Larger Than Light
More so perhaps than any other leading Light and Space artist, James Turrell’s (b.1943) work evokes the literal meaning of the movement. Within the confines of a specific space Turrell manipulates light so that it becomes more than just his chosen medium: to be immersed in one of his installations is to have one’s sensory perception heightened to a sometimes-challenging degree.
Turrell is in the process of creating his life’s work, Roden Crater. Begun in 1977 in northern Arizona, Turrell is transforming the cinder cone of an extinct volcano into a series of chambers, tunnels and apertures that open up to the sky in various ways, altering the effect of the light as well as the viewer’s perception of the atmosphere around them. (Construction of the work is being supported through the non-profit Skystone Foundation.)
Turrell, who started experimenting with light as a medium in his native California in the mid-1960s, has consistently maintained that his art has no object and no particular focus. The viewer is intended to simply experience the sensation of being in one of Turrell’s sublime spaces, and to register the thoughts and feelings it provokes. While this type of meditative hyper-awareness could prove incredibly useful to stressed-out New Yorkers, adequate space is unfortunately a prerequisite.
A Heavy Burden
Chris Burden’s (1946-2015) art has never been quiet: consider his controversial performances in the 1970s, such as Shoot (1971), in which he instructed a collaborator to shoot him in the arm in the middle of an art gallery with a .22-caliber rifle.
Burden would become one of the most respected and adventurous sculptors of his generation. His practice took a new direction in 1979 when he created Big Wheel, now in the collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, which fuses performance and monumental sculpture.
Beam Drop, which Burden initially executed in 1984 and then re-created for Instituto Inhotim in Brazil in 2008, is similarly informed by his background in performance art, and not something to try at home (unless you want to pour a pit of fresh concrete into your living room and randomly drop 71 steel I-beams from a height of 45m into it to see where they fall).
The work is both socially and art historically informed: inspired by the Abstract Expressionist chance-based compositions of Jackson Pollock, it is also a monument to “anti-architecture”, the beams he used being an essential element of corporate constructions.
Build It and They Will Come
In 1972, Michael Heizer (b.1944) began his life’s masterwork: the sprawling City in the Nevada desert which, when completed, will be comparable in scale to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Constructed solely from rocks, sand and concrete, City is stunning in scope and ambition, and also largely unknown and unseen. Heizer maintains that he does not want anyone to visit the project, now in its 45th year of construction, until it is finished, probably in 2020.
Preoccupied throughout his career with emptiness and displacement, Heizer established his critical reputation in the late 1960s as a pioneer in the Earthworks movement when he displaced approximately 240,000 tons of rock and earth to create Double Negative in Maopa Valley, Nevada. Accomplished in 1969-1970 with funds from the pioneering patron Virginia Dwan, the work gave new meaning to “site specific art” in its use of natural materials of the site to create the work.
While best known for his monumental and often site-specific sculptural interventions, Heizer does make work that, while large, could conceivably fit on one’s apartment wall, such as the recent “Wet Paintings” and “Hard Edge Paintings”, which he exhibited at Gagosian Gallery in 2016. Also included in the show, a 14-ton granite boulder projecting from a steel box that had been inset into a gallery wall, and which reportedly sold for more than $1m to a collector who planned to install it in East Hampton.
Notoriously tough-minded, Heizer has no-nonsense views of his market. In an amusing profile in The New Yorker in 2016, he told the interviewer that he wanted to keep his “Hard Edge Paintings” together: “I’d hold ’em for a real art collector, not some bullshit stockbroker,” he said. “I’m serious. Make ’em play. Don’t cater to these people more.”
Shelter From the Storm
One of the leading figures in the Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s, Italian Mario Merz (1925-2003) created a body of work over the course of his career that brilliantly mined a variety of media, from found and organic objects to fluorescent lighting.
His “igloos” are considered the apotheosis of the rich conceptual framework at the core of his practice. He first made an igloo in 1968 and, as the concept evolved, the works developed in size and structural complexity. In 1971, the artist declared the igloo to be “the ideal organic shape”.
Examining how we define and signify a housing structure, Merz’s igloo works are nonetheless difficult to conceive of as part of a home installation themselves, given their scale (the above illustrated example measures roughly 8ft 9in by 16ft 6in by 33ft 8in). Equally, the works are difficult to collect because Merz often re-used elements from one igloo to make another, so dating the works is a challenge in its own right.
Bruce Nauman (b.1941) is the quintessential post-Minimalist artist in that his work is enormously versatile in technique, material, style and theme. Nonetheless, his art is grounded in a sculptural practice that he began in 1964 after abandoning painting.
