Brancaster Chronicle No. 2: Anthony Smart Sculptures

First posted on 21 August 2013

 Marshland Two, 2013, steel, 187cmH

Marshland Two, 2013, steel, H 187cm (view one)

20th July 2013, the artist’s studio, near King’s Lynn.

Those present: Anne Smart, Anthony Smart, Mark Skilton, Hilde Skilton, Robin Greenwood, Sarah Greenwood, John Bunker, Emyr Williams, Simon Orman, Kim Earley, Joette Hayashigaw, Alexandra Harley, John Pluthero.

Hilde Skilton: I was standing looking at this particular one (Marshland Two) and I found that from a certain point everything the sculpture was doing came together. Seeing it from that point made me understand the sculpture better than having to walk around it. It explained itself completely from that one place. What I was getting was not just the lengths and the way they are articulated, but the spaces between the lengths. You can see the space going this way to the middle of the sculpture and that way to the point beyond those interactions… because this (Marshland Two) is a more vertical piece than that one (Marshland Three) and what is clearer than before is the spaces in between the physical pieces.

Marshland Two (2)

Marshland Two, 2013, steel, H 187cm (view two)

Mark Skilton: I think that is the nature of this piece. It has no clear general areas, but when you look into each of those areas the detail of how each individual piece – and there are many individual pieces – relate to each other is not that available; you have to move around it to find it, and although you are saying that the general disposition of the piece (Marshland Two) was more available to you from that one point, I think you still have to go round it to look for the depth and the beauty. Especially at the other side of that one (Marshland Two), that bit that goes across the ground is very subtle; there are pieces that rise with and against gravity. You can’t actually see all that from one place, so it is a different kind of experience. I think what you are referring to is just a general overall structure of the piece, whereas in this one (Marshland Three) the structure is much more convoluted and it is much harder. One thing I particularly like about this sculpture (Marshland Three) is how it starts to fold back on itself in many places. These individual bits start to build up bigger volumes and they contribute to another even bigger volume. And what I like particularly is wherever you go the volume maintains its integrity in relation to all the others… it does not suddenly stretch out in a long line that can’t cope with the foreshortening and the perspective. So I think this one (Marshland Three) has moved on from that one (Marshland Two) in the sense that these small bits are building up into a structure, and then you can relate to the bigger structure as an overall sculpture.

Hilde Skilton: The overall thing is important. I think that the sculpture has an overall feeling without looking into the detail, and this one (Marshland Three) has it very much, an energy of gravity and then resisting gravity, not necessarily where it touches the floor.

Marshland Three, 2013, steel, 126cmH

Marshland Three, 2013, steel, H 126cm (view one)

Marshland Three (2)

Marshland Three, 2013, steel, H 126cm (view two)

Mark Skilton: So which do you think is more interesting? I think this one is more interesting (Marshland Three) because of the greater complexity of the arrangement. Things wind in front of your view… and you have to work harder to find them… I think it gives more back.

Anne Smart: You feel that the accessibility is not easy but you can feel the strength of the way that it is made. There is a search for accessibility, but it is not like a presentation of it. It is like this is saying that, yes, it is going to be accessible, and with nothing getting in the way, but it is not going to be easy to find it straight away. You work around it and no particular viewpoint is more important; everywhere you stand you feel the whole thing.

Mark Skilton: I think that’s right. From a distance you can look at it and it draws you towards it. It is not random but extremely specific and extremely complex at the same time.

Anthony Smart: I don’t like criticizing my own work, though you have to; but it suddenly dawned on me that this sculpture (Marshland One), to its detriment, is a frozen moment; and I realized that sculpture, if it was a figure, and had [an arm and] a hand that went out sculpturally, was hanging out there in space, it would be about to move, about to go somewhere, because you know that it is a figure. But for abstract sculpture to be doing that is a frozen moment and not something I would want. And so I have been toying with the idea of total continuity. I have got rid of [individual] elements and I’m making something that is non-relational – that part in relation to that part, etc. What I’m doing with this now has [by contrast, more] continuity and fluidity and can consolidate without coming to a halt; can build in pauses; can speed back up. There is a language building, and by just tipping those ends and bringing them back into the piece, that was a great discovery for me, to have done that; and it took a long time, and I was never quite sure. To me it seemed weird [at first], but now it looks really good. It’s noticeable in numbers Two and Three that I am working a lot harder with the material and what it is doing; but in Marshland One I have an easier solution to pull the piece together. The big thing with abstract sculpture is how do you resolve it? How do you bring it together, not as a ‘thing’, because I don’t want a ‘thing’? I want an ‘experience’ in place of an object. In numbers Two and Three, when the elements flow together, more must happen in terms of the meaning invested in the material; and you have to work hard with the configuration, so that it does not shut itself off to the world.

