How does one begin to define what sculpture is and what it is not? During the heyday of Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s, the Buffalo-born painter Ad Reinhardt jokingly defined it as “something you bump into when you back up to look at a painting.” Reinhardt’s admittedly humorous dismissal of sculpture, as an object that occupies real space and ends up getting in one's way, set it at odds with painting. Paradoxically, many postwar sculptors—among them David Smith and Louise Bourgeois, both of whom are included in the exhibition—began their artistic careers as painters. This common ground, however, did not prevent others, particularly the influential New York critic Clement Greenberg, from drawing even finer distinctions.
Greenberg argued that color was exclusive to painting, that traditional painting was distinguished by its two-dimensional format, and that sculpture’s third dimension made color superfluous. Greenberg’s modernist stance of essentially denying sculpture all extraneous influences prevented him from seeing its imminent transformation; its cross-fertilization with dance, theater, film, music, and literature; and its innumerable extensions into the landscape. By the early 1960s the very notion of sculpture, as the thing you bump into, was about to crack open.
Featuring works drawn from the Albright-Knox’s Collection, Defining Sculpture offers a perspective on the medium’s remarkable development and hybridity from the postwar years to the present. Radically transformative Pop art sculptures by Marisol and Claes Oldenburg, inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s all-but-the-kitchen-sink Combines, join sprawling and monumental abstractions by Polly Apfelbaum, Katharina Grosse, and Rachel Harrison that celebrate the glorious possibilities of color, while selected statements by contemporary sculptors provide timely points of view.
Exhibition overview from museum website