“New Sculptures”

The city of Antwerp, the cultural capital of Europe in 1993, has maintained an outdoor sculpture park in Middenheim since 1950. There are about 450 works—ranging from Rodin to Calder to Zadkine—in the impressive Arenal, a large park with wooded and meadow areas. This exhibition of new sculptures is limited to one area of the park and serves to update the holdings in contemporary sculpture. Ten contemporary artists—Isa Genzken, Harald Klingelhöller, Per Kirkeby, Richard Deacon, Panamarenko, Didier Vermeiren, Thomas Schütte, Bernd Lohaus, Matt Mullican, and Juan Muñoz—placed their sculptures (permanently) in confrontation with the natural elements of the park. The results were mixed.

On the one hand, there is the artists’ subjective interpretation of the formal interplay between art and nature. On the other, the exhibition is a theoretical event that aspires to other levels. Sculpture in nature—its presence and consumption by the viewer—is presented as a closed system. For example in Genzken’s prosaic Fenster (Window, 1993), the formal traces the terrain of nature, so that it is heightened by the work; still, complex layers of reflection are opened. But sculpture seems to he in a postnatural state in which the formal elements are empty.

Through layers of reflection, art works toward presenting nature as a spiritual image. Mullican’s pictograms point symbolically to the secret cycles of spiritual life in relation to the cycles of nature. His point of departure is the topographical elements of the surrounding area. The symbolic scheme places sculpture and spirit on a higher plane of artistic abstraction.

Richard Deacon’s Never Mind, 1993, unmasks the sculptural form of nature by disturbing or even destroying its stability. Deacon’s large-scale work made of wood refers directly to the site while at the same time rejecting it. This object is completely unnatural; formally perfect in shape, it opens our minds to something unknown and beautiful, untouched by human hands.

In the final analysis any common ground among the sculptures—despite all abstract reflections—is vehemently rejected. Schütte’s Tausend Zungen (Thousand tongues, 1993) is perhaps the best example that through the subjective art depicts nature and makes it a palpable experience. One thousand tongues, each individually fashioned by Schütte, hang on the branches of a tree. Mimesis, evocation, and also the individuality of art and the artist are placed in a natural cycle.

Norbert Messler

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.