Marshland One, 2013, steel, 108cmH

Marshland One, 2013, steel, H 108cm (view one)

Marshland One (2)

Marshland One, 2013, steel, H 108cm (view two)

Hilde Skilton: So you do not think of it as an object, but as an experience?

Simon Orman: I think it is [an experience] and it does it really well, and this one (Marshland Three) in particular forces you round and through, you are actively going around; there are no elements to stop the experience of moving around. It is very different to Marshland One. It’s this thing about the end points; how you dealt with end points in your earlier sculptures was … you were trying to force it back, almost predicting these (numbers Two and Three) The structures on the end of the extensions out into space were not full stops but a way of reflecting them back inwards.

Anthony Smart: So leaving them out in space, whether they are going back or not, they are still hanging there and they still offer that conclusion because they are there to get into the sculpture. But in number Three you have to work the whole; there is no easy solution to totality.

Hilde Skilton: It’s a fluid whole thing with an energy and I can feel it. It does not do something here and there, it’s all happening together, as a whole.

Anthony Smart: Yes. In two-dimensional sculpture there is always a big deal made of the floor. That’s like a building. Buildings are not three-dimensional, they are a series of planes brought together to create box-like spaces. And as a consequence of this two-dimensional world we live in, we don’t really know what three-dimensions are. When we do create a space that is three-dimensional, you cannot commit that sculptural space to memory, which you can with architecture. So why is it important how the sculpture stands on the floor? The whole thing has to stand on the floor. With two-dimensional sculpture you can deal with the floor and all above the floor in layers, just like in a building. In this though, it is all of it that stands all at once on the floor.

Hilde Skilton: So that is why I find it so interesting how you have come down on to the floor. It’s not just something that has come to the ground and disappears there; it seems to bounce back into the energy of the whole sculpture.

Mark Skilton: When we started working with the body [in ‘Sculpture from the Body’ in the eighties], you saw things in a different way. What I personally got out of working with the body was its complex three-dimensionality, the structure of how it is moving; it defied two-dimensionality. With working with the body, you are in an extraordinary three-dimensional world. We normally live in a two-dimensional world and see things in a two-dimensional way. What is already known and dealt with in abstract sculpture to date has been so limited that there is an opportunity to expand into [lots of] new areas.

John Pluthero: I admire all these sculptures, and think they are very abstract. I think this one (Marshland One) is different from these (Two and Three), and Number Three in particular feels more traditional, in a way; there is a volume that kind of sits there and brings you back into it, self contained; dare I say, a little safer. I like a bit of drama and uncertainty, and in Marshland One you have more of a dynamic, therefore it has more potential. This one (Marshland Three) does a better job [than Two] of twisting and morphing but it still brings you back to follow it round to the same point again. So I just love the fact that the ‘literal’ explosion in Marshland One is just that – the challenge of dealing with something that is not quite so comfortable. So then, has the fluidity [that was spoken about earlier in the more recent works] been achieved by the homogeneity of the individual pieces?

Anthony Smart: I have grown suspicious of the demand there is for the contrast of large and small pieces of metal. In these sculptures I have gone for a large event, so the sculptures will [in effect] slow down and speed up [rather than get bigger or smaller]. The pressure in the sculpture builds upon the moving around and the meaning of the sculpture. If it was not for this ‘meaning’ you would not be able to get access into the sculpture, because a lot of the obvious means of access [like for example a contrast in the size of pieces] have been taken out of it. And so I hope a more interesting way of agglomerating the meaning of the sculpture comes down to the ‘time’ element – slowing it down and speeding it up. I can’t explain fully, but there has to be a reason why three-dimensionality is so fascinating, and also why virtually all sculptors have avoided it. I think we are starting to talk about it here. This one (Marshland Three) is the best one for me, and so I am pleased people have ‘got’ it, because I think that sculpture needs to do more than literal things.

Hilde Skilton: The articulation between one little piece and another matters. It tells you about the whole. It tells you what the energy is, how it is coming in, at what point, how it is resisting the gravity, how it is basically taken on.

Kim Earley: The problem I have with this piece (Marshland Two) is the referencing of the top to the bottom and that to me is the limitation of the sculpture and this (Marshland Three) does not do that.

Robin Greenwood: This one (Marshland Two) gives away its configuration pretty much straight away – a vortex of three things. You have a top and bottom and the three linking things. I do have some criticisms of this one (Marshland Three) too, though I think it’s the best one. It’s the bounded-ness of it that worries me – that all the space is kind of ‘within’ something… Three is more successful at losing the easy configuration of Two, and it’s very clever the way it moves you around. I think my other criticism of this apart from the general bounded-ness is that I do see things repeating in it. It’s fantastically hard to avoid, but I see these looping kinds of movement repeating. I feel that is not ‘singular’ enough.

