Tuesday, June 20, 2006

One Step Closer To Parody

A British sculptor discovers that Art is in the eye of the (Royal Academy) beholder.

Or something like that. I love this story of David Hensel's search for his sculpture at a summer exhibition--and the man's sense of humor.
At first, after wandering through the Summer Exhibition, he concluded that it was nowhere to be seen. But eventually he found it. Or rather, he didn't.

What he did find was the sculpture's empty plinth and wooden base displayed as "Exhibit 1201".

Mr Hensel had never considered the empty plinth a work of art in itself. But the exhibition selectors evidently did. So, too, did visitors, who pronounced it beautiful.

No one seemed to notice, or mind, that the sculpture itself, a laughing head entitled One Day Closer to Paradise, was missing. "What apparently happened was that they had become separated and the selectors judged the empty base a good enough sculpture in its own right to include it in the show," said Mr Hensel.

"How this happened is not yet clear. The rest of the sculpture is lurking somewhere in the basement, but rather than finding this a reason to blame the organisers, I am very amused, because it says something about the state of visual arts today."

The Royal Academy admits no error, however, and stands by both its process and sense of aesthetics.
"Given their separate submission, the two parts were judged independently. The head was rejected. The base was thought to have merit and accepted; it is currently on display. The head has been stored ready to be collected by the artist. It is accepted that works may not be displayed in the way that the artist might have intended." [Emphasis added.]

Well, that's putting it mildly, wouldn't you say? But the presentation certainly worked for visitors at the exhibition.
Visitors to the Royal Academy have praised the empty plinth for its beauty, unaware they were praising an unintentional mistake. "The sculpture is a mixture of heavy stone with a light piece of wood on top. I like the total effect. It is a really nice contrast," said one Danish visitor.

Amy Woolley, 27, from south London said: "In a context like this, it is difficult for it to work on its own. But if it was in more of a minimalist show, it would definitely seem more beautiful."

I think the best thing of all about this story is Hensel's finding a deeper meaning--one related to his original idea--in the very absence of the piece which his inspiration had birthed.

Go read the whole thing--and look at the pictures.

Update: Heh. I'm way behind checking out other blogs today. Now I see that Althouse has her own take, riffing on a different article about the incident.