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The Work of Wilken Skurk (Catalogue)

by Prof. David Evison, Berlin

Sculptors, like architects, have always wanted to achieve a sense of weightlessnessóthough this desire has been more pronounced during some periods than others. Late Greek and Baroque sculpture as well as Gothic architecture obviously exemplify this, but the modernist sculptor or architect also posessed the ability to simply place, compose and draw in the air regardless of the weight of the materials. Most of the materials and working techniques that, when taken to their extreme, can produce virtually dematerialised works--the sculpture of Naum Gabo or Jean Nouvelsí buildings, for example are recent inventions. Moreover, modernist sculpture freed itself from the conventions of the standing figure, thus allowing itself to combine various and varied forms in a single sculpture, a feat which had been a difficult if not impossible for figurative sculptors to achieve. Indeed, scultureís long inablility to solve the basic formal problem of combining figures, things and action has long kept sculpture in second place to painting. It is only quite recently that sculpture has developed the potential to regain its former dominance in the visual arts. That sculpture has not realised its potential, a potential suggested by only a few sculptors in the last 80 years, is clear to anyone who follows the visual arts. Sculpture has practically become a meaningless word. As a medium, it has been more used and abused more than any other. We have seen photo „sculptures“,sound ìsculpturesî, video ìsculpturesî and more: it is a medium that can be stretched to include many activities because of its generalness and corporeality. One canít use ìpaintingî in the same way; you can`t stand up on a box in an art gallery and call yourself a painting. Thatís why I prefer the word statue to sculpture, and although the popular adjective ìclassicalî describes the activity, it is a put-down that sounds old-fashioned and passé. It was the new constructed sculpture, pioneered by Picasso and Gonzalez, that made sculpture the preeminenent medium for the most extreme and avant-garde activity. Those artists made things that didn`t look like art at all, let alone sculpture. Their example led to the great art of Smith, Jacobsen, Caro (to mention only three). But when it became fashionable to look extreme, sculpture was the medium where you had to be in. Fashionable art means, as always, a lowering of standards and has led to an established „Academy of the New.“ So loud has the noise of post-modernist activities been, that those making statues must be content to stay in the background. Add to this the fact not generally appreciated, that making abstract sculpture is the most difficult thing to attempt in the visual arts and you have some understanding of the minefield that ambitious young sculptors must enter. I donít doubt that Wilken Skurk will survivor this minefield. His recent sculpture take on the modernist pre-occupation with literalness and the ephemeral: they are extremely heavy, but appear to be light. Glass doesnít have the tensile strength of steel. Itís breakable, difficult to join and tool; basically the opposite to steel (or wood or concrete). But Skurk deliberately avoids drawing attention to the literalness of these differences. The forms of the steel parts are similar to the glass ones, thus making us aware of the mass of glass in relation to the volume of the other material. This has not been thought out and designed, but arrived at through visual intelligence, as have his proportions and the relationships of parts to the whole. Skurk`s recent work may appear similar to many other sculptures, but for those who are prepared to look beyond superficial appearances and have the sensitivity of empathy, their originality will reveal itself. Like the best new art today, Skurkís art reveals itself slowly: it deals in subtleties and nuance but commands monumentality and presence.