Technical advances, access to information and freedom of forms have led to a wide variety in the field of sculpture and installation art. The exploration of topics and shapes facilitates experimentation with new trends and innovative forms and an originality that takes the observer by surprise.

A sculpture is a three-dimensional work of art. Its purpose is to express beauty. It may be molded or sculpted in clay, wax or plaster. Other forms of sculpture are carved from stone or wood or are casted (a sculpture made from a mold, usually formed from plaster). Other sculptures may be made from metal, plastic or any other material.

The origin of sculpture as an activity and a purely human form of art dates to prehistoric times when people sculpted or modeled figures. They created figures that expressed conceptions of perfection in various classical canons. Sculpture has been and will continue to be a vehicle for disseminating ideas or images for ornamentation and decoration, as artists play with shape, space, volume, mass, movement, light, expression, surface finishes, and design, among other elements. The representation of the human figure, components of nature (animal and vegetable) and representations of the abstract are the sculptor’s forms of expression and always have a perspective or the goal of perfect realism.

There are two kinds of statuary: relief and sculpture in-the-round. Relief sculpture is created on or adhered to a surface, so it has a single, frontal viewing perspective. Depending on how it departs from the plane, the sculpture is called high relief, medium relief, low relief or sunken relief. In-the-round sculptures are those that can be viewed from any side and, depending on which part of the body they display, may be labeled a bust, a half body, three-quarters, equestrian statue, sedentary, reclining, etc.

Installation art, meanwhile, is social in nature and may be included in the sculpture category, but not necessarily. Installation art arose from a movement in the 1970s that took different forms depending on the site where the installation was created. Since the era of Marcel Duchamp, installation art has revolutionized the art world. The works focus on time, volume and space, taking on the same characteristics as sculpture. Installation art is not an assemblage of art that is the same regardless of its site. In installation art, the object is a part of daily life and the artist’s aesthetic purpose and instrument are incorporated into the social setting.

Installation art is a multi-disciplinary artistic expression. It consists of a work in which the creation of the piece takes into consideration the active presence of the observer. Through the artistic expression, we find the work’s perceptions, concepts, messages, emotions, images and even sounds. The differences between installation art and sculpture consist of the sound — which comes from the interaction of noise-making elements with the visual art — and how the objects and visual elements are affected, and the way in which the work unfolds over space and time.

Installation art is an art form that involves other artistic movements and scenes and provides a new vision in the cultural world in which everything is seen, thus trying to create new ways of experiencing, sensing and perceiving, as well as interaction between the spectator and artist. This makes it different from sculpture, which is limited to an ornamental and decorative permanence. In Puerto Rico, Antonio Martorell is often mentioned as the master of contemporary Puerto Rican installation art, with his works Librería (1998) and Navegaciones y regreso (2001).

Sculpture and installation art are tied to the sensation of space, as the artist plays with the volume of a given space, including the space for the eyes of the observer. Volume is displayed in various ways or shapes. Depending on the sculpture or installation art, the volume may be presented as geometric forms or flat or elevated surfaces. Since the beginning of art history, sculptures have been presented or built on various surfaces that lead the observer to see different visual perspectives that play with space and volume. They may consist of simple geometric forms such as spheres, cubes, cylinders and squares, among others. These forms describe volume to create a visual reality.

Through sculpture or installation art, humankind seeks to express intellectuality in volume and form to be able to conquer not only the interior, but also the exterior, by searching for different configured, surface, visual and finished volumes. An example is cubist sculpture, which seeks to create a relation with an exterior volume that is a continuation of the work. The best known proponent of cubist art was the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, who was one of the first to work with shapes and space in totally abstract sculptures that freely played with space and the kinds of materials used.

For sculpture on flat surfaces, such as relief, volume and space depend on an assemblage of profiles, frieze and base, which are part of architecture. The most common sculptures since the beginning of our history are those in which the human figure determines the volume and space, with the view of the body presented by the sculptor. Light, mass, dress, finish, aesthetics and dynamics display the artist’s qualities and personality. To achieve perfect realism and display human reality, the artist uses the exquisiteness of the polishing, the delicate display of sensuality, of movements, etc.

In the relationship between volume and space, space is the primordial element. Both elements are independent of each other. Space and volume do not always create the same perception in the individual who interacts with the structure, whether it is sculpture or installation art. This is true because, despite the fact that space is materially defined by volume, it does not always match the material shape that delimits it, as it can vary due to interior levels (proportion), color and textures (visual dimension), transparency (direction). These characteristics can be seen in the assemblages or installations of a sculpture. The texture and color also affect the visual perspective.

Just as imagination and creativity are used to create a sculpture, they also can be used to experience the feeling of measuring volume and space. Regardless of the material chosen to make the work, it is a new space for artistic shaping and intuition. Creativity is a many faceted way of observation and expression that can translate the wealth of imagination into volumetric form. The art of volume and space are the results of the artist’s imaginative ability.

Installation art, in terms of volume and space, refers exclusively to the act of unveiling diverse elements in spatial-temporal coordinates. It is also privileged ground for exploring the ambiguous concept of “freedom.” Installation art has another characteristic different from sculpture: the purity of the installation art is implicit. Eclecticism and hybridization have spread and taken over all other forms of expression, media or discipline. Specialists and art critics such as Thomas McEvilley and Rosalind Krauss state that “the logical end of the limits of sculpture,” due to these expansive qualities, is to absorb other forms of art. Installation art has therefore become an object of study in sculpture manuals. The only support for installation art, however, is the space itself: the general condition of the world it shares with other artistic media.

Today, sculpture and installation art are international in scope. In terms of the quality of themes and execution, they compare favorably to other international trends, although there is not currently a significant presence promoting an international exhibition.

In Puerto Rico, sculpture has invaded public spaces and become part of the communities. Artist Rolando López Dirube was the first to create public abstract sculptures in the 1960s. In the 1970s, Rafael Ferrer and Julio Plaza brought their abstract public sculptures to theMayaguez campus of the University of Puerto Rico. Other well known works in Puerto Rico in urban areas include Cangrejos by Adelino González, Oráculo 2001 by Charles Alvarado, Los molinos de San Juan 2001 by Eric Tabales, Paloma 2001 by Imel Sierra, El toque by Teo Freytes, and La chanchara by Melquiel Rosario, among others. Other international artists who have works in Puerto Rico are Carlos Cruz (Venezuela), with his work Physichromie boricua, Leopoldo Maler (Argentina), with his work La conciencia empírica, Soucy de Pellerano (the Dominican Republic), with the work Maquinotrón aire–tierra, and Claudia Stern (Brazil), with the work Profecía. Almost all of these sculptures are displayed in the University of Puerto Rico Botanical Garden, a site that has become an open-air exhibition hall that integrates art and nature. Biennial sculpture exhibitions have been held there in 1999 and 2001.

Depending on the space and volume that may exist in a sculpture or installation art, we may be able to establish an immediate dialogue with the environment. In the case of three-dimensional works, the harmony between the work and the space is crucial for the work to be displayed, regardless of the size of the piece. The artist must consider how to achieve this harmony between space and volume, including a special sensitivity at the same time.

Finally, it could be said that sculpture and installation art are ways of painting on space, but with the difference that the painter begins his or her work with an empty space and creates volume and mass, among other fundamental elements. Sculpture and installation art begin to exist in a space that is already painted by nature or by the existing architectural works, and each point of view presents a new image. The ability to maintain perfect equilibrium and harmony requires a lot of thought, effort, study and an investment of the time needed to contemplate the work.

Author: Ada Castillo
Published: February 21, 2012.

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