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Commentary: Has The Definition Of Sculpture Changed?

The standard definition of sculpture in almost any dictionary says that sculpture is the art of modeling, welding or otherwise producing figurative or abstract works of art in three dimensions, as in relief, intaglio or in the round.

An article put out by the British Arts Council says that this standard definition was first challenged many years ago when new practices and a greater diversity in the range and use of materials extended the vocabulary. The term can now be said to encompass installation, land art, body art, performance art, text-based work, photography and video, as well as the three-dimensional art object.

Another article entitled "The De-Definition of Sculpture" by Graham Coulter-Smith sites many examples of the shift from what we think of as traditional sculpture. The Duchampian Readymade (remember the urinal entitled “fountain”) is certainly the first and perhaps most powerful deconstruction of the category of sculpture. He makes reference to Robert Morris's work which can be described as installation art in which people could actually enter and walk through. Morris declared that art was no longer bound by the categories of painting and sculpture but had evolved into a complex and expanded field.

Marilu Knode, the Director of Laumeier Sculpture Park, says the days of nymphs and fountains have changed and that the future of sculpture has to do with social practice. She goes on to say that the definition of sculpture is much more broad and often has to do with the intervention of the artist into a public space.

Juan William Chavez, an artist who has exhibited at Laumeier, says, "sculpture has expanded from museums and galleries through community based projects that transform and impact the everyday.”

Both Chavez and Sam Durant, whose work is currently on display at Laumeier, are known nationally and even internationally for their use of sculpture to make social commentaries. Both artists use non-traditional art materials. Chavez actually uses bees for his "Living Proposal Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary." He explores the destruction of a failing public housing project and the land it was on which has now become a woodland populated by bees. Observing the number of bees that had claimed the woodland as their own, Chavez came to think about the sculptural comparisons and the metaphorical potential of bee communities, realizing that like the human population of St. Louis, honeybees are, for various environmental reasons, also on the decline.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, in reference to some of his work says, "I refer to my light pieces as light sculpture. They are space makers. When you are making space, when you're mulling it over, when you're changing it, there is that understanding of the spatial. You have to be very, very open about what constitutes a sculpture to call what I do sculpture.” Lozano-Hemmer was born in Mexico and currently lives in Montreal. His large-scale artworks - assortedly described as social sculpture, relational architecture, interactive art and beyond - have appeared in expansive public spaces as well as intimate gallery and museum environs all over the world. Lozano-Hemmer was the keynote speaker at a recent sculpture conference in St. Louis.

Marilu Knode says, "There are all kinds of sculpture everywhere in our city. Look around at the arch and even Bellefontaine Cemetery has billboards which advertise it as the other sculpture park. Our current exhibition, "Mound City" coincides with the 250th anniversary of the modern founding of St. Louis. Just as STL250 provides an umbrella for community-wide birthday celebrations of the white settler presence in the region, "Mound City" celebrates the community-wide presence of the ancient Native culture scattered across our landscape.”

A part of the "Mound City " exhibition entitled "Loans That Don't Move'" has allowed Laumeier to collaborate with The Saint Louis Art Museum, Cahokia Mounds Park, Mastadon State Park and The Missouri History Museum.

It was thrilling to see scholars come to St. Louis from around the world to attend a conference entitled "Mounument/Anti-Monument" which was a part of "Sculpture City Saint Louis 2014,” a multi-partner project, spear-headed by Laumeier Sculpture Park and Via Partnership, designed to draw attention to the vast sculptural resources in St. Louis and to engage the community in conversation about the role that sculpture, past and present, has played in defining our complex urban realm.

We really are sculpture city and whether you consider the arch and Cahokia Mounds sculpture or architecture, they are just a hop, skip and a jump away from one another and both are indeed world famous.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years on numerous arts related boards.

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