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From glass to clay, without omitting bronze and wood sculptures, plus one anecdote: eleven categories to navigate in the sculptural world. Here is a list of 25 famous sculptors - some of them will mingle or intersect, as you go through this insight - divided according to their specific artistic medium, in a pertinent comparison between Old Masters, modern “funky potters” and brilliant, super contemporary figures.  

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Glass Sculpture Artists

The art of glass originated in Murano, Venice, in the 8th century. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the decorative arts associated with the Art Nouveau have exploded. Louis Comfort Tiffany - the son of Tiffany and Company’s founder - was best known for his opalescent stained glassworks in a variety of colors and textures: beautiful glass windows and lamps with floral patterns, glass mosaics, ceramics, jewellery, enamels, and metalwork. In 2005, the American Artist Karen LaMonte (b. 1967), known for her life-size sculptures through different materials, has translated the lost wax technique of the 1950s Eastern Bohemia studio - established by famous Czech glass artists Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová - to her Glass Dress Vestige - a “glass sculpture that changed the course of contemporary art and glass history”. Like a Renaissance master with a workshop that employs skilled artisans, Dale Chihuly functions both as an individual artist and as a creative director. In 1971, he co-founded Pilchuck Glass School, just north of Seattle, which helped turn the region into a mecca for glass artists.

Niyoko Ikuta

For the Kyoto-based artist Niyoko Ikuta (b. 1953) creating ethereal and mesmerizing layered sculptures with laminated sheet glass that follow the shape of spirals, geometric sequences - seashells, peacock’s feathers and whale tales - is a breeze. One of the leading figures, since the early 1980s, in the Japanese art of glass, Ikuta’s technique consists in the intersection of broken cross-sections of plate glass and to let the light shine through. Her motifs are derived from feelings of gentleness and harshness, fear, limitless expansion experienced through contact with nature, images from music, ethnic conflict, the heart affected by joy and anger, and prayer.

 

Niyoko Ikuta, Ku-42 (Free Essence 42), 2013, Laminated sheet glass, 12 3/5 × 12 2/5 × 14 1/5 in 32 × 31.5 × 36 cm, © Yufuku Gallery and the artist

 

Dale Chihuly

The pioneer of the American glass art and the most famous Seattle’s artist, entrepreneur and collector Dale Chihuly, now 78, has maximized his enterprise: the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum; the Boathouse; a storage facility in Tacoma; and a studio, office, and viewing room where he stages the monumental works which is famous for, over the past five decades. Chihuly’s fantastical, brightly colored and lysergic large-scale installations that resemble element’s of a magical nature - the incandescent giant bowls of “Macchia”, the Seaforms series, the Chandeliers of blown glass and The Sun installed in London to mention a few - have been displayed all over the world with a huge success.
 

 

Dale Chihuly, “Summer Sun”, Glass, 2010, Kew Gardens, Kew © Royal Botanic Gardens and the artist

 

Carol Milne

Internationally acclaimed for her outstanding Knitted Glasswork, Canadian American sculptor Carol Milne (b. 1962) is a silver medalist at the Japanese International Exhibition of Glass Kanazawa 2010 - the world showcase of contemporary glass art. When "Knitting wasn't yet cool”, Milne has incorporated the techniques of knitting, lost-wax casting, mould-making and kiln-casting to create loose and transparent knots of colour-coordinated glass hooked onto knitting needles. “I see my knitted work as a metaphor for social structure. Individual strands are weak and brittle on their own, but deceptively strong when bound together,” Milne writes. The integrity of her single pieces leave the whole intact but incomplete, as in Two hands knitting themselves.

