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Vol.  7 January-June 2015

Multiples in Sculpture

Coordinators: Sarah Beetham and Amanda Douberley

Call for papers open from March 1st to July 15th,  2014

In a 1968 letter to the editor of Artforum, Barnett Newman declared: “I do not believe in the unique piece in sculpture when sculpture is cast or fabricated. The unique piece in sculpture can exist only when one is carving stone.” Newman objected to critic Andrew Hudson’s characterization of one of the two exemplars of Broken Obelisk as a “copy.” Instead, Newman felt both sculptures in the edition were in fact originals, calling them “identical twins.”

Newman’s statement is apt to puzzle historians of sculpture, for two reasons: first, because the production of multiple examples of a given work through mechanical means has long been a part of sculptural practice; and second, because stone sculpture has been copied with as much frequency and precision as sculpture produced through casting. Why, then, would an artist like Newman go to so much trouble to distinguish “copies” from “originals”? And what implications does this have for art historians studying sculpture during the late 1960s, or indeed, during any period in sculpture’s history?

From the nineteenth-century Italian carvers who churned out copy after copy of Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave to the minimalist sculptors who called attention to workshop practices with their industrially-produced objects, replication is an important aspect of sculptural history and practice. Creating a sculpture from metal or stone is almost always a collaborative process, with skilled artisans producing the final work based on the artist’s specifications. And because this is often an expensive undertaking, creating multiples helps the artist to reduce costs.

 

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