What is Sculpture?

Art historian and curator, Anne Wagner, and artist Jessica Stockholder (University of Chicago, Department of Visual Arts) embark on a series of private and public dialogues probing the question "what is sculpture?".

In autumn 2012, the Gray Center brought Anne Wagner, a London-based art historian and critic, to the University of Chicago to facilitate an unscripted encounter with the artist Jessica Stockholder, Professor of Visual Arts.

The participants were fortunate to find that they enjoyed conversing and set about trying to understand how their fields of interest did and didn’t overlap. In those areas of overlap, of which there were many, they explored how their ways of thinking, encountering, and making use of these parts of the world compared.

The two began by taking stock of their immediate surrounding in Chicago – the landscape, the lesser known public sculptures on the University campus, and works at the Art Institute. Fairly soon after arriving in Chicago, Wagner began giving Stockholder small objects found on her travels through the city. Stockholder, though not sure why the gifts were coming, responded to them by making drawings and orchestrating a series of photographs, bringing them into the body of work that she was just beginning in the studio, where, though Stockholder does not often invite others into her work space, the two often met and talked.

Through such encounters and exchanges, the two collaborators discovered that though they share an established field of interest – art/sculpture – their relative methods of engaging it are worlds apart. Although Stockholder often makes use of words and Wagner frequently deploys photographs (her own and those of others), it is still fair to say that one works with image, the other with words.

Stockholder responds with a combination of object, image, and fragments of text. She engages a process without a known outcome as the work accumulates. Wagner’s work, by contrast, occurs outside the studio framework, and in this instance takes the form of written reflections about what the two collaborators had seen and done together; these necessarily occurred after some time has passed, and are ongoing.

These two ways of proceeding seem productively complementary. Work continues towards the possible production of a book and exhibition that would make use of the forms and ideas that this collaboration spawned.