 

Carol Milne, Waterwings, Two hands knitting themselves, and staying afloat, kiln cast lead crystal & knitting needles, 8 x 19 x 12 inches, 2016, © Carol Milne

 

Metal Sculpture Artists

Metal is a solid, hard, opaque material that has been used by sculptors since ancient times like Donatello, Phidias, Myron, and Polykleitos. Metals can be hammered without breaking or cracking them in order to shape them, they can also be melted and used in moulds or made into the wire and modelled – this makes them ideal media for sculptors to work with. The use of bronze for making cast sculpture is very ancient, and the bronze is perhaps the metal most traditionally thought of as a sculptural medium. From the early twentieth century, however, artists such as Pablo Picasso and the Russian constructivists began to explore the use of other metals, and Julio González introduced welded metal sculpture. Other artists known for creating metal sculptures include the English metal guru Antony Gormley, Alberto Giacometti and Fernando Botero

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Alberto Giacometti

The name of the Swiss sculptor, painter, draftsman and printmaker Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) resonates throughout the world. Giacometti was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century, whose work was particularly influenced by Cubism and Surrealism, as well as Existentialism and philosophical questions about the human conditions. After World War II, giving up his seven centimetres sculptures, Giacometti created his most famous works reduced to the core of life: the extremely tall, rough, eroded figurines, like the Three Man Walking (II), 1949. The themes, that preoccupied him have always been the walking man, the standing, nude woman and the bust, often combined in various groupings. In 2010, L’homme qui marche I (1961), a life-sized bronze sculpture of a man, became one of the most expensive works of art and the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction.

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Alberto Giacometti, The Nose (Le nez), 1949 (cast 1964) Bronze, wire, rope, and steel, 81 x 71.4 x 39.4 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 66.1807
© 2018 Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York Photo: Kristopher McKay © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

 

Fernando Botero

The most recognized painter and sculptor from Latin America and “the most Colombian living artist”, Fernando Botero (b. 1932) is the great inventor of “Boterismo”, a signature style consisting of exaggerated humans and animals, for volume and connotations - “large people” as critics refer to them -, which can represent political satire and possess comic qualities. Outlined by inflated proportions and soft clear-cut lines, Botero’s monumental bronze figures, including Roman Soldier (1985), Maternity (1989), and The Left Hand (1992), were exhibited open-air around the world in the 1990s. Becoming part of Barcelona’s landscape, The Cat (Gato) was purchased by the city City Council in 1987 and it is recognizable by his rounded form, cartoon features and long tail. 

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Fernando Botero, Gato, 1987, 7 x 2 x 2 m., Rambla de Raval, Barcelona

 

Momo Sculpture Artist

The horror statue of “Momo”, the bird-like wraith encouraging children via WhatsApp to harm themselves, - a challenge that became viral panicking the internet - is actually based on a sculpture by Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso. Inspired by the Japanese and Chinese folk figure of the supernatural bird woman (Ubume), it was exhibited in 2016 at  Tokyo’s Vanilla Gallery, not arousing much interest. A longtime fan of the grotesque and the occult, Aiso has created the silicone sculpture three years ago as part of a series of ghoulish artworks for his small company (the Link Factory) specialized in making props for television shows. Recently, the sculpture, severely damaged, ended up in the dumpster.

 

Artist Keisuke Aiso in his studio on the outskirts of Tokyo, Photo Ryusei Takahashi, © Keisuke Aiso

 

Contemporary Sculpture Artists

Contemporary Sculpture reinforces the idea of contemplation in a timeframe, which adds a silent quality to the viewing experience. The magic of contemporary sculpture addresses the compositional connection between the object and its surround, voids and negative spaces, undulating lines and changing angles’ movements, shadows and illusions. In the last half of the twentieth century, rapid changes have occurred. After the figure was abandoned, the art object itself gained prominence. Artists of creative genius embraced industrial materials and techniques as part of a bold sculptural language, choosing to reject traditional methods of casting or modelling. The sculpture is still widely explored by contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Robert Gober, Damien Hirst and Thomas Schütte.

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Eva Hesse

Latex, fiberglass, and plastics are the impermanent materials for which the German-born American sculptor Eva Hesse (1936 – 1970) is known for. A meteor in the sky of Contemporary Sculpture. Her pioneering work spanning only a decade - after a painful background, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 34 - became influential in the field of feminine Postminimal art movement of the 60s. Her first sculpture made in Germany - Ringaround Arosie, which featured cloth-covered electrical wire, paper-mâché and masonite - marked a started point in Hesse’s career: from 1965, after returning to New York, she began working and experimenting with unconventional materials and processes which had to do with immediacy, eccentricity/sexuality and repetition. Read more about Eva Hesse.