Hilde Skilton: And you really feel one loop is the same as another one?

Robin Greenwood: No, but too similar.

Anthony Smart: I would say to that it’s all down to meaning; and the idea that there are ‘repeats’ would boil down to meaning [and whether the meaning is repeated].

Robin Greenwood: But then you might argue that the repetition stops me getting the meaning.

Anthony Smart: I still don’t quite understand what you meant by bounded-ness.

Mark Skilton: Bounded means ‘tied’.

John Pluthero: I think this relates to a point I made earlier. This sculpture (Marshland Three) has a more traditional volume to it, that doesn’t push you outside of it; it brings you back into the thing itself.

Anthony Smart: The experience of the sculpture is constantly changing… so how can you stay with the idea of it being bounded? I think this is a really important point.

Robin Greenwood: But constant change is not the same as three-dimensionality… we are talking about how to make sculpture that is as three-dimensional as you can possibly make it. And therefore bounded-ness would be a restriction to that. So you can have this wonderful live-ness [that Hilde] talked about, but that does not necessarily mean it is moving in a truly three-dimensional way…

Kim Earley: Is that bounded-ness defining this piece (Marshland Three)?

Robin Greenwood: No, I think this is the most successful piece. The bounded-ness defines that piece (Marshland Two) a lot more. I think it is to do with how you relate to the space in the sculpture… so you either live in the thing or you don’t, you are somehow held outside…

Westerton One, 2010-11 Steel 196x220x274cm

Westerton One, 2010-11, steel, 196 x 220 x 274cm

Kim Earley: You are held physically outside the space?

Anne Smart: Do you think you have to have both [an internal and external relation to the space]?

Robin Greenwood: In sculpture you have to have everything…

John Pluthero: You go round this one (Marshland Three) and bits start to flatten off at some points. Three-dimensionality of the highest order, perhaps, is creating different visual interest as you move around; otherwise you have missed a ‘variable’.

Hilde Skilton: What nobody has mentioned is the gravity… the way it comes down to the plate; it’s not just sat there. I think that abstract sculpture, even though it is not naturalistic, not figurative, it nevertheless has to be alive.

Robin Greenwood: I do not think you will find anyone disagreeing with that…

John Pluthero: Well, it’s a great success, in as much as all the stuff that is going on in these sculptures, and the way the spaces are contained, and morph, and work, holds your attention. I could look at this (Marshland Three) for the rest of my life and never fully ‘know’ it.

Simon Orman: The quality of steel in Three has gone beyond itself… into something else. It is changing its state, and it’s started to get very exciting…

Comments made previously on

  1. Robin Greenwood said…

Sam, Robert,
What if your associations make the experience of the sculpture shallower; what if they clouded the experience? When you go out into the countryside and see a fantastic looking tree for the first time, does it have to remind you of the tree in your parents garden where you grew up for it to be meaningful? Does it have to be a metaphor for growth before it can be a rich and potent experience? Would not your real experience of that individual tree be compromised by such thoughts?

Maybe, rather than Robert’s suggestion of trusting yourself, you (and all of us) should make a greater effort to see abstract sculpture as sculpture, and trees as trees. Neither are ‘images’; nor, in fact, are they ‘structures’, which is yet another metaphorical interpretation. Both are real three-dimensional objects that can be either boring or extraordinarily marvellous. The focus of Brancaster Chronicles, in an attempt to deliver what is right and proper to the public domain, is to try to determine the extent to which Smart’s sculptures have achieved the latter.

Posted at 9:04 am on August 29, 2013

    • Sam Cornish said…

I would say that your experience of the tree would not only not be compromised by those previous experiences or ideas but would be inevitably comprised of them. But already we are getting into imponderables – and I don’t think we have the tools to get out of them… We are just trading rhetorical questions.

I have already said that I have thought / sometimes do think that trying to see as sculpture or as structure might be more powerful, but that I have my doubts, certainly in the case of art which seems immediately to suggest wider resonances.

‘Right and proper to the public domain’ – does that mean that certain observations should not to be allowed? I still don’t understand how whatever is marvelous about the sculptures can only be accessed by ignoring particular qualities they have.

Posted at 9:32 am on August 29, 2013

  1. Terry Ryall said…

I wonder if Anthony Smart’s view of his Marshland pieces as ‘non-relational’ and his idea of total continuity could lead to an association of his work with, for example, Barbara Hepworth and some of her pieces carved from wood and stone. Her working of solid blocks could happily be described as ‘whole’, ‘non-relational’ and continuous, referring the viewer back to their internal, contained spaces but of course by the use of very different material means from Anthony Smart. Again this is just conjecture based only on the viewing of images.

