Art History through Innovators: Sculpture

Part 1 (Introduction)

What’s in this survey for you?

When I’m in a museum, I don’t like having Audio Authorities talking in my head. I don’t want to be elbowing my way to one abstrusely academic label after another. I don’t want to be straggling along behind a guide. (That woman at the edge of the group, taking a photo of the artwork next to the one the guide is talking about? That’s me.)

Walking the Met

Because seeing sculpture is indubitably and infinitely better than seeing photos of it, this survey was originally designed as a walking tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its length is based on the fact that I burn out after about 2 hours at the Met.

  • Don’t feel you have to march from one sculpture in the survey to the next. If you want a moment to think, take it. If you’re irresistibly drawn to the second sculpture to the right of the one I’m talking about, go look at it.
  • If you need caffeine or food after half an hour, go find some. You don’t get double bonus points from me for suffering in silence and finishing first.

*The* question

We start our survey in the American Wing courtyard, at Harriet Frishmuth’s The Vine. It’s a bronze statue of a woman dancing, about 7 feet high.

Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, The Vine, 1921. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1927. Photo: MetMuseum.org
Left: Hatshepsut, ca. 1479–1458 BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Dianne L. Durante. Right: Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, The Vine, 1921. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1927. Photo: MetMuseum.org

What’s art? What’s a major innovation?

If you have an enquiring mind, you’ll immediately be asking two questions.

  • What counts as a major innovation?
  • Do you know what he’s doing?
  • Is he good, bad, or mediocre at what he does?
  • How did he get that way: skill, practice, luck, transcendental meditation?
Michelangelo, David, 1504. Florence, Accademia. Photo: Rico Heil / Wikipedia

Takeaways

  1. The big question we’re looking at is: How did sculpture progress from a sculpture such as Hatshepsut to a sculpture such as Frishmuth’s Vine?
  2. In a work of art, an artist tells you: “This is important, this matters, pay attention to this — this value, this idea, this action, this kind of place or person, this kind of feeling.”
  3. A major innovation is one that allows a sculptor to make you, his audience, stop, look, and think longer and harder about the artwork he has created.

Marveling at NYC outdoor sculpture since 2002, with forays into architecture, the arts, and politics

Marveling at NYC outdoor sculpture since 2002, with forays into architecture, the arts, and politics