The work of Charles Ray (Chicago, 1953), one of most renowned sculptors in specialised critique, addresses the phantasmagorical quality of reality. The artist sets out from a questioning of sculpture making, translating daily experiences, memories and contemporary subjects into statuary, underscoring the physical and psychological relationships that stem from the encounter between the work and the spectator. This lecture sees the artist, inside the context of his own artistic practice, survey the history of sculpture, from Classical Antiquity to our times, based on the desire to give solid form to that which is fleeting.
Ray started working in the mid-1970s, exploring the relationship between body, time and space, and within a few years he was beginning to destabilise the minimalist order that was predominant at the time, subtly playing with the equilibrium of cubes and other geometric forms. Although his work is hard to classify, the figurative sculptures he started to produce from the 1980s onwards are undoubtedly the most representative in his oeuvre – in them we can see naturalist yet also abstract figures due to the aura of unreality and hallucination they possess, be it an oversized scale conditioning perception, realism that surprises and leads to misunderstandings or subtle discordant elements.
The interpretations of Ray’s artistic practice view it as a crossover between the contemporary and timelessness; in fact, references to the history of sculpture run through his work, starting from a desire to be tied to tradition whilst remaining suspended in the present. From the bulk of this tradition, the artist is fascinated with the period of Archaic Greece: “(…) the figure of kouros was one of the few gentle objects in a savage world. Is there an equivalent today? Michelangelo said that a great sculpture must survive when it is thrown from a hill, without its edges breaking. If we take that literally, we are lost, but we can ask ourselves: What is that hill today? I think the hill Michelangelo was talking about refers to our accepted cultural conventions”.
Thus, this lecture focuses on these conventions, contrasting them with the interpretation of the history of sculpture Charles Ray develops in his work.
About Charles Ray
Artist (Chicago, 1953). Ray has participated in Kassel’s documenta (IX, 1992), the 2003 and 2013 Venice Biennales, and five Whitney Museum of American Art Biennials in New York. His work has also been the subject of retrospectives at numerous institutions, for instance the American Academy in Rome (2018), the Art Institute of Chicago (2015), Kunstmuseum Basel (2014), the aforementioned Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). He is professor emeritus in the Art Department of UCLA (the University of California) in Los Angeles.