 

Eva Hesse, Ringaround Arosie, 1965,  Pencil, acetone, varnish, enamel paint, ink, and cloth covered electrical wire on papier-mâché and Masonite, 26 3/8 x 16 1/2 x 4 1/2" (67 x 41.9 x 11.4 cm),
The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Fractional and promised gift of Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., 2005. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY. Art © The Estate of Eva Hesse. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

 

Thomas Schütte

One of the most important sculptors working today, the German artist Thomas Schütte, 65 years old, studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under the renowned painter Gerhard Richter. Totally subverting traditional art historical genres and breaking all rules, his eclectic output of figurative sculptures - from miniatures to large-scale public works - often disturbing, strange and eerie, morph into abstraction, a “high-end bricolage”. His famous United Enemiesseries (1993–2011), displayed under bell jars, is Inspired by the ordinary old men, politicians and local art administrators during a six-month artist residency in Rome. Schütte awards include the Golden Lion at the 2005 Venice Biennial.

Related articles: Gerhard Richter. The Painter who entered the 11th dimension!

 

Thomas Schütte, installation view with (background) United Enemies, A Play in Ten Scenes, 1994, set of 10 four-color offset prints on paper, 69 x 99 cm., and (foreground) United Enemies, 1993–94, modeling clay, fabric, wood, cord, glass, and PVC, each figurine: 31 cm. high, overall: 188 x 25 x 25 cm. Photo: © Monnaie de Paris/Martin Argyroglo

 

Paper Sculpture Artists

Combining or shaping different types of paper that are stable and permanent, makes the art of creating paper sculptures a very complicated process. Unlike the Origami - the Japanese Art of paper folding - paper sculpture is made of several pieces or layers of paper. In paper sculpture art, paper is both the subject and the object of observation. Many artists use paper in purity - take for instance Sol LeWitt’s works on paper -, others combine the delicate matter with metal, wood or ceramics to stabilized it - like Pablo Picasso’s world of paper, a tool to explore endlessly his ideas and the material. Finally, paper sculptures are often created outside the mainstream contemporary art world, but not always, as the following established artists prove.   

Li Hongbo

Li Hongbo is the most famous paper sculptor in the world. Born in China in 1974, he studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, at the end focusing on an age-old honeycomb technique seen in paper gourd making in Chinato define his own approach. Hongbo explores the limitless possibilities of the medium, creating stunning and stretchable Paper Sculptures, like the Bust of David and The Goddess of Pantheon (2015) which testify an elegant mix of Chinese folk traditions and a more contemporary idea about vision and perception. There is a Chinese saying, ‘life is as fragile as paper’, Li Hongbo stretches it, challenging forms and styles.

 

Li Hongbo, Rainbow, 2015, Paper, Dimensions variable. Installation view, SCAD Museum of Art. © Eli Klein Gallery

 

Jen Starck

Born in Miami, Florida in 1983, Jen Stark’s art is driven by her interest in sacred geometries, fractals, visual systems to simulate plant growth, evolution theories, infinity and mimetic topographies. Stark makes optical and seductive 3D and 2D paper works in vivid colors that resemble organic, molecular, cloud-like structures, mandalas or nautili which imply the audience’s both mental and physical engagement. Starck artistic legacies of Yayoi Kusama, Sol Lewitt, Tara Donovan, Tom Friedman, Andy Goldsworthy, Ernst Haeckel, and the Finish Fetish artists of 1960s Los Angeles affects her ability to create minimal and naturalist sculptural objects, wall works and public art murals. 

 

Jen Starck, 30 Cubed, 2019, powder-coated aluminium and monofilament, 30 x 30 x 30 in., © Jen Starck

 

Jacob Hashimoto

Jacob Hashimoto (b. 1973 USA) simulates nature by creating paper light three-dimensional structures. Drawing on his Japanese heritage, he uses the traditional kite-making techniques to invent complex worlds: large-scale wall and ceiling installations (“tapestries”) out of thousands of handcrafted paper and bamboo kites, model boats, even astroturf-covered blocks. His longtime fascination with the intersections of abstraction and landscape, places his paper art talent in-between pictorial qualities and organic forms, giving the illusion of light, space, motion, like flying on a ship with paper sails or scrolling an analogue video game.

