces, which acted and yet did not act like pictures.
This pictorial error is not unique to the Modernists however. One imagines the Venus of Willendorf was conceptualized as a cave painting in the round. Likewise the postmodernism of earth art is little more than a HUGE shaped painting. Walter de Maria explains how he and his fellow earth artist Michael Heizer started out:
We had a lot in common; we knew the whole situation so that gave us something to talk about and from that point it became interesting that he would change from shaped canvas painting to sculpture, and I was at the point of changing from steel sculpture into the land sculpture.
Krauss was writing in 1979, well after the intellectual progeny of the Minimalists had began to bulldozed, video, and perform sculpture, but still well in advance of the wide variety of activities that now fall under the rubric of postmodernism. Already however Krauss was complaining that,
Nothing, it would seem, could possibly give to such a motley of effort the right to lay claim to whatever one might mean by the category of sculpture.Luckily sculpture has not become any more focused as a term (one need only visit the Sculpture Center to experience first hand how malleable the term remains), and despite Krauss best efforts, it is no less entangled with painting.
There is nothing very mysterious about this logic; understood and inhabited, it was the source of a tremendous production of sculpture during centuries of Western art. But the convention is not immutable and there came a time when the logic began to fail. Late in the nineteenth century we witnessed the fading of the logic of the monument. It happened rather gradually.
Through its fetishization of the base, the sculpture reaches downward to absorb the pedestal into itself and away from actual place; and through representation of its own materials or the process of its construction, the sculpture becomes depicts its own autonomy.
One imagines that the historically bounded conditions of possibility allowed the “equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius… set in the center of the Campidoglio,” its brass horse and rider; machined and buffed down to the essential mirror polished form of a cylindrical crotch, and the imperial grandeur of its dressed stone plinth reduced to a plain block of marble. Krauss takes us from official Roman statuary to Brancusi by way of Rodin. According to her scheme Modernist sculpture was an attack on inherited conventions, but not a long lived one. The “negative condition of the monument” was, according to Krauss, a limited vein of investigation and “it began by about 1950 to be exhausted”:
It began, that is, to be experienced more and more as pure negativity. At this point modernist sculpture appeared as a kind of black hole in the space of consciousness, something whose positive content was increasingly hard to define, something that was possible to locate only in terms of what it was not.