Posted at 10:24 pm on August 28, 2013

  1. Sam said…

Though I can understand frustration at being asked to attend to a superficial viewer, the attempt to think what a viewer not deeply immersed in the welded steel sculpture tradition might think is perhaps not entirely invalid? (I suppose a desire to get away from the word literal tends in the same direction, though as I said before I think illusion does need to be attended to)

For example I think there is a definite figurative element to these sculptures. Not in their approximation to a figure, but as images of a disturbed natural/industrial growth (this is likely emphasised as I have only seen the Marshland sculptures in jpegs, though I thought something similar when I saw Tony’s last exhibition).

I fairly certain that this interpretation would not be welcome – I wonder what anyone who was actually present at the discussion thinks?

Posted at 7:02 am on August 28, 2013

    • Robin Greenwood said…

Could you explain what you mean by “images of a disturbed natural/industrial growth”, and perhaps say why you want to explore such a subjective metaphor? Is your “example” on behalf of the man on the Clapham Omnibus, or is it simply your own best effort?

Posted at 9:27 am on August 28, 2013

      • Sam said…

What I mean is that the sculptures resemble a tree or bush without foliage – I am looking at one as I type which has similar jerky transitions, a similar relation of scale between the extended superstructure to the smaller parts which make up the superstructure, a broadly similar silhouette; even without drawing such a direct comparison there is a sense of movement which appears organic (in this the sculptures seem to reach back 60 years to when these sorts of metaphors were very popular in abstraction / semi-figuration, chiefly in painting). The industrial element doesn’t come naturally from the material, but rather the quality of the steel as steel is highlighted by contrast because of the sense of near-orgnaic movement with which it is imbued.

I don’t think that the sculpture can be reduced to this resemblance, and nor do I think noticing it should discount them or that the sculpture would necessarily be better if it avoided this (which would seem a very dogmatic opinion). Of course the resemblance maybe (maybe) dispelled with further contact. But also I wouldn’t call it ‘subjective’ – no more so than it is subjective to point to a particular relation within the sculpture and say that it works when another one does not.

I say I don’t think it is subjective because, being to an extent versed in this type of sculpture, I do not immediately fall back on the ‘what does it look like’ question. Indeed I will in general try and resist any ‘seeing-in’ and think that this resistance is a powerful tool, granting greater access to a work of art; but I’m not always convinced by that this is the case – perhaps by willfully cutting off resemble something is lost? Would it not be a richer experience if both structure and ‘looking-like’ could be held simultaneously?

Posted at 3:59 pm on August 28, 2013

    • Robert Linsley said…

I think your description of the piece as having natural associations is reasonable, the more so as the title encourages it. The “subjective” element might be in your choice of the word “disturbed,” but I think that’s a perfectly legitimate response. You may be picking up on objective qualities not recognized by most of the audience. To quote Bob Dylan – if you’re looking for someone to trust, trust yourself.

Posted at 5:10 pm on August 28, 2013

  1. Patrick Jones said…

The sculptures look really worth experiencing in the flesh and I hope for my own sake Anthony can get them to London,as theres no chance to get to Kings Lynn.And Anne/s painting too which has to be seen up close I suspect.Keep us posted!

Posted at 4:01 pm on August 26, 2013

  1. Terry Ryall said…

Thanks Robin. I misunderstood you and thought that you were referring to two separate sets of work as opposed to describing the Marshland pieces at an earlier stage of their making.

Posted at 11:15 am on August 24, 2013

  1. Sam Cornish said…

From me this time:

Hi Robert,

I find the implication that you are some of saboteur, maliciously intent on bringing down abstractcritical (or even modern painting and sculpture itself!) from within slightly absurd. And for what its worth I’ve recently begun to think that Judd and Caro are not that far apart – they are certainly closer together than either one of them is to earlier modernists such as say Gabo, or even Brancusi, though I would make the connection around the general scale and exteriority of their objects and the way they assert themselves (slightly vague, I know).

I do think, however, you are wrongheaded about the literal / illusionistic thing, or perhaps I haven’t understood – it seems as if you are pressing the ‘fictive battle’ more than anyone else. I agree with you (I think you have implied this) that the frequent use of literal on this site (me included, but mainly Robin) is a bit of a blunt tool, particularly when it used as a blanket dismissal, as if often the case.

But to try and argue the distinction doesn’t matter by saying everything has illusion (are you saying that?), and so the only difference between these artists is geometry doesn’t get very far. You keep the terms of the opposition but just submerge one half in the other. Really what is up for grabs – what Tony’s sculptures, from a distance, seem to be involved with – are distinctions between different types of illusion. And these differences matter. The most facile art (I’m not thinking of Judd etc.,) has illusion, but it is what is done with it that counts. Maybe literalism is an unfortunate word, but chasing it down might be a red herring (to mix metaphors).