 

Jacob Hashimoto, A Crippling Myth in One Breath, 2019, Wood, acrylic, bamboo, paper and Dacron, 26 x 18.75 x 8.5 inches, © Rhona Hoffman Gallery

 

Wire Sculpture Artists

Sculpture or (wrapped wire) jewellery made out of wire is called wire sculpture and dates back to one of the most obscure periods in Egyptian history, The Second Dynasty, and to the Bronze and Iron Ages in Europe. In the 20th Century, wire sculpture started to be conceived as an art form, thanks to the interpretation of Alexander Calder, Ruth Asawa and other more amateur artists - the wire trees creator Brian Boyer, Kue Kings’ sculptures with wire and feather and the “Godmother of Wire” Elizabeth Berrien.

Take a glance to Fabrizio Pozzoli's best wire art on Kooness.

Alexander Calder

American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is best known for his innovative Mobiles and monumental public sculptures. He has extensively used the medium of wire for clear, playful and amusing kinetic sculptures that engage chance in their aesthetic, like real toys. In 1926, Calder gave birth to his miniature movable circus with wire models of lion tamers and sword eaters: Cirque Calder. Developing small portraits, caricatures, and stylized people and animals, Calder has declared “wire sculpture had an important place in the history of art and remarked on the great possibilities that lie within the medium”. 

 

Alexander Calder, The Brass Family, 1929. Photograph: James Gourley/REX Shutterstock, © 2015 
Calder Foundation, New York/DACS, LONDON

 

Ruth Asawa

Ruth Aiko Asawa (1926-2013) was an American sculptor working with wire in such a variety of techniques that her creations appeared at both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the 1955 São Paulo Art Biennial. Having been a former student at the Black Mountain College under the guidance of the famous artist and educator Joseph Albers, in the 1950s, she experimented with crocheted wire sculptures of abstract forms, drawing inspiration from Mexican village people’s tradition to make baskets from galvanized wire. By 1962, Asawa’s three-dimensional line drawings like images rooted in nature, geometry, and abstraction. 

 

Ruth Asawa, installation view of “Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work,” 2018–19. Photo: © Alise O’Brien Photography, © Estate of Ruth Asawa, Courtesy The Estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner

 

Ceramic Sculpture Artists

Derived from the Greek for “potter’s clay” or keramos, ceramics is considered an essential plastic art. A sculpture may become a form of ceramic art when it is produced using ceramic materials like clay, but also bricks, glass and cement. Artistic works are related to fine art pottery or ceramics with aesthetic or visual appeal, whereas pottery often signifies dishes, pots, and other functional items, but both require the basic four-step process of forming, firing, glazing or decorating, and refiring. The earliest ancient pottery from China is thought to have been from approximately 30.000 BC. Back to our days, sculpture and ceramics often intermingle in the art world, and they can take any form in the hands of notable ceramic sculptors of the latest Century: Karen Karnes and Betty Woodman.

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Karen Karnes

Karen Karnes (1925 - 2016) was a major icon in American Ceramic Art and her remarkable career has stretched over more than a half-century. In 1952, she and her husband David Weinrib - a ceramist as well - become potters-in-residence at the Black Mountain College in North Carolina where they met international potters. With the flameproof clay body she developed herself, Karnes began making casseroles, teapots, cups and bowls - a design she produced for over fifty years - along with contemporary vessels and her most well-known form: the cut-lid jar. Karnes’ chosen path was using old firing practices such as wood and salt firing to create iconic functional pottery.

 

Karen Karnes, Winged Vessel, 1989, Thrown and Altered Glazed Stoneware, Photo: John White
© Elaine Levin Archive, University of Southern California

 

Betty Woodman

Betty Woodman (1930-2018) is recognized as one of the most important voices in contemporary American Ceramic Art. Mixing and re-inventing new and traditional forms - the Italian majolica cultural heritage matched with contemporary Pattern and Decoration Movement, coming up with exuberantly colorful, nonfunctional, eccentric work with a painter’s touch, Woodman began producing witty vases and vessels decorated with scenes from the Italian Renaissance or slathered with landscape cloud. Woodman was a wild experimenter: unexpected materials - like lacquer paint -, an amalgam of different art forms - from Matisse’s cut-outs to Tang Dynasty tomb figurines, design and architecture visually exploding.