Nauman incorporates Conceptualism, Minimalism, performance and video art into his sculptures. He was deeply influenced by both his Minimalist predecessors and by Marcel Duchamp, in terms of incorporating the human body and the viewer into the experience of sculpture.
In South America Triangle (1981), Nauman’s art took on a political bent. An upside-down cast-iron chair hanging in the center of a suspended triangle formed of three 14ft steel beams referred to methods of political torture that the artist had read about in the books of V. S. Naipaul.
Increasingly, the anger and frustration Nauman felt over how people treated each other all around the world would come to inspire his work. South America Triangle is archetypal of Nauman’s best work—monumental in presence and message, as well as in physical scale.
Nauman’s most ambitious work is often intentionally conceptually complex and therefore difficult to live with. While his current auction record of $9.9m (est. $2m-$3m) for Henry Moore Bound to Fail, 1967 at Christie’s in 2001 puts Nauman squarely within the “blue chip” category, consensus seems to be that his market has much room to grow.
Through the Looking Glass
Claes Oldenburg (b.1929) and Coosje van Bruggen’s (1942-2009) often whimsical sculptures are some of the most photographed works of art in the world. The practice of creating deliberately surreal, oversized and crowd-pleasing public sculpture, however, was something Oldenburg turned to only in the latter half of his career, after growing tired of an art world he had spent much of his life challenging.
With his second wife Coosje van Bruggen, with whom he began collaborating in 1976 and married in 1977, Oldenburg co-opted some of the strategies from his radical early work—namely the choice of unassuming everyday objects as his artistic subjects—and blew them up to create a number of installations.
These major sculptures were almost all commissions, mostly installed in public places. One of the earliest, Clothespin (1976), which stands 45ft tall in Centre Square in Philadelphia, remains one of the most celebrated. The largest by far is Batcolumn, a giant steel latticework baseball bat standing on its handle, created in 1977 for the Harold Washington Social Security Center in Chicago, which is an astounding 96ft 8in tall.
A smaller version of Clothespin, although still 10ft tall, is also Oldenburg’s auction record; the 1974 sculpture sold at Christie’s in 2015 for $3.6m.
Richard Serra (b.1938), who is perhaps the artist most synonymous with monumental sculpture, also happens to be one of the most commercially successful artists of his generation.
In the early 1960s, he and his Minimalist peers turned away from the overt Expressionism of the previous decade and toward a style celebrating the physical properties of the art, as opposed to the feeling or intention behind it. A pivotal moment in his practice came with the “Prop” pieces that he made in the late 1960s and 1970s (which one could conceivably house in an apartment), marking the beginning of the maturation of his artistic ideas.
Since then, he has been working almost exclusively in industrial materials and on a monumental scale. While Serra’s sculptures are difficult to house, they are much desired by collectors and so are incredibly successful commercially. His auction record, achieved at Christie’s in 2013 for L.A. Cone (1986), is $4.3m (est. $1.5m-$2m), but private sale prices are in another league altogether.
There is physical scale, and then there is scale of effort on the part of the artist and the audience. A characteristic work by Pierre Huyghe (b.1962) involves both. Even the Frenchman’s smaller-scale works, such as the aquarium pieces (which could technically fit in one’s home) often involve organic materials such as waterlilies or hermit crabs, and so require maintenance. His project-based work, for which he is best known, is in a class of its own.
Deliberately challenging and upending almost every art world convention, Huyghe has created a body of work that is largely transient and intangible. The question of what defines a sculpture is one he has systematically dismantled and reassembled in a new and unique language throughout the course of his career.
Huyghe has been the recipient of a number of the art world’s most prestigious awards, including the 2017 Nasher Prize for sculpture, and was given his first major retrospective exhibition by Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2014-15. Yet the market has failed to really get to grips with his work—probably because it is so hard to house.
While Walter de Maria (1935-1913) established his sculptural practice in New York during the heyday of Minimalism in the 1960s, his work quickly superseded all traditional boundaries of sculpture as he established himself as a pioneer who would have equal influence on Minimalism, Installation art, Land Art and Conceptualism. Many of de Maria’s most celebrated works are permanent or long-term installations; this, in addition to their often tremendous scale and strict spatial requirements, are significant limiting factors for private collectors.
For one of his most celebrated early works, The Vertical Earth Kilometer (1977), de Maria inserted a 1km-long solid brass rod vertically into the ground in Friedrichsplatz Park in Kassel, Germany, so that its end, which is 5cm in diameter, is flush with the surface of the Earth and the 2m by 2m red sandstone slab which marks its position. Permanently installed outside the Fridericianum museum but maintained by the Dia Art Foundation—four footpaths converge to signal its location.
