Sculpture in the Expanded Field by Rosealind Krauss

“In the hands of this criticism categories like sculpture and painting have been kneaded and stretched and twisted in an extraordinary demonstration of elasticity, a display of the way a cultural term can be extended to include just about anything. And though this pulling and stretching of a term such a sculpture is overtly performed in the name of vanguard aesthetics — the ideology of the new — its covert message is that of historicism. The new is made comfortable by being made familiar, since it is seen as having gradually evolved from the forms of the past. Historicism works on the new and different to diminish newness and mitigate difference. It makes a place for change in our experience by evoking the model of evolution, so that the man who now is can be accepted as being different from the child he once was, by simultaneously being seen — through the unseeable action of the telos — as the same. And we are comforted by this perception of sameness, this strategy for reducing anything foreign in either time or space, to what we already know and are.”

It seems Krauss is establishing a historical project that is building off of notion of ideology as a kind of system of thought. Such an ideological system makes up the structural anatomy of Krauss’ “conditions of possibility.” The possibility of meaning, knowledge & culture – all deceivingly universal terms for how we perceive the world.

“Yet I would submit that we know very well what sculpture is. And one of the things we know is that it is a historically bounded category and not a universal one. As is true of any other convention, sculpture has its own internal logic, its own set of rules, which, though they can be applied to a variety of situations, are not themselves open to very much change. The logic of sculpture, it would seem, is inseparable from the logic of the monument. By virtue of this logic a sculpture is a commemorative representation. It sits in a particular place and speaks in a symbolical tongue about the meaning or use of that place.”

Such a notion of monument, place, and history are in direct conversation with Benjamin’s notion of the “aura” and the shifting role of art. “…the unique value of the ‘authentic’ work of art has its basis in ritual… Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics.”

“With these two sculptural projects (Gates of Hell 1880 & Balzac 1891), I would say, one crosses the threshold of the logic of the monument, entering the space of what could be called its negative condition — a kind of sitelessness, or homelessness, an absolute loss of place. Which is to say one enters modernism, since it is the modernist period of sculptural production that operates in relation to this loss of site, producing the monument as abstraction, the monument as pure marker or base, functionally placeless and largely self-referential.”

“In this sense sculpture had entered the full condition of its inverse logic and had become pure negativity: the combination of exclusions. Sculpture, it could be said, had ceased being a positivity, and was now the category that resulted from the addition of the not-landscape to the not-architecture. “

“Our culture has not before been able to think the complex, although other cultures have thought this term with great ease. Labyrinths and mazes are both landscape and architecture; Japanese gardens are both landscapes and architecture; the ritual playing fields and processionals of ancient civilizations were all in this sense the unquestioned occupants of the complex.”

“The expanded field is thus generated by problematizing the set of oppositions between which the modernist category of sculpture is suspended. And once this has happened, once one is able to think one’s way into this expansion, there are — logically — three other categories that once can envision, all of them a condition of the field itself, and none of them assimilable to sculpture.”

“From the structure laid out above, it is obvious that the logic of the space of postmodernist practice is no longer organized around the definition of a given medium on the grounds of material, or, for that matter, the perception of material. It is organized instead through the universe of terms that are felt to be in opposition within a cultural situation.”

“I have been insisting that the expanded field of postmodernism occurs at a specific moment in the recent history of art. It is a historical event with a determinant structure. It seems to me extremely important to map that structure and that is also important to explore a deeper set of questions which pertain to something more than mapping and involve instead the problem of explanation. These address the root cause — the conditions of possibility — that brought about the shift into postmodernism, as they also address the cultural determinants of the opposition through which a given field is structured. This is obviously a different approach to thinking about the history of form from the of historicist criticism’s constructions of elaborate genealogical trees. It presupposes the acceptance of the definitive rupture and possibility of looking at historical process from the point of view of logical structure.”


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