 

Betty Woodman, Silk Pillow Pitcher, 1985, hand-thrown and assembled white earthenware with majolica glazes, 61 x 56 x 43 cm. Courtesy: Salon 94, New York

 

Klara Kristalova

Klara Kristalova (Czech, b. 1967) is a prominent artist in the scene of contemporary Scandinavian ceramic art. Her uncanny, gothic and surreal micro-world of young boys and girls - inspired by old folk tales, childhood fantasies, dreams and nightmares - are rooted in the decorative and craft tradition of the 18th Century figures of Meissen porcelain - the first European royal factory of hard-paste porcelain near Dresden. Kristalova deliberately manipulates and twist this technique to create, after firing, glazed, wet and iridescent scenarios, often dark and mysterious. 

 

Klara Kristalova, The Rights of Spring, 2006, glazed ceramic, Modern Art, London.

 

Famous bronze sculpture artists

Have you ever heard about The Riace bronzes? Two full-size Greek statues of naked bearded warriors, cast about 5th century BC, superb and exquisite for craftsmanship and technique. They are made out of bronze, the most popular metal for cast sculptures because of his strength, versatility and rich colouring. The Greeks were the first ancient population to scale the figures life-sized. Unlike marble, bronze has been used, over the centuries, for single or group statues during Middle Ages, small statuettes, figurines and reliefs in the Renaissance, but also tools, ritual vessels by the Chinese and weapons. Making bronzes is, even nowadays, a highly skilled work which includes distinct processes: lost-wax casting - and its modern investment casting -, sand casting and centrifugal casting. Artists choose to make bronze sculptures because, through the casting process, it is possible to achieve details, consistency and a rich patina. Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) is considered the father of modernist bronze sculpture. Some important artists working in bronze in the 20th Century included Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti (see above “Metal sculptors”), Jean Arp and countless more. 

Find the best Bronze Sculptures on Kooness.

Henry Moore

Henry Spencer Moore (1898-1986) is the most famous British artist best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures, which became public works of art, spread throughout the world. Moore's reclining figures, such as the 1930 Reclining Woman, were influenced by the Chac Mool - a particular form of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican figure - and the great works of Michelangelo. Some critics associate the undulating lines of the reclining women to the landscape and hills of Moore’s Yorkshire birthplace. He produced many significant large-scale public commission, endowing the Henry Moore Foundation. In 1948, Moore won the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale and, in 2012, he became the second most expensive 20th-century British artist after Francis Bacon.

 

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure: Festival, 1951, bronze with dark brown patina, 96¼ in. (244.5 cm.), Private New York collection, © Christie’s 

 

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) was the greatest modernist sculptor of her generation to achieve international acclaim. At College, the Leeds School of Art, in the 20s, she met her friend and rival Henry Moore. Hepworth was an energetic “woman artist” who gave birth to triplets and a driving force, who continued producing art inspired by the sea and the modern world around her. With her children and husband Ben Nicholson, she went to live in Cornwall, in St Ives’Community - a refuge for many artists during the war -  from 1949 until the fire at her cottage in which she died in 1975, aged 72. Hepworth often used her garden, yard and studio in St Ives to show and work on her large-scale commissions, or more intimate scale bronzes and marbles. 

 

Barbara Hepworth, Landscape Sculpture 1944, cast 1961, Bronze 271 x 655 x 268 on a bronze base 39 x 352 x 276, Tate Collection, photo © Tate, © Bowness

 

Louise Bourgeois 

As part of the American Abstract Artists Group, the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) - best known for her large-scale surrealistic sculptures and installations with feminine subjects - made the transition from wood to marble, plaster and bronze as she investigated concerns like fear, loss and vulnerability. In 1999, Bourgeois created her iconic Maman (french for Mother) - the world’s largest sculpture depicting a bronze, stainless steel, and marble spider. It includes a sac containing 32 marble eggs and its abdomen and thorax are made of ribbed bronze.“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver.”, say the artist. Read more about Louise Bourgeois.

 

Louise Bourgeois, Maman (Spider), 1999, Long Museum (West Bund), Shanghai, 2018.

