10th International Sculpture Conference at York University (1978)

“10th International Sculpture Conference at York University,” Artists Review, 1:17 (June 28, 1978), pp. 5-6.

10th International Sculpture Conference at York University

With the conclusion of the 10th International Sculpture Conference “1,500 artist-delegates from all over the world are carrying the news of the Toronto art awakening to art communities everywhere.” Whatever news they take back should be superseded by the recognition of the present limitations and possibilities of contemporary sculpture as revealed by four days of talk at York University. Whether this has been accomplished is doubtful due to the nature of the delegates and the questions posed/imposed by the panel discussions.

The days at York were devoted to panel discussions, lectures and demonstrations. Demonstrations were concerned with fabrication techniques, materials and methods. Panels ranged from critical and aesthetic issues to problems of economics, commissions, governments and galleries.

It was the opinion of many that the panel topics imposed rhetorical categories and oppositions on the discussions such as in the panels “Object vs. Phenomenon—Piece or Process” and “Pictorial vs. Sculptural Space.” Many of these imposed false distinctions on recent and contemporary sculpture or were attempts to create discussion or controversy on the part of the organizers. The latter, and the fact (in my opinion) of the out-of-date character of many of these topics, perhaps revealed the lack of sensitivity of the organizers to the critical problems of contemporary sculpture, or the inability of a conference of such nature to be anything but a trade fair or academic gathering. Academic not in the sense of being intellectual, but of being programmatic and unquestioning. For the academics, the forms of sculpture have been established—modernist in the vein of Picasso's constructivism to David Smith—and reinforced by the number of government and corporation commissions. It was revealing that only the critics invited to the conference raised questions about sculpture (at least in all sessions I was able to attend). Jack Burnham, for instance, asked why, when during the 70's critics would rather have their hands cut off or typewriters taken away than admit to being formalist, so much formalist sculpture is made today. Rosalind Krauss raised similar points in her lecture on contemporary criticism and in her participation on panels. Robert Pincus-Witten, the sole critic on the panel “Sculpture and Critics—Friends or Foes" similarly addressed the audience suggesting that they were artisans rather than artists.

This statement did not impute value but rather suggested that there is an ethical virtue in the artist being contemporary to his or her time and that the vein of sculpture from Picasso to David Smith has been meaningfully exhausted. The forms can still be aesthetically manipulated but this now becomes an academic pursuit. Pincus-Witten probably spoke to the heart of the matter in the conference. Personally, I enjoyed the sculptor Richard Lippold who in question periods acted like the proto-Dadaist Arthur Craven in a spirit of wit, castigation, contradiction, antagonism and character assassination. The sword cuts two ways.