From the monumental to the tactile in sculpture
Published: Wednesday July 25, 2012
Many of us who make repeat visits to museums and galleries do so anticipating an enjoyable visual experience, unaware that our motivations are at times in direct opposition to each other.
We look for the reassurance of the familiar that reminds us that there is a tradition that is being preserved and that we are cognizant of its mysteries, and at the same time we search for the shock of the new, that unexpected that tends to stimulate and throw us off balance. Of course with time and repeat exposure the new becomes the familiar; and then, the cycle repeats and the boundaries of what is acceptable shift.
Increasingly in the modern era, novelty is not found in subtle changes: a new way to depict light, a minor alteration in palette, or a novel way of depicting familiar objects. In more recent, more individualistic ages, the new has taken on increasingly the search for novel mark-making. The first person to draw a line in a particular way, to emulate a segment of a painting and enlarge it enormously, and so forth, might achieve name recognition and monetary success. The end result is often a forced rendition, an affected signature. The shock of the new takes on an end in itself.
This doesn't happen by chance. Families like the Medici no longer exist to set up workshops and demand standards. But patronage and promotion is absolutely necessary just the same. Millions of artists go unsung and unnoticed until someone gives them a voice, interprets their works, and has access to the media and can provide what is considered critical acclaim. Otherwise obscurity prevails, and art becomes the realm of Wall Street, bought and sold for name recognition and hugely inflated prices and sometimes for very little else.
Once in a while an artist emerges whose signature is real. This individual assimilates, adapts, tries out a great many forms, yet emerges to express honestly the personality, the experiences, the sum-total of their being. This person does not necessarily strive for recognition but is driven by an inner need to create.
One such person was Carmen Habosian (1906-2007), whose life spanned the 20th century. She escaped the Armenian genocide to live through the Russian Revolution, through the Stalin communist era, through Nazi German occupation, through WWII Europe, and finally to the land of her dreams, America. Eventually, after retirement, she had time again to indulge in art. Her influences were many. One can trace her childhood, her adult occupations, the courses she took and the teachers who influenced and encouraged her, but it was her perseverance and joy of creation that gives her style a noticeable quality.
In this article only the figurines she sculpted will be highlighted. Some were serene, others poignant, many humorous. Hundreds were of women in many styles of attire, each individual, each proud of its existence.
A few examples should suffice to illustrate: The woman in a robe, positioned against Rodin's smug and opulent Balzac, represents an ideal -- a sensuous woman in her full glory. The three sisters have a dignified calm and solidarity, and in their trilogy both remind and differ from the more fluid and saccharine muses in Botticelli's Primavera.
What makes one artist renowned, another unsung? Exposure, size, medium -- a multiplicity of factors.
There is no question that we are awed by the monumental, the grandiosity of pyramids and skyscrapers makes us take notice, while the miniature arts we tend to delegate to craft. This is a loss. How can one appreciate the monumentality of the robed Balzac by Rodin, or the grace of Botticelli's women without concurrently appreciating the dignity of the "Three Sisters" or the scrumptious tactile dress of the "Woman without arms" emerging from the collar of her dress? How can we not smile and note the whimsy of the "Arms without a head" without being aware of the humor in the nude Balzac?
Sometimes we need to step back and reassess our aesthetics, our decorating needs, and investment considerations, throw off our dependence on critics, and dare to look with our own eyes, and take a chance on less known artists, so that we can we appreciate the monumental and that which we can hold in our hand.