Sculpture, on and off a pedestal

Sculpture panelists, from left, Ann Albano, Irina Koukhanova, Nancy Prudic, Elizabeth Emery and Robert Thurmer enjoy comments from the audience.

For centuries, works of sculpture, in stone and metals, depicting military or tribal warriors sitting on a horse and statesmen, sitting or standing, were the accepted norm. Unusual paths that innovative sculptors have opened over the past four or five decades were the topic of a panel discussion by four contemporary sculptors on Dec. 5 at Westlake Porter Public Library.

Russian-born artist Irina Koukhanova, who heads the sculpture program at Cleveland State University, described the progression of innovative ideas of art form from the 1930s to the modern broader view that integrates sound, words, light, a myriad of materials and space use. She noted the evolution of classical sculpture from objects of precious metals on a pedestal led to a viewpoint that asks, “What is an art object?” And as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it follows that art is in the eye of the viewer.

The contemporary woman and her “Burden” are the focus of a work by that name, which Nancy Prudic sculpted from layers of tissue and latex and pages of censored books. Prudic, associate professor of visual art at Lake Erie College, frequently uses the human figure in her works and illustrates obstacles women face. Her slides showed a progression of the process she uses to complete a work, including a body torso covered with a layer of one-dollar bills. She said the completed body figure was covered in 300 bills.  

The work that artist Elizabeth Emery sculpted for the Ingenuity Fest included gold tires, a little printing press and an abundance of $77 bills and green Jello. The $77 bill represented the percentage of a dollar that women are reported to be paid in the same position as a man. Her slides showed a large display dominated by the gold of the tires and the green of Jello and paper bills. Emery said she was impressed by the desire of the audience to touch everything – the Jello, the tires and to pick up the bills. Emery, intern residence coordinator at Zygote Press, teaches young artists at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland’s after-school program.

Robert Thurmer, who was educated in Vienna, Austria, as well as Syracuse University and The Rhode Island School of Design, described himself as probably the most conventional artist on the panel. He said his 40 years as a sculptor brought him from a time of working with precious metals to a point where he decided to go in an opposite direction. While his works are small replicas, or small portions of large masterpieces, Thurmer uses unconventional materials. Slides of his one-third replica of Rodin’s “Gates of Hell” reveal that the base material is pink insulation foam and the impressive, dark finished piece was covered with roofing tar.

Thurmer, who is the director of the galleries at Cleveland State University and a CSU art teacher, describes his objects as art works, not utilitarian, strictly for viewing. But he believes using materials purely contrary to their intended use energizes the intellect. “I want my art to be distinctive, singing versus speaking,” Thurmer said.

Ann Albano, executive director of The Sculpture Center in Cleveland, moderator of the panel, opened the discussion with a presentation that included slides of the Center’s facilities and contemporary sculpture works now being exhibited at the Center. She also outlined the mission of the non-profit Sculpture Center, which includes providing help to early career sculptors and aiding preservation of Ohio outdoor sculpture.

Following the discussion, the panel was met with thoughtful questions from an appreciative audience. The program, which was presented free of charge by the Westlake-Westshore Arts Council, proved to be interesting and informative on a subject as old as man and as new as the 21st century. 

Louise Seeholzer

Publicist for Westlake-Westshore Arts Council

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Volume 4, Issue 25, Posted 10:50 AM, 12.11.2012