- Villa I TattiFlorence, Italy
Malcolm CampbellIt has been long held a truism that modern sculpture records an artistic process in which mass and volume have been transformed by space. Space has been assigned a dynamic role, piercing and truncating form in both abstract and figurative sculpture. This trend has been most forcibly stated in abstract sculpture, