Saturday, April 16, 2005

Sculptor Robert Graham's Nude Gift to Venice

by Gregg Chadwick

The Los Angeles Times reports on the controversy over the gift of a sculpture by the figurative artist Robert Graham to the city of Venice, California. Diane Haithman in the LA Times reports,"The Los Angeles City Council approved the yet-to-be completed artwork, a gift to the city from the artist and Venice donor Roy Doumani, last June. But earlier this month a handful of Venice residents filed appeals with the city to block the sculpture's placement in Windward Circle, a traffic circle ringed with funky eateries, wacky gift shops and chic boutiques."

Robert Graham's work, like that of the Bay Area sculptor Stephen de Staebler and Rodin before him, plays on the history of classical sculpture and its fragmentation over time. The proposed sculpture for Venice is an elevated stainless steel female torso. The work would focus on the core of the body minus extremities. This emphasis helps to exclude a reading of the sculpture as a portrait of an individual or a type and broadens the scope of the work to include myth as well as art history. There is nobility and strength in a portrayal of the active human core that is exemplified in the classical Belvedere Torso now in the Vatican Collection.

Sculpture by Robert Graham, UCLA Sculpture Garden
photo by Gregg Chadwick

Peter Selz writes on the subject of fragmentation while considering the work of Stephen de Staebler:

"Ever since Auguste Rodin, evoking the damaged sculpture of antiquity, presented his partial, yet muscular and erotic figures, the fractured human form has been endemic to modern sculpture. The human torso was a dominant theme in the work of artists as diverse as Maillol and Brancusi, Henry Moore and Antoine Pevsner. Giacometti pared the standing woman and the striding man to the bare essentials of existence. But only in the “Abakans,” the poignant headless figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz, and in De Staebler’s sculpted images does the fragmented figure assume a symbolic function of human incompleteness and yearning for wholeness. De Staebler’s large-scale legs signify this predicament for an artist who faces the human condition—both its vulnerability and its tenacity. His work recalls the ancient effigies of the Sumerians and the Egyptians. At the same time, it is painfully contemporary. While there is a timeless quality in De Staebler’s work, these severed limbs remind us of our recently awakened sense of vulnerability."

Belvedere Torso,1st Century, Vatican Collection

"Despite delays and controversy, Doumani and Graham have no intention of withdrawing their donation. 'Venice is Venice. It's one of the most outspoken communities anywhere,' Doumani said wryly. 'I've never had so much trouble giving anything in my life."

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