In contrast to the deliberate subtlety of The Vertical Earth Kilometer, but conceived as a companion, The Broken Kilometer (1979) is a vast permanent installation at 393 West Broadway in New York City, another Dia space. De Maria created this work using 500 2m long by 5cm diameter solid brass rods, which he arranged in five parallel rows of 100 rods each. In total, the rods weigh almost 19 tons and the installation is 45ft wide and 125ft long.
While his profound influence on the development of contemporary art history is undeniable, de Maria’s secondary market is limited and uneven— perhaps unsurprising given the logistical challenges posed by his most notable works.
His auction record is $577,000, achieved for Circle/Rectangle 7 (7 parts; from Large Rod) (1986) (est. $500,000-$700,000) at Sotheby’s in 2007. In the past three years only two works by de Maria have come up at auction. His estate is represented by Gagosian Gallery, which last year showed a single work of his (16-Sided Open Polygon, 1984) at its Park Avenue space in New York City.
Doug Aitken’s (b.1968) most impressive site-specific installation works are the technology era’s answer to the Earthworks movement of the 1960s.
Aitken’s primary medium is film, which often crosses into a multidisciplinary realm. One of his most ambitious projects, Sonic Pavilion (2009) relies entirely on sound: Aitken bore a 200m deep well into the earth, outfitting it with a sophisticated set of microphones and audio system to record the subtle sounds of the earth moving. These micro-noises are then projected in real time throughout a circular pavilion above in the Instituto Inhotim in Brazil, creating a space of continuous vibration. For the commissioned work Lighthouse (2012), Aitken projected a 360-degree video recording of the landscape changing through the seasons onto the glass exterior of a two-storey house in Duchess County, New York. Most recently—and causing much Instagram frenzy—he created Mirage (2017), he installed a ranch structure covered entirely in mirrors in the Coachella Valley for the Desert X site-specific art exhibition.
In 1968, when he was 21, Giuseppe Penone (b.1947) went into the woods near his home in the Alpi Marittime region on the Italian border with France and performed a series of artistic interventions in the natural landscape that became his first mature work and ensured his inclusion in Germano Celant’s 1969 movement-defining tome, Arte Povera.
Among these gestures was the work L’albero ricorderà il contatto del mio corpo (The Tree Will Remember the Contact), which consisted of the artist tightly hugging a tree, and Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto (It Will Continue to Grow Except at This Point) which entailed inserting a steel cast of his hand and forearm into the trunk of a young tree. As the tree grew it was forced to contend with and grow around the foreign human presence embedded within it.
Almost five decades later, Penone continues to explore the intersection between man and nature in his work, with particular emphasis on nature’s persistence over man’s constant interferences.
In 2008, in an area that measured more than seven acres in the gardens of Turin’s La Venaria Reale palace, Penone installed 14 works that he created over a period of four years (2003-2007). Taken together, these works constituted an ultimate declaration of his distinctive artistic ambition.
In 2013, Penone was chosen as the sixth contemporary artist to take over the grounds of Versailles, following Jeff Koons in 2008 and Takashi Murakami in 2010. In contrast to Koons and Murakami, as well as Anish Kapoor who followed in 2015, Penone’s market is not nearly as expansive, nor is it as speculative. This could be due to the fact that Penone himself professes not to be concerned with the demands of the market; rather, his motivation continues to be rooted in the creation of more elemental art that is less specifically conceived to fit into a museum or market context.
Psychology of Space
The sculptor Monika Sosnowska (b.1972), who came to international prominence when she represented Poland at the 2007 Venice Biennale, is more likely to construct a work in the exact dimensions of the architectural framework of your apartment building than she is to create something that will fit easily within it. Formally, her work draws upon the motifs of Constructivism and Minimalism but is most acutely influenced by the Socialist Realist architecture she grew up around in 1970s and 1980s Poland.
Fascinated with architecture’s power to shape psychological experience, Sosnowska has created a body of work that blurs the line between art and architecture in a direct and visceral way. Her works are often intended to be site-specific, playing with the particularities and implications of a given space. By replicating on a 1:1 scale the structures of support that we all depend upon in our daily lives, and then altering their appearance—often in a twisting, almost violent way—Sosnowska challenges their stability, their use and our trust in them.
In 2014, a single sculpture of hers, Tower (2014), measuring approximately 110ft long, occupied the entirety of Hauser & Wirth’s 18th Street gallery. Tower reimagined the steel framework of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s famed 860-880 Lake Shore Drive apartment buildings in Chicago as a twisted floor-bound monumental sculpture.
Needless to say, Sosnowska’s works usually require an institutionally scaled space, which is perhaps one reason why her secondary market is small: there are a total of 16 auction results for Sosnowska, 13 of which are for paintings created in the mid-1990s while she was still a student in Poland.