Often overlooked in the (literal) shadow of Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Milà, the Fundaciò Suñol marked its fifth anniversary with an exhibition of 36 pieces from its first-rate collection. Exemplifying its expressly ambivalent title, and marking the entrance to the first gallery, sat Claudio Bravo’s sculpture Pan Tostado (Toast, 1974), looking like a gnarled loaf of freshly baked bread, though wrought, in fact, from painted bronze. In both title and premise, the show recalled the 2005 exhibition mounted at Ohio’s Wexner Center, ‘Part Object Part Sculpture’. The Kleinian and Freudian allusion of that designation – the psychological concept of the ‘part object’ – certainly informed some of the works included here. But the Suñol show was less specifically psychoanalytic and less generally ambitious in its theoretical dimensions. Even in its dexterous artifice, Bravo’s object raises different questions to, say, one of Daniel Spoerri’s half-eaten, petrified meals. Still, the works on display evinced not simply the illusionism of craft, but everything from outright abstraction, to mock functionalism, to small-scale installation.
Mid-century works by Modernist luminaries like Alberto Giacometti (Leg, 1958) and Alexander Calder anchored the exhibition’s postwar thrust. Geographically – and in this lay its particular merit – ‘Sculpture/Object’ highlighted artists distinguished in their native Spain and Catalunya but less well known abroad: whether early 20th-century sculptors like Pablo (Pau) Gargallo, Eduardo Chillida and Julio González or more contemporary figures such as Jaume Barrera, Jordi Sabaté or Pep Duran. The latter’s Picabia’s Shoes (1988) comprises a group of wooden stools and some shoemaker’s model feet – readymades in their own right. The literary redolence of such a work found more tightlipped iteration in Barrera’s ‘Series 10, n. 7’ (1991): a wooden shelf lined by identical white jars. Set behind a transparent scrim, their imagined contents – or actual vacuity – appears doubly veiled.
If Barrera’s serialized objecthood conjures up the legacies of Minimalism and the readymade, Moisés Villélia’s bamboo contraption Bonne promenade cher ami Giacometti (Good Walk Dear Friend Giacometti, 1978–9) recalls – in its mock-practical ascendance – the efforts of international Constructivism. The last century’s historical avant-gardes were more directly represented, whether in the anthropomorphic stride of Giacometti’s aforementioned bronze or the more stylized anatomy of Linee – Forza del pugno di Boccioni II (Boccioni’s Fist, Lines of Force II, 1915). Balla’s sculpture pitches forward with the kinetic belligerence typical of the movement, its metaphorical and metonymical embodiment at once an essay in calligraphic form and a distillation of physical vigour. In the same room, Jean Arp’s biomorphic, marble Bourgeon sur coupe (Bud on Bowl, 1960) defied the geometric aggression (and proto-Fascist redolence) of Balla’s fist, underscoring the politics of Modernist form.
For all of Arp’s influential exploration of plasticity throughout the last century, he was also an innovator of readymade sensibility itself (to wit, his early Dadaist work, Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, 1916–17). While Lucio Fontana was formed as a sculptor, it is his more prominent work as a painter – canvases sliced down their front – for which he is best known. Even these, however, insist upon the objecthood of the painted medium. In the form of a large purple capsule sliced down the front, propped up on a spindly metal base, his Omaggio alla pillola (Homage to the Pill, 1967) confers upon sculpture that same self-consciousness. Perhaps no medium stirs up the anxieties of aesthetic definition more than sculpture – an object burdened with the task of liberating itself from vulgar objecthood. Or else, as was so often the case for the avant-garde, ceding to that very banality – material as much as mental – as the vehicle of a new aesthetic sensibility. The rigidity of sculptural denomination often proves – in practice as much as theory – decidedly labile, even when its objects prove hard and fast.