 

Wood Sculpture Artists

Wood Carving is one of the oldest arts of humankind and has been extremely widely practised in the art history of many cultures, from Asia to Africa, Oceania to Europe, since the Neanderthals up to our days. Wood is light, easy to work and can be finished in the smallest and finest details so it is highly suitable for Balinese masks or Late Gothic furniture objects or statues for churches and Cathedrals, like the Saint Barbara of Tilman Riemenschneider - the pre-eminent german sculptor and woodcarver of the late 15th Century (when wood-carving reached its culminating point). The continued survival of the art and craft of woodcarving can be demonstrated by a large number of woodcarvers and contemporary artists who have carried on or push the limit of the tradition, in different parts of the world: German sculptor Georg Baselitz, the Japanese printmaker Hokusai, Alison Elizabeth Taylor - the American artist who transforms the historic technique of marquetry or wood inlay into a new form.

David Nash

British sculptor and land artist David Nash, now 73, has been working, for nearly 50 years, with the natural environment, wood and trees, paradoxically and metaphysically. Two of his most celebrated works, Wooden Boulder(1978–ongoing) - a travelling spherical sculpture- and Ash Dome (1977–ongoing) - a growing circle sculpture of 22 ash trees - were made, and remain living creatures. Rough and raw wood, according to Nash, is always either coming or going: “It’s coming as a tree, or going as a dead piece of wood”. Nash has journeyed widely, spending much of the ’80s and ’90s doing exhibitions around the world.

 

David Nash, Cracking Box, 1981, Beechwood, 28 3/10 × 20 3/10 × 21 7/10 in, 72 × 51.5 × 55 cm, Purchase, PaineWebber Group, Inc. Gift, 1987
© 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York © Grob Gallery, Genève

 

Ursula von Rydingsvard

One of the most influential sculptors working today, Ursula von Rydingsvard (b. 1942, Deensen, Germany) creates monumental sculptural shapes out of cedar beams. The daughter of a woodcutter, von Rydingsvard spent several of her early years in the wooden barracks of refugee camps in Germany at the end of World War II. This biographical reference remains subtle and evocative in her labour-intensive process of cutting, assembling, and laminating before finally rubbing a graphite patina into wood vessels, bowls and tools. She has received many awards including the 2017 Visionary Woman Honors Award from the Moore College of Art & Design, in Philadelphia. 

 

Ursula von Rydingsvard, For Paul II, 2018-2019, Cedar and Graphite, 144 x 123.5 x 46.5 in., © Ursula von Rydingsvard

 

Abstract Sculpture Artist

The history of abstraction in Sculpture begins in the early 20th Century with artists like Pablo Picasso and the invention of Cubism, and the new semi-abstraction introduced by Constantin Brancusi - see for example his Portrait of Mademoiselle Pogany (1912) - who abandoned realism in favour of a form of art which no longer was tied to subjects linked to the real world. Brancusi directly started carving into the marble, without making preparatory models, and allowing the art object to emerge unbiddenly and organically. Then, in 1917, the unthinkable happened: artist Marcel Duchamp presented a porcelain urinal signed "R.Mutt" (Fountain) as a “ready-mades” - an ordinary piece of plumbing side down - in front of the Society of Independent Artists and caused a scandal. Nevertheless, his “ready-mades” became one of the most influential Dada abstract sculptures of the twentieth century. Kinetic artist Alexander Calder employed common materials, like wire, and constructed moving - without a source of power - light-weight and shaking abstract sculptures: the Mobiles. Inspired by natural forms, biomorphic/organic abstraction in sculpture is exemplified in works such as Human Concentration (1934) and Demeter (1961), both by Jean Arp. The abstract sculpture has fully developed up to minimalist sculptures by Donald Judd and Eva Hesse, and Anish Kapoor Postmodernist art. 

Louise Nevelson

A leading sculptor of the twentieth century, Louise Nevelson (1899 –1988) is best known for her monumental, monochromatic wooden assemblages and outdoor sculptures, attributable to Conceptual Art. Born in Russia, her family immigrated to the USA where Nevelson has decided to dedicate her lifework to sculpture. Nevelson started to scour the streets of New York for discarded objects, finding her inspiration in wood. From chair legs to balusters, she made her 3D walls, intricate puzzle-like abstract shapes often painted in monochromatic black or white to camouflage their original use. Immersive sculptures that Nevelson called “Environments”: an extraordinary iconography through abstract means.

