The Social Life of Sculpture

Christian Berger, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz,

Heather Diack, University of Miami,

In contemporary artist Paul Chan’s estimation, ‘art is more and less than a thing’ (‘What Art Is and Where It Belongs,’ e-flux journal 10, 2009). Taking this claim, as well as anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s influential formula of The Social Life of Things (Cambridge UP 1988), as points of departure, this panel will investigate the social life of art, and more specifically sculpture, by looking closely at artistic practices that challenge standard histories of the monument across varying periods and places. Within the context of 20th to 21st century art, such an inquiry might engage categories of assemblage or the readymade; in more transhistorical terms, this could involve reassessing the afterlives of ancient or classical modes of sculpture. Above all, we are looking for moments in which the unexpected resonance of ‘things’ is found. Rather than practices that simply celebrate the agency of things or the vibrancy of matter, we will consider how material and object choices call attention to historical and political conundrums. Whether by highlighting the significance of artefacts of popular culture or by excavating neglected materials and giving them new life, artists have engaged with the evocative potential of materials, their unstable sensibility, and the ways meaning is altered by context. We welcome papers that explore these connections and mine how artists deploy the social life of sculpture as a means to problematise both historic and imminent moments of geo-political crisis.

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