Master's thesis: The Dialect of Materiality and Theory

Posted on Mon, 09/08/2008 - 12:36
Master's thesis by Bryony Bery
The Dialectic of Materiality and Theory: The critical significance of materials in post-modernist sculpture
History of Art and Material Studies, University College London, 2001
Focusing on the abstract, steel works of Sir Anthony Caro, this paper reconsiders the relationship between Minimalism and Modernism in the 1960s and 1970s.
In proposing an insistently material theory, the critical interventions of three contemporary practising 'sculptors' are juxtaposed with the high Modernist canon put forward by Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried in America as well as the works of this British artist. Donald Judd's 'Specific Objects', 1965, introduces the notion of a material approach; Robert Morris' 'Notes on Sculpture', 1966-7, opens up the discussion of the viewer's perception of materials; and Robert Smithson's accounts on entropy are deployed to emphasise the temporality of steel. Caro's steel constructions are therefore discussed in terms of three theoretical approaches which have been divided into covered, naked and decayed to structure the paper and to help clarify how Caro has applied steel, whether painted, raw or rusted. My focus on the ontological status of sculpture at this time therefore includes the binaries of painting/sculpture, form/content and material/immaterial. In proposing an embodied theory, aspects of the optical, the tactile and the physical are drawn upon. Caro's paint layers are explored in terms of a false skin, separate from the steel structure. The naked steel works are seen to unite mind and vision for the viewer both aesthetically and materially. Finally, the natural rusting process is discussed in relation to immateriality and informe. I demonstrate that covered, naked and decayed, together with the notion of an anthropomorphic materiality, come together to propose an insistently material encounter in terms of a theory. For questions please contact Bryony Bery