BY Susan-Marie Best in Reviews | 05 APR 03
Featured in
Issue 74

Thinking Big

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy

BY Susan-Marie Best in Reviews | 05 APR 03

A list of over 70 participating artists and the accompanying fat catalogues raised expectations for 'Thinking Big: Concepts for Twenty-First Century British Sculpture', ostensibly one of the largest and most varied exhibitions of contemporary British sculpture ever held. However, as the title of the show suggests, it was an exhibition that required the viewer to think big. Apart from new commissions for the museum's Grand Canal terrace and garden - Tony Cragg's black travertine marble One Way or Another (2002), William Pye's kinetic stainless steel and acrylic-enclosed water sculpture Scylla II (2002) and Andy Goldsworthy's Sussex chalk Snowball (1999) - everything in the show was a maquette.

In short, 'Thinking Big' was a survey born of the experience of commissioning sculpture for display in the parkland grounds of Hat Hill Copse, West Sussex, the location of 'Sculpture at Goodwood'. To fund these often monumental works artists make maquettes, and it is editions of these studies from the foundation's archives, loans and 32 newly commissioned concept editions (for work yet to be realized and not necessarily to be located at Goodwood) that make up the exhibition.

The maquettes were stacked in clear boxes, somewhat uncomfortably, in Alex Welch's custom-made display units, which reflected the labyrinthine layout of Venice itself. Reminiscent of solitary travellers, they felt like spectators for and of each other and, despite their gregarious appearance, somewhat melancholy. Rachel Whiteread's cast resin Maquette for Monument (1999) recalls the populist outrage at her proposal for Inverted Plinth (1999) for the 'Fourth Plinth' in Trafalgar Square. However, without its support and context, the little maquette looked forlorn and abandoned.

However, you were free to visualize the sculptures wherever you chose. Imagine John Gibbons' Maquette after White Light Passage (1999) at its intended height of five metres in the rural romance of Goodwood, its stainless steel rods illuminated by the changing light of the sky, or relocate it as a frame that mirrors the Campanile in Piazza San Marco, lapped by the waters of the Grand Canal.

While some maquettes function as historical witnesses to past achievement, others work in their own right as sculptures, examples demonstrating skilled carving, modelling or assemblage. These included Zora Palova's blade-like glass maquette Untitled (2001) or Richard Wentworth's Horizon at Fifteen Metres (2002), a porcelain plate with two figures dwarfed by cracks. With no more than an easy turn of the head or a bend of the knees, the maquettes gave the viewer a privileged three-dimensional perspective denied by the large-scale version, and also offered the opportunity to see works that may never be realized. Among the concept editions, Richard Wilson's Turning the Place Over (2000), a photographic image on wood showing an ordinary building from which an oval shape is to be cut and rotated on a spindle to reveal the interior, was among the most ambitious in terms of its engineering and financial requirements.

While it was refreshing to see the work of lesser-known artists, there were several curious omissions, including Anthony Gormley, Damien Hirst and Anish Kapoor. The catalogue, however, offers a valuable insight into the legacy of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and other postwar sculptors, and the role that the Venice Biennale has played as an international showcase for contemporary sculpture. Most of all, the exhibition took time to celebrate work in progress; but perhaps the medium of sculpture, so often enhanced or distressed by its outdoor location, inevitably always fits this description.