 

Louise Nevelson, Big Black, 1963, Painted wood, 9' 1/4" x 10' 5 3/4" x 12" (274.9 x 319.5 x 30.5 cm), Gift of Vera G. List,
© 2020 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Jean Arp

Sculptor, painter, and poet, Hans Peter Wilhelm Arp (1886 – 1966), better known as Jean Arp in English, was a German-French Dadaist genius and abstract artist. "Sculpture should walk on the tips of its toes, unostentatious, unpretentious, and light as the spoor of an animal in the snow”, Arp wrote in the 50s. He fashioned biomorphic sculptures out of plaster, stone and bronze, ideally referring to plants, body parts and other natural motifs while remaining non-representational. Transformation, growth, fecundity, and metamorphosis were among his chosen themes, that he developed randomly, purely driven by chance. Arp’s career was distinguished with many awards including the Grand Prize for sculpture at the 1954 Venice Biennale.

 

Jean Harp (Hans Harp), Sculpture to be Lost in the Forest, 1932, cast c. 1953-8, Bronze, Objects: 90 × 222 × 154 mm, 60 × 120 × 100 mm and 65 × 55 × 93 mm (weight 4.6 kg), Tate Collection, photo
© Tate, © DACS 2020

 

Clay Sculpture Artists

One of the greatest works in the history of sculpture is the set of fired clay figures known as the Chinese Terracotta Army, made during the short period of the First Qin Emperor (3rd Century BC) in China. 8,000 warriors and horses - to serve the Emperor in the afterlife - made of Terracotta or “baked earth”: a type of unglazed ceramic art of porous clay, versatile, economic and more importantly durable, baked in ovens known as kilns. Terracotta was widely used by sculptors in ancient art: during the Prehistoric era and for Chinese and Greek Pottery, Egyptian sculpture, Etruscan figurative works and decorative art, Greek and Roman Architecture - like temple decorations and reliefs. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Terracotta art was revitalized as a major medium by Early Renaissance sculptors, Donatello and Lorenzo Ghiberti. Shortly after, Michelangelo made small clay from which he carved his statues, and later, during Baroque, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-80) modelled bold clay sketches to visualize life-size or colossal marbles, followed by the great Antonio Canova (1757-1822) - who did not stop using the clay for his models. And regarding more recent times? Find out about “The Mad Potter of Biloxi” and the leader of the funk art movement of Bay Area. 

George Edgar Ohr

George Edgar Ohr (1857-1918) has been called the first, the finest, quintessential art potter in the United States. In his hometown Biloxi, Mississippi - that’s why Ohr's self-proclaimed "Mad Potter of Biloxi” - he built his own kiln and dug his clay. In recognition of his eccentric experimentation with modern clay forms from 1880–1910, some consider him a precursor to the American Abstract-Expressionism movement. Whilst almost all his 20,000 ceramic pieces remained unsold - and in 1984 burned in a fire -, Ohr called his work "unequalled, undisputed, unrivalled”. Ohr’s “mud babies” - how he called his pots - show tremendous energy and fluidity, attracting the attention of modern artists such as Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol.

 

George Edgar Ohr, Pitcher, 1897–1900, earthenware, H. 3 1/4 in., Gift of Martin Eidelberg, 2018, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Robert Arneson

American sculptor and professor of ceramics in the Art department at UC Davis for nearly three decades, Robert Arneson (1930-1992) spent much of his early life as a cartoonist for a Los Angeles paper. He is considered the father of the ceramic Funk Movement, by making nonfunctional ceramic objects and irreverent, caricatured clay Self-portraits, expressing serious thought and difficult emotional content through the filter of a humorous mask. Arneson is perhaps best remembered for his Eggheads series, the bizarre sculptures of faces he installed around the UC Davis campus. Late in his career, Arneson applied biting sarcasm to address political issues - one of his most controversial works is a bust of George Moscone, the mayor of San Francisco who was assassinated in 1978.

 

Robert Arneson, California Artist, 1982, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Collection, © Estate of Robert Arneson / Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York, NY


Cover image: Klara Kristalova, The Rights of Spring, 2006, glazed ceramic, Modern Art, London.

Written by Petra Chiodi

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