PRINT September 1986

Paul Groot

Luciano Fabro’s Jo, l’uovo (I, the egg, 1978) is included in Sonsbeek 86, but it particularly stays in my mind from a photograph. This shows a Roman fountain, in an almost fairy-tale light. In the waters of the basin floats the sculpture—a glowing bronze egg, open at one end so that we can see the gold-veneered interior. Do I remember seeing Fabro somewhere in the picture’s background? Or is he present only through the marks of his hands in the gold, and through a small image of him, in a fetal position, engraved on the bronze shell? The photograph has a quality of the ideal for me, and I often apply it as a standard when I look at other sculptures. Can they move me as this one does? Perhaps curator Saskia Bos feels the same way about the piece. Her real reason for exhibiting it, however, as with her inclusion in the catalogue of a Marcel Broodthaers text, is surely both works’ reference to the egg, the fragile volume that exemplifies the container, and whose shell, then, exemplifies the skin.

In Sonsbeek 86, Bos writes, “particular attention is paid to the skin, which may be sometimes confusing or evocative,” The focus is an intriguing one, for the most interesting sculpture of recent years may indeed be seen as transparent, suggesting a skeletal structure beneath a variety of kinds of skin or surface. But while this thematic approach to an exhibition has its attractions, when a curator clutches to it too tightly the viewer may respond with a critical resistance. If one looked at Sonsbeek 86 without attending to its topic, it would appear as just a curious collection of contemporary sculpture of different sorts. Without causing too much excitement, it still would hold enough of a mix of eye-catching, provocative, weak, original, and unusual forms to hold one’s attention, and to suggest some interesting thoughts about sculpture today. If one gives the show the kind of critical attention its address of its subject calls for, however, one concludes that it has somehow been shipwrecked. How else can I explain to myself the strange fact that in a park full of work by serious artists like Ettore Spalletti, Giuseppe Penone, and Mario Merz; in glass pavilions holding pieces by Harald Klingelhöller, Anish Kapoor, and Fortuyn/ O’Brien; and even before classic works of Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, and Richard Artschwager, it was the image not of a sculpture but of a photograph of one that hovered in my mind?

Beyond the inevitable conflict between selecting work to illustrate a thesis and bringing together the best examples of contemporary sculpture, Sonsbeek 86 attempts to deal with a more fundamental dilemma. “More than ever,” Bos writes, “today’s artworks are artificial products that are not suited to a nature environment, let alone to being involved with it,” The show aims to confront this question through the variety of its staging techniques—inside, outside, and in the specially built glass pavilions, which are like intermediary stages between interior and exterior, culture and nature. Yet in general the motivation for placing any particular work in any particular context remains unclear. Why are works inspired by modern design sited outside, at odds with the natural environment? Are these works’ relationship with their surround made any easier when they are enclosed in a glass pavilion? As Marianne Brouwer writes in her subtle catalogue essay, “Until today there has been no essentially new type of ’people’s park’ to have come into existence, despite many attempts at reconciling nature and culture, ’indoors’ and ’outdoors: Once divorced from each other no glass wall will be able to unite them.” This elegant phrase expresses a real problem, and although the show reflects a definite awareness of the questions, it doesn’t stay open to them. For me, at least, Sonsbeek 86 could not erase the memory of a photograph of a bronze egg rocking in the waters of a fountain.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Carolien Stikker.

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