Comments on: John Panting: Spatial Constructions Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 By: ahab Fri, 22 Nov 2013 04:27:16 +0000 “…The commonly held opposition between high modernist sculpture… and minimalism –- one distinct from its environment, the other actively engaging with it –- are hard to sustain in the face of the sculptures themselves. And …a concentration on the sculptures themselves, rather than the New York polemics of Judd, Fried or Krauss, is needed to understand the work…”


I would add that assertions of ‘space’, ‘three-dimensionality’, and ‘organicism’ belong pejoratively with the rest in that didactic, polemical and semantical vein. Simply describing sculpture — which is to say, describing sculpture simply — is difficult enough without adhering pet ideas to it like sticky notes. Sam’s essay seems to me a worthy try at explaining what’s actually there, or at least what he has discernibly derived from the things. And is the better for it.

If there’s a larger/higher discussion to be had about ‘Abstract Sculpture’, it would be well-served by a consensus on definitions. Or the coining of new terms to cover the various nuances that I know everyone here is likely familiar with, but nonetheless typing at odds with and beyond one another’s intended meanings.

Y’all need an etymologist or taxonomist on staff.

By: Robert Linsley Thu, 21 Nov 2013 17:01:33 +0000 The words are unfortunately loaded with past associations.
Organic may be part to part accumulation, but the magic of art is to give the impression of a continuous, undivided flow throughout the work. Organicism in art could be to put the emphasis on the unfolding of the work, in whatever form or direction it wants.

By: Terry Ryall Thu, 21 Nov 2013 15:35:36 +0000 It would be a great shame, given the minority status of sculpture discussions on this site, if this one collapses into the tedious repetition of historically well-aired views rather than remaining focused on the work of Robin Greenwood, Tony Smart and Mark Skilton and the questions that have arisen directly in response to their sculpture. The first question centres around the use of the word organic in relation to all three which Robin and Tony seem to have an objection to. Although I stand by my view(and I have only seen images) that what I see suggests a way of/approach to making that is consistent with a sense of progression, movement and development that can be associated with or felt as having some affinity with a living organism. I don’t see this ‘sense’ that I have as placing any of the works,in any way, in an analogous position with a tree, human-being, carrot whatever and that is, despite using the same word, where I differ from Emyr and Sam. It has to be accepted that words in relation to art can be clumsy, not wholly accurate and often succeeding only in getting to a ‘ball-park’ area of understanding but that is better than descent into entrenched positions.

By: Robin Greenwood Thu, 21 Nov 2013 11:07:56 +0000 OK, well that’s three Caros, which are pictorial, non-physical, optical, architectural; all things we have moved on from. Are you really suggesting we go back to that? Anything else? I suspect any other alternatives will turn out to be fantasy.

By: Tony Smart Thu, 21 Nov 2013 09:49:25 +0000 Sam
Are you guys in fact describing constructed Abstract sculpture in its essence?
Organic is nature’s construction,cell to cell to cell.Abstract constructed sculpture is adding one thing to another as opposed to throwing the material on the floor or carving in stone or modelling in clay using an armature. That then brings you to steel or wood.
There is a very big difference between a plant having roots into the ground in search of water and sustenance and growing upwards and outwards looking for light and warmth and a sculpture constrained only by imagination and material free to move anywhere in its search for space and meaning.

By: Sam Thu, 21 Nov 2013 09:33:25 +0000 Well I would cite some sculptures by Caro, but you of course will disagree, as successfully three-dimensional abstract sculptures (and I think really you are changing the subject a little). Garland, Emma Push Frame, Early One Morning are all works I have seen recently. Of course it is a different type of 3-dimensionality to what you, Mark, Tony and Katherine are exploring (and I think it is a very, very good thing that this is happening). The Caros do not for example use the sort of motion that Emyr described in the comment I’ve just quoted…

By: Sam Thu, 21 Nov 2013 09:26:50 +0000 Point taken re not seeing them, though I don’t think it changes much of the substance of my argument – particularly as I was picking up on what Emyr, who has seen the sculptures, has said. I don’t think you are obliged to answer the question, but I do rather think you and Robin have talked around it a little. I think Emyr’s description of the organic within the sculptures is a good one.

By: Robin Greenwood Thu, 21 Nov 2013 09:06:36 +0000 Perhaps it would be helpful if you and/or Emyr could point us in the direction of some concrete examples of alternative approaches to three-dimensionality in abstract sculpture.

By: Tony Smart Thu, 21 Nov 2013 08:52:24 +0000 Sam
If we were sitting around a table having this”conversation’ people would be more obliged to respond to a question asked. This is neither a conversation or a debate. Is it that you do not understand the meaning of the word organic and all it entails or is it that you are determined that prove that we do not either ? On a practical point,I have acknowledged that I have not seen the Panting sculptures in New Zealand ,the only Brancaster Chronicle sculptures you have seen are Robins.

By: Sam Thu, 21 Nov 2013 06:55:31 +0000 I seem to have moved the discussion on Robin’s sculpture over here – sorry about that!

I think that the most coherent comment on Robin’s sculpture in the other thread was from Emyr:

“I wonder if in fact the term organic is quite useful after all, Mark’s rational explanation for how Robin would have to reconfigure any section to generate the impetus , energy and functional support for the steel to get it up higher made me wonder that this seemed to suggest this was the only way to do that (implied in relation to steel used in this way I suppose). This does have a sense of an “approach” which cannot be challenged. Making sections which build to larger units and gradually move through space seems to be shared by all three sculptors (I have not seen Mark’s so cannot be sure) Is this the only way that three-dimensionality can be dealt with though? for that seems a definite subtext. This approach does seem to treat the steel as some kind of organism; bits evolve in complexity and gather momentum as they “grow” through space. They need a sense of the sap running through them or the extremities wither. Tony’s analogy to a tree sharpening my point even further. Is there a danger of a similarity of approach which narrows rather than opens up possibilities?”

And I don’t think that the comments by Robin or Tony have either properly addressed this. I think it is an interesting point, because it suggests a limitation to the work – both in terms of what it can do (the unspoken ‘rules’ the particular type of “three-dimensionality” or “wholeness” operates under); and in our approach to the sculpture (in the type of three-dimensionality we are confronted with). Organicism is perhaps an easily swiped away word, but I do think that a type of coherence stemming from the body or from the organic (and from a particular idea – that word again! – of the body) is central to Robin’s and Tony’s work. I understand that this cannot be taken too directly and that the success of the sculptures (which I think is very high) depends that the relation is somehow deferred (or submerged, or translated or something along those lines), but I do think it is worth acknowledging that it is present. Otherwise I think we are in the realm of polemic. All art has rules, limitations, after all!

It would also be worth saying that I agree with Robin that there are many differences between the sculptors we are talking about (whether or not they cover as much sculptural territory as has been covered in last fifty years I couldn’t say), that complicates any sense of organic or bodily relation – though considering the various ways in which this bodily relation is approached, the extent to which it is made explicit, might be a good way into describing these differences….?

More directly on Panting later…