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“Anyone could make that!”: criticising modern sculpture

Some people have strong opinions about the value of modern art. Watch Maddie Boden explain how this affects art historians.
One of the most common stigmas attached to modern and contemporary art is the idea that ‘I could do that’ or ‘A schoolkid could make that!’ You might have thought something similar when we looked at Duchamp’s work last week, where the artist recontextualised existing, commercial objects like urinals and bicycle wheels and called them ready-made art objects. And you were right to, Duchamp wanted to provoke viewers into confronting their widely-held notions about the power of the artist. Sculpture is particularly susceptible to these kinds of criticisms and debates. Think of mega-artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. While their work fetches recording-breaking sums at auction houses, some question the real artistic value of their creations which include pickled sharks and balloon dogs.
Hopefully, by this point in the course, you’ve enjoyed looking at modern sculpture and learning about some of the more challenging aspects to understanding it. However, it’s important to tackle this type of criticism head-on and explore some of the more controversial elements of modern sculpture. Importantly, these strong opinions and fierce debates tell us that sculpture is still an important part of our cultural conversation. Therefore, studying art history helps us to engage in these debates thoughtfully and meaningfully.

Sculpture can provoke a range of reactions: delight, introspection, sadness or confusion.

But sometimes a piece of sculpture can elicit strong negative feelings in people. This happens for a variety of reasons. In this activity, we’ll delve into a few examples of sculpture that has provoked outrage amongst viewers including examples from the University of York.

We’ll analyse these reactions to see what they tell us about these works and discover how sculpture is still an important part of cultural conversations about art.

Here is a particularly stark example of ‘Anyone could make that!’ which has provided fodder for critics of abstract painting ever since!

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

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Modern Sculpture: An Introduction to Art History

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