While some turned to painting and design to brighten their homes during the pandemic, others looked to large-scale and materially ambitious sculpture to adorn their gardens. “There has been a mass exodus from London, and people with money have moved to the Cotswolds or similar places where they have gardens, or bigger spaces, and are looking for sculptures to fill them,” says George Mingozzi-Marsh, who launched Contemporary Sculpture Fulmer in 2017.
The dealer says that 80% of the people who came to his sculpture park last year were first-time visitors, as the art-loving public sought new ways to view art in person while museums and galleries were closed. And, with more time on their hands to consider heftier purchases, collectors have been buying, too. “A lot of the clients we have relied on year-on-year went very quiet on us, but then we had a surge of new people,” Mingozzi-Marsh says. “The past six months have been the best six months of business we’ve had.”
Despite the difficulties of producing and installing large sculptures—compounded by lockdown—the business for bigger works is booming, and it is no longer just corporations that are doing the commissioning and collecting.
As part of his inaugural exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, the British artist Thomas J. Price unveiled his largest sculpture to date on 2 October (prices for larger-scale works range from £150,000-£450,000) and, in Oxford last month, Michael Craig-Martin presented the tallest, heaviest and “most daring” work he has ever produced, thanks to support from the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government. At the new Munch Museum in Oslo, Tracey Emin’s 9m-tall bronze sculpture, The Mother, is due to be installed by the end of the year, while US mega-dealer Larry Gagosian is due to launch his third Paris gallery on 19 October with an enormous sheet-metal work by Alexander Calder in the Place Vendôme, which last came to the market in 2006 when it sold at Sotheby’s in New York for $5.6m.
Serena Cattaneo Adorno, the director of Gagosian Paris, observes a growing interest in monumental sculpture. “Not everybody can accommodate it, but there are new foundations, as well as private and public museums that are opening worldwide,” she notes. (Those in China and the Middle East are becoming particularly active.) “Contemporary artists are also working on larger and larger scales, using bigger studios.” The gallery’s commitment to large-scale sculpture was further cemented with a monumental new steel work by Richard Serra—measuring 4m high, 17.7m wide and 18.2m long—which was unveiled at Gagosian’s Le Bourget space on 18 September.
Calder and Serra are two of the biggest names in the field, but this, too, is expanding. This year, Frieze Sculpture (until 31 October) is more diverse than ever, with more than one-third of works by women. “Women are absolutely moving into this space,” says Clare Lilley, the director of programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the curator of Frieze Sculpture. “The thing is it is logistically really difficult to make sculpture of any kind of scale—you need people around you who are encouraging. If you’re self-funding, then you either need to know that you’ve got a market for the work or you’ve got some other form of support and, for most artists, that comes from their galleries.”
The Canadian-Puerto Rican artist Gisela Colón, who first started making oversized sculpture around six years ago, says a “lack of resources, production funding and representation from big galleries” has historically limited women to “smaller scale, ephemeral, or multi-part works”. She adds: “Psychologically, the invisibility of women creating monumental sculpture has permeated the psyche of many female artists, leading them to believe that it’s not possible or that it’s not their realm. It’s almost like we have been told ‘stay in your lane’ and make art that behaves as if a woman made it.”
At Frieze Sculpture, Colón is showing Quantum Shift (Parabolic Monolith Sirius Titanium) (2021), a sleek, phallic-looking object created from carbon fibre developed for advanced aerospace technology. The work took 18 months to produce and involved an extensive team of fabricators.
Linked to the Californian Light and Space movement as well as the land artists of the 1960s and 1970s, Colón views her role as “disruptor and challenger of the past canon where, traditionally, men created aggressive gestures, which were sometimes destructive towards the Earth”. By appropriating traditionally “male-associated” forms such as the phallus, bullets, missiles and rockets, and rendering them as ambiguous objects, Colón says she “subverts a complex framework of deeply held cultural semiotics”.
Other standouts at this year’s Frieze Sculpture include Vanessa da Silva’s Muamba Grove (2019), which the Brazilian artist was commissioned to create for Galeria Duarte Sequeira’s sculpture park in Porto, Portugal, and Annie Morris’s Stack 9 Ultramarine Blue (2021), a tower of bronze patinated spheres that extends towards the sky, which relates to the artist’s grief following the stillbirth of her first child.
While contemporary female sculptors are carving out bigger spaces for themselves in the public arena, an exhibition currently on show at Waddington Custot gallery, Making It (until 13 November), examines the largely overlooked history of women who produced ambitious three-dimensional works. The show includes works by Olga de Amaral, Lynda Benglis, Beverly Pepper and Maren Hassinger, who were among a generation of pioneering women sculptors who came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But unlike their male counterparts who were chiselling and casting works out of marble, steel and molten lead, these women were working with paper, gold leaf and strands of rope—albeit on a large scale.
In 1993 came Rachel Whiteread’s monumental and materially assertive House, for which the artist cast in concrete a three-storey Victorian house due for demolition in the east end of London. Supported by the London-based commissioning body Artangel, the work remained in situ for 80 days before being demolished. Over the past few decades, as their markets have afforded them greater opportunities, female artists including Carol Bove and Virginia Overton have also turned their hands to materials traditionally deemed more “masculine” such as steel and concrete.
Whatever their gender, few artists start their careers producing monumental sculpture. Joan Miró only began to make three-dimensional works in the early 1950s when he arrived in Majorca and established a studio and foundry there. As Jacob Twyford, a senior director at Waddington Custot, says: “It is generally something that becomes possible as a successful career unfolds.”
He adds: “In many instances, the opportunity for an artist to work on such a scale relies on the support of others: commissioners, museums, galleries. It’s a whole-system thing; the situation is shifting and is gradually moving forward to open opportunities to a wider demographic of artists.”