Posted at 5:39 am on August 24, 2013

    • Robin Greenwood said…

Perhaps Robert deserves an apology for OTT comments from me (as usual; though I think your interpretation of those comments is rather far-fetched, bordering hysterical – as usual), but the fact that you can’t understand him either does rather make my point.

Not only does Robert seem to think that everything has illusion, but it is not long since he was arguing that everything has everything… or did I misunderstand…?

Posted at 10:36 am on August 24, 2013

      • Sam said…

Fair enough – a bit OTT on my part also…

Posted at 5:34 pm on August 24, 2013

    • Robert Linsley said…

The discussion of Anthony Smart’s work has shown it to have great formal interest. At least to me – from a distance. It may be unfair that my irritation with talk that rehashes the old literalism/art debate has sent things on a tangent. In any case, what I said about it should be lucid and clear to anyone.

I wonder, what could possibly interfere with the reception of this work? In front of a Smart, an average informed viewer is not going to rehearse the terms of Michael Fried’s argument. He or she is more likely to ask themselves:
-with all the material available to sculpture today, why mild steel?
-with all the procedures available today, why welding?
-why only the given colour?

I’m sure Anthony Smart has good reasons for everything he does, and I personally have no objection to any of those elements. But the accumulated effect of those decisions may be to make something that, at a glance, without sustained engagement, looks a tad old fashioned.

The old distinctions of relational/non-relational and literal/modernist recede and fade. Can sculpture in the welded metal tradition be seen freshly today?

Posted at 1:00 pm on August 25, 2013

      • Robin Greenwood said…

Do we care about an audience that only gives “a glance, without sustained engagement”? They are more than adequately catered for elsewhere. Who gives a toss?

I would say that it is simplistic and premature to categorise these works as being in “the welded metal tradition”; and that steel is the only material capable of being articulated in real time to the extent required by their content. It’s not for the artist to compromise that for the sake of amusing a few artworld dimwits.

As for the old argument, notwithstanding Fried, I see literalism as fully accomodated by modernism – these days, the main thrust of it – rather than being at odds with it.

Posted at 3:25 pm on August 25, 2013

  1. Larry Harrison said…

These structures are light, airy and elegant, in a way that makes much sculpture look clod-hopping. I nearly said weightless, but that has connotations of space stations and zero gravity. These are connected to earth, but they are poised in the way that a ballet dancer achieves balance in movement, rather than heavy and inert like a lump of metal. Marshland One is more of a static object than the others – what the sculptor identifies as a ‘frozen moment’ – but overall the work is striking for the way each piece moves and is energised.

Posted at 4:14 am on August 24, 2013

  1. Sam said…

This from Tim Scott:

I think they are very original which is terrific. In my view real three dimensionality (which we are all after) depends on the physicality and plastic truth of the part, part to part, and parts to whole, which opens up the question of a ‘ non relational ‘ idea of composition (which I like very much).

The sculpture (any) is a structure which aims to be unique, i.e. not to be confused with pictorial, architectural, or any other type of structure in the world; it is a ‘sculpture’ structure if it is to have meaning. But a structure cannot in the end be ‘non relational’ if it has to conform to gravity, weight, stress,etc., etc.To exist physically in the world (unlike painting which only implies by illusion); it has to bow to the physical rules of existence. For example your use of a sheet ‘stand or base’ (out of necessity) is a resolution of the age old problem of coming to the ground, but it doesn’t come from within, it is imposed. I would love to see you tackle this one head on.

One of the major insights that came out of the ‘body’ work (for me) was that the transition from one part to another is physical, not merely a junction, and that plastic changes take place as a consequence; I am wondering how this marries with the idea of a ‘non relational’ transition; (bringing up the question in turn of the nature of the part in itself, and of course parts to the whole).
Another impression: (I’m only looking at photos); The space defined by your ‘strings’ of form is made live by those forms but perhaps tends to bleed out, and needs ‘capturing’.

I can honestly say that for years I have been looking for sculpture (abstract) that ‘moves on’ from where it has been at, and you are on the road, which is so refreshing. I have always maintained that we are at the beginning of a ‘tradition’, that there is a lot of mileage in abstract sculpture.

Posted at 1:38 pm on August 23, 2013

  1. JohN Holland said…

Emyr- Yes, complex is a better word here than complicated- the latter suggests an arbitrary density, which I didn’t mean.

Robert- I still don’t really get the illusion in Judd- talking about things like the reflectiveness of the plexiglass doesn’t seem to be relevant to the concept of artistic illusion, more the kind of random effects that make up our perception of all things. Reflection seem to be uncontrollable, producing just this ‘complicatedness’, as opposed to ‘complexity’.

