Erin Shirreff, Medardo Rosso, Madame X, 1896, 2013, digital video, color, silent, 24 minutes. Installation view.

IN “WHY SCULPTURE IS BORING” (1846), Charles Baudelaire seeks to diagnose the modern condition of the sculptural object. His chief claim, however, concerns the elementary nature of the object across historical time. In contrast to painting, Baudelaire writes, sculpture in the round is plagued by certain crucial “disadvantages.” A painting is “despotic”: In its flat frontality, it demands to be seen from one position alone. Conversely, a work of sculpture, which we are apt to view from many perspectives, cannot control the way in which it is beheld. Despite its identity as an autonomous object in the world, a sculpture, Baudelaire claims, is therefore “elusive.” Contingency of viewing is further heightened by sculpture’s susceptibility to circumstance—to the chance occurrence, say, of a flickering lamp, which may create an unintended impression.

Baudelaire’s formulation of the

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