Recently in Shenzhen, China, Thomas Canto installed a reflective sculpture on top of a private building entitled Gravitational Inertia Infinity. The piece is the first in a new series of works that the French artist plans to explore in the coming months and continues his play with depth, geometry and illusion. Mirroring some of the star-like installations he has created indoors, Canto is taking his work full circle by heading outdoors back to the urban environment, hoping to start a dialogue between nature, human and architecture.
Throughout art history, sculptors have experimented with an eclectic range of mediums. While cast bronze, carved wood, and fired clay have made lasting impressions, no material has captivated quite like marble.
Prevalent in ancient and contemporary art alike, marble artworks have a prominent place in many major art movements and are among some of the most famous sculptures in the world. Here, we trace the evolution of the enduring art form, showcasing the historic prevalence of the practice and proving its timeless popularity.
For millennia, artists have opted for marble, a metamorphic rock, due to its soft, easy-to-carve composition and the translucence of its surface. In ancient Mesopotamia, marble was used to create crude models of animals (both naturalistic and anthropomorphic) and figures, though other mediums like limestone, diorite, and terra-cotta were used more frequently.
‘Reclining Mouflon’ (ca. 2600–1900 BCE) (Photo: Met Museum Public Domain)
Similarly, ancient Egyptians artistically employed a wide variety of stone. While limestone and granite were their mediums of choice, they occasionally used marble to craft figures of pharaohs, gods, and guardians for temples and tombs. Like the Mesopotamian figures that came before, these pieces are primitive in design, showcasing flat and stylized silhouettes rather than realistic forms or lifelike details.
‘Isis with Horus’ (332–30 BCE) (Photo: Met Museum Public Domain)
During Ancient Greece’s Archaic Period of art (8th century-500 BCE), artists began to show increasing interests in marble. Though rendered with more realism than sculptures from preceding periods, marble figures from this time are not yet naturalistic, as their expressions remain relatively stoic and their poses convey little movement.
‘Peplos Kore’ (ca. 530 BCE)
During Greece’s Classical Period (500 BCE to 323 BCE), marble sculptures rose to prominence. With an unprecedented interest in naturalistic representation, Classical artists began to skillfully sculpt beautiful freestanding figures and reliefs that exhibit an astonishing attention to detail, idealized perception of anatomy, and refined chiseling techniques.
One of the ‘Elgin Marbles’ (ca. 447–438 BCE)
At this time, Greek artists often opted to showcase their talents through drapery, representing clinging and hanging fabrics through intricate carving.
‘Marble Statue of a Woman’ (4th century BCE) (Photo: Met Museum Public Domain)
During the Hellenistic Period (323 BCE- 31 AD), Greek artists built upon these advancements, producing pieces that were increasingly expressive and naturalistic in movement. Many well-known Greek sculptures, including Laocoön and His Sons, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, and The Venus de Milo, are from this era.
‘Laocoon and His Sons’ (First Century B.C.E.) (Photo: LivioAndronico via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)
Ancient Roman sculptors are predominantly known for two types of marble sculptures: portraits, or busts, and marble copies of Greek bronzes.
During the Republican Era, artists carved realistic portraits of people—including political leaders, military officials, and historians—from the chest or neck up. Known as busts, these life-sized works are celebrated for their impressively naturalistic appearance.
In the Imperial Roman period (31 BCE – 476 AD), marble reproductions of bronze sculptures from Greece became increasingly popular, as “Rome’s conquest of Greece by the first century BC subjected Roman artistic taste to the influence of Greek style” (The British Museum). In many cases, these marble replicas are particularly important to art historians, as many of the bronze muses are no longer in existence.
Roman copy (120–140 AD) of the ‘Apollo Belvedere’ (350–325 BCE)
British contemporary sculptor Martin Debenham creates stainless steel wire sculptures inspired by fantasy and nature. Working with a malleable material that has endless potential, the self-taught artist’s growing collection of wire art features impressive structures rendered from intricate twists, bends, and expert welding.
Appearing as though they’re three-dimensional line drawings, most of Debenham’s metal masterpieces are made for outdoor display. When placed into natural environments, they seem to evoke mythical narratives as they glimmer in the sunlight. For example, in one piece, a wire-sculpted mermaid sits on a rock by a lily pond, positioned as though she’s contemplating going for a swim. Each strand of wire is sculpted into curves that follow the form of the female body, then flow into a long mermaid tail.
In another, featuring hundreds of wire looped feathers and silvery talons, a Golden Eagle appears to have been frozen in time while soaring through a garden. This “hovering” illusion was cleverly created by supporting the 22 lb (10 Kg) sculpture by two transparent plinths. Other sculptures include “improvisation” pieces that have spontaneously evolved into figurative and abstract forms. Mounted on wooden bases, these expressive forms showcase the artist’s boundless imagination.
Artist Song Kang imagines tiny microcosms in stone. In her series aptly-titled “Carved in Stone,” she fuses architectural structures onto and into “rocks” (using materials such as reed, plaster, foam, and paper mache). The bridges, stonework, and intricate wooden Cathedral-style windows follow the curves and forms of the rocks themselves and appear distorted in their…
The Dark Art Emporium welcomes you to the dark side… join them March 10, 2018 from 7-10pm for the opening of The Shape of things to Come.
In a world where things seem to go bump in the night, and the macabre slithers beyond every murky crook and nanny, the insidious art of darkness prevails in The Shape of Things to Come, the new exhibition of Erick De La Vega & Krystopher Sapp. Can you hear them whispering and calling out to you, taunting and intriguing? As these nocturnal disturbances loom with twisted narratives and eerie emotion, help The Dark Art Emporium celebrate this wonderfully eerie new collection of work. To view additional artwork and purchase your favorite pieces, please visit the gallery’s online shop.
Located in beautiful downtown Long Beach, Ca., The Dark Art Emporium is a diverse environment dedicated to showcasing the artists and creators that often fly under the radar of most people’s perception of fine art. Here you will find everything from real human skulls, creepy dolls, unorthodox taxidermy, low brow, and dark fine art.
Currently in Hong Kong, Mark Ryden (interviewed) has a striking new sculptural piece on view in the foyer of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Entitled Dodecahedron–Quintessence 132, the twelve-faced piece features icons, figures, and symbols on each side including the all-seeing eye that the Lowbrow artist is known for. Ryden further explains – “Quintessence 132 is a sculptural piece that continues my interest in the Dodecahedron. I have been numbering my paintings and sculptures since my first major solo exhibition in 1998. This is number 132. On this piece, I have included an array of icons, figures, and symbols on each of the pentagonal panels that form the solid. These symbols are dominated by the all seeing eye, the gateway to the soul. The eye is a motif which reoccurs in my work. In Whipped Cream, the ballet spectacle, for which I recently designed sets and costumes, this eye again appears, presiding from a central spot above the show.” Check his instagram for more in depth look at the piece.
Coinciding with the display of this new sculptural masterpiece, the aforementioned Whipped Cream (covered), a collaboration between the American artist and the American Ballet Theater will premiere (March 22-25) at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre during the Hong Kong Arts Festival 2018. The sculpture will then travel to PMQ from March 26 – April 4 during Art Basel Hong Kong where Ryden’s paintings can be seen in the Kabinett section with Paul Kasmin Gallery along with a small scale version of the dodecahedron (available as an edition of 6 + 3 AP).
Photo credit: @goforjona and the HK Arts Festival. Discuss Mark Ryden here.