Posted at 12:30 pm on August 23, 2013

    • Robert Linsley said…

John, I’m not interested in sustaining the factitious distinction between literalism and modernist art. So my question to you is what is the difference between the two kinds of illusion, and does it really matter? If you maintain that there is a difference, then you are trying to keep the literalism/modernism battle going. Judd was aware of the various effects I mentioned, and accepted them, so if you think that intention matters you have to take the reflections and everything else as part of the work.

Posted at 11:05 pm on August 23, 2013

  1. Robin Greenwood said…

I’m thinking more and more, Robert L., that your comments are intentionally obscurantist. Your recent essay on Pollock on this site did nothing to dispel that idea, employing mystification and obfuscation by turns; and particularly so in comparison with the insightful Gouk article on the same artist which ran in parallel. Amongst other things, your likening of Smart’s new sculpture to the work of Serra and Judd is ridiculous. Enough then. Anyone who thinks they can comfortably fit these works into some potted history of abstract art is misguided. They are properly challenging, the achievement is genuine, and they are a real contribution to what are very exciting times for abstract sculpture.

What seems to me evident about Tony Smart’s work here is that they undoubtedly comprise a new direction. Whether that direction has scope, and whether it is good or bad (as Katrina Blannin points out in her sensible comments elsewhere, ‘new’ is not always ‘good’) remains to be seen; but new it is, and you can scour the annals of abstract sculpture and you will find nothing that looks remotely like these. They are original in both intention and achievement; an interesting comparison here is with Anne Smart’s paintings, which I also think are original in intention, but which in achievement do seem to have more precedent.

When I saw Tony’s work about six months ago, I was very excited and impressed; far more so than when we looked at the current work. It would be a little cheeky of me to bring this up, were it not for the fact that I have been thinking hard about the differences between the work six months ago and now to try to establish in my own mind why I was less enthusiastic this time. On my previous visit, the business of tying back into the sculpture the ‘ends’ of the articulating elements had, as I recall, only just begun to happen in one of the sculptures. This ‘tipping back in’ of individual elements, and their subsequent immersion into an overall and continuous ‘movement’ is the big idea, the big break from anything previous, in this work.

What that big move does, for me, is change the nature of the space in the sculpture, utterly and entirely. I say ‘in the sculpture’, but I should really say ‘in and of’ the sculpture. Tony talks about moving away from what he describes as a ‘frozen moment’ with some justification, and it makes sense of his ambition for a more integrated and continuous articulation, experienced in time. However, I cannot relate the ‘frozen moment’ idea to much outside of Tony’s own previous work – I cannot for example apply it to either Mark Skilton’s new work or my own (both of which will be shown here in forthcoming Brancaster articles). And even within Smart’s own work, I didn’t feel there was a problem when I saw the work before. It seemed fluid enough. The thing is, it also seemed much more spatial; and spatial in a more outgoing kind of way. In tucking in all the ends of the elements and making a kind of continuous ‘rolling’ articulation, the space ‘of’ the sculpture has become the space ‘in‘ the sculpture. When that happens, outline and configuration tend to overplay themselves, as I have suggested in the text of the conversation – I talked about a ‘bounded-ness’, searching as I was for a way of describing what I felt was happening. I think I stand by that, though I want to emphasise that I think these are extraordinary sculptures with some brilliant and original handling of material. That in itself is not quite enough to really engage me fully. As I have said, movement and articulation in themselves are not necessarily three-dimensional; and even then, three-dimensionality is not quite tantamount to sculptural content; but that’s another argument.

My feeling of distancing from the space in the sculpture, and indeed from the physicality of these works, could well be my problem and not Smart’s. Maybe it is not helped by the sculptures being back on plinths; I have no objection in principle with this, only that it seemed to exacerbate the internalisation of the spaces in this case. I am personally excited and engaged by the interface between my own space and that of abstract sculpture. The transition from my literal architectural space into a space owned by and re-created illusionistically by abstract sculpture is a compelling experience for me (put that in your pipe and smoke it, Robert L.). Here I felt that kind of heightening of spatial experience was somewhat absent. I don’t think that can be put down to the plinth, since I recall feeling some of that excitement happening with the work Tony had on the go at the time of my previous visit.

I do also miss some variety in the steelwork; not so much changes in size (though Tony and I have very different takes on that issue), but contrasts in the nature of the larger accumulations of those little parts into bigger ones. By the way, John H., the ‘looping’ I mention in the text does not refer to the overall nature of the elements, but was directed at smaller movements in Marshland Three not really visible in the views provided in the photographs, movements which I felt verged on repetition. ‘Crystallisation’ would seem inappropriate due to the dismissal of all geometric divisioning, and the pervading fluidity of this work. That is part of its originality.

Posted at 9:43 am on August 23, 2013

    • Terry Ryall said…

Robin, in the light of your comparison of these works with the pieces that you saw on your previous visit it would be good, if possible, to see an image of one of the earlier works so that those interested could get a better idea of the differences that you describe. With regard to the works represented, given the observations that you make about ‘bounded-ness’ I find it hard to understand your view that Marshland Three is the most successful of the pieces. It would appear to be at least as ‘bounded’ (though clearly more complex) as the others with the exception of Marshland One which seems far less spatially ‘bounded’. It (Marshland One) also has the potential,given some modification, of being able to say good-bye to it’s plinth. I realise of course that I’m looking at images and that the reality might present something very different. Westerton One is very difficult to read from the image but it also appears to have a more spatially open character.

Posted at 9:49 am on August 24, 2013

      • Robin Greenwood said…

I think it is unlikely that Tony has photos of the new work in any previous states, but he might answer that one. Westerton One is a much earlier piece and is indeed more spatially open – and sits on the floor. It’s a very strong piece of work, but didn’t really get discussed at the talk. It is pretty incomprehensible in photos. Go see, if possible.

Posted at 10:43 am on August 24, 2013

  1. Terry Ryall said…

Robert, do forgive Emyr’s English, he is Welsh you know.

Posted at 6:35 pm on August 22, 2013

  1. Emyr Williams said…

My poor English – I meant “one” not “you”

Posted at 5:47 pm on August 22, 2013

    • Robert Linsley said…

My poor english, I meant to say:

It’s now a cliche THAT Judd and Serra are full of illusion…

anyway, “literalism” could be seen as an important episode in the history of modern taste – namely that at a certain moment many artists “saw” the thingness of the thing, the realness of the material, the objectness of an artwork with fresh eyes, as if for the first time. That was a great experience, but such experiences don’t last. We should regret the passing of that moment and hope to find it again, but it emphatically did not solidify out into a new kind of art, except in the rhetoric of critics such as Michael Fried. Beware the temptation to take rhetoric for reality.

Posted at 7:49 pm on August 22, 2013

      • John Holland said…

Robert- I don’t understand the idea of ‘illusion’ being applied to Judd’s work; I think I’m missing something fundamental there, since you say it’s now something of a cliche now; except inansmuch that our vision of any object involves some degree of optical illusion. Maybe I need to look at his work some other way.

I find what you call the “fuzzyiness” of these sculptures critical to their dynamic- this sequential accumulation of small parts doesn’t imply movement to me, but something more like crystalisation, a great many ‘simultaneous’ staccato movements, or rather formations, that together add up to an overall vector. (The word ‘loop’, which has been applied a couple of times here, seems quite wrong.)
This very complicated physicality is one reason why they don’t look to me (from the images) like a series of pictorial views- even disregarding their complicated relation to the idea and fact of gravity.

Posted at 9:41 pm on August 22, 2013

      • Robert Linsley said…

John, the obvious ones are produced by the coloured plexi, which gives reflections (illusions of space) and complicated colour effects made by overlapping different colours. The plexi is also transparent, so you can have perspective views down corridor like spaces, layered over with an emotional “colour” given by the plexi. But those things are obvious. Real Judd scholars of my acquaintance find very subtle and complex effects, which appear on long contemplation. The cliche is that Judd is “painterly.” I’m reducing that to illusionist, but that’s also conventional.

Posted at 11:29 pm on August 22, 2013

      • Robert Linsley said…

Further on, after an interruption – John, I’m fully aware that one has to be in the presence, and that there is more to be seen, known and experienced in front of the work than through a photo, but even so, I don’t know how it can help but become a sequence of views. That’s the base level of art. It may be heroic to resist, but……maybe not.

My unconventional view is that Judd and Caro are both just ordinary artists, and their differences are not as great as Fried would have them. The world has not changed in a fundamental way because of minimalism. Or maybe their difference is not that Caro offers illusions of presence and Judd illusions of factuality – that’s all too high falutin’ and theoretical – the main difference is their attitude toward geometry.

Posted at 11:51 pm on August 22, 2013

      • Robert Linsley said…

John, part III:

One of the important moments in the history of literalism was when Stella built thick stretchers, I don’t know, maybe 3 – 6 inches, so the picture stuck off the wall. Judd jumped up and said see – space has been expelled and now paintings are objects, which they always were anyway. Stella said, yes, it’s more object like, but this move just makes me more aware of the surface as the carrier of the pictorial, with illusion or without. So you look sideways and art becomes strange, new, you see it for the first time as it is, realer than real – this is what we live for is it not? But a too smart critic has to put that experience in a box and call it literalism or whatever. No harm done, but I find it painful to see artists then believing that they have to work inside that box. And it hadn’t even finished unfolding – Judd and Stella didn’t see it the same way.

Posted at 12:29 am on August 23, 2013

      • Emyr Williams said…

“Crystallisation” is an elegant word – I agree does make loop seem a bit clunky. I found them awkward to look at at first glance – a challenge to take in (though the more I have considered them the more rewarding they have become ) They are under human sized in height which immediately encourages you to move and explore more rather than step back – Tony’s comment “I have grown suspicious of the demand there is for the contrast of large and small pieces of metal” is something to ponder as it does seem to chart out a more turbulent course in general terms but is clearly coming out of sculptural needs (Would thin and thick be something to consider at all?). Also John is complex a better term than complicated in terms of their physicality? – as they are coherent. As a painter I enjoy their unfamiliarity .

Posted at 7:26 am on August 23, 2013

  1. Noela said…

How does Westerton One support itself, it looks gravity defying ? From the images Marshland Two and Three seem compact and self contained with a certain stability, whereas Marshland One and Westerton One seem to have a precarious reaching out as if they are about to tip or in fact start moving.

Posted at 9:58 am on August 22, 2013

  1. Robert Linsley said…

I’d like to ask if the following comments by Robin Greenwood, made a number of years ago and presumably not referring to these particular works, are still valid:

“Nor, any longer, do they seek to plastically manipulate the material, other than by illusion; that is, by the implications of visual relations between parts.”

I like the idea that the parts form planes, volumes etc., which change constantly as one moves around the work. But it gives me the impression that the work is a succession of pictorial “views,” like many paintings one after another. But that’s all I can see in a photograph anyway – I have to imagine that it’s different in person. But how different could it be?

The projection of pictorial illusion into three dimensions is something I’ve dreamt about, and also assumed that it can be done implicitly, as suggestion – in other words illusionistically – without leaving the plane.

Posted at 2:33 am on August 22, 2013

    • Robin Greenwood said…

That comment was made a few years ago, contrasting his recent welded sculptures with the earlier forged steel work that Tony did in the eighties – i.e. the steel was literally plastically manipulated when red hot.

I think the comment holds for this new work – though Tony may disagree about the relational aspect – but I think you are mistaken in trying to equate illusion in painting with illusion in sculpture. I think they are very different things, and I think whilst we are much more familiar with illusion in painting, illusion in sculpture is hardly understood and rarely encountered. I think it may be more to do with a kind of illusion of movement and physicality rather than planar spaces or volumes. I certainly don’t think this work is a succession of pictorial views – far from it.

Posted at 9:10 am on August 22, 2013

      • Robert Linsley said…

I’m intrigued, though obviously hampered by distance.

Illusion of movement and physicality sounds very traditional, and in a way traditionally modernist.

Now I’m imagining a work in which illusory planes and volumes are present, but secondary to other sensations and experiences, assimilated to sculpture let’s say. Intriguing still.

The little pieces make broken edges, and presumably welding slag is visible, so the effect is fuzzy and irregular, but still we can see straight edges and can’t help but line them up visually with other straight edges, making planes etc. The local fuzziness gets lost in a general shape, or so it seems from here.

“Literalism” is a dead issue, a fictive battle in a long ago war. The only difference between this work and Serra, Judd et. al. is geometry.

Posted at 1:26 pm on August 22, 2013

    • Emyr Williams said…

Smaller pieces of steel push into different spaces, reacting and relating to their neighbour . These then build in to larger phrases which eventually articulate the big directional forms which in context thus allude to a movement through space, sometimes looping back or around and across their axis with a sort of organic growth about them. I cannot see how this is literal – nothing is simply just put there. Each part justifies itself through its function and the function is to probe into pockets of space which become units of space and ultimately into the ambition for a coherent time / space. The less successful one in Tony’s eyes was the one that felt frozen in its space (though I felt that from certain viewpoints there was another kind of illusion of the looping movements that the other ones had and the weight of one of the “arms” could have been tempered and reconfigured to lift its gravity further up it’s “limb’ and suggest a flowing back into the main arena of activity at its centre – even a small piece may have done that job. I also have a sneaking suspicion that literalism (which is an illusion in a way ) is simply an adopted position because relating stuff is harder to do. There are many ways to advance an art , but getting hold of the ‘mechanics of fact’ : the quality of the material and its plastic potential – in the ways this work does – would seem a valid starting point … plonking is not enough (just think what that makes you!)

Posted at 4:24 pm on August 22, 2013

      • Robert Linsley said…

I’ll never understand this constant harping on the so-called “literal.” Fried’s argument is so old hat, and what he called literalism doesn’t exist anyway. It’s now a cliche and Judd and Serra are full of illusion, and likely Andre will be seen that way soon too. I think you’re arguing distinctions that have no point any more.

Your description of the way the small pieces work is much more interesting. Those little plates are all oriented differently, so they make a kind of virtual volume around the main line of growth (?) Three-dimensional fuzziness? A faint memory of Giacometti? Isn’t this work improvised, one plate growing into the next?

Don’t understand your last remark – what am I?

Posted at 4:41 pm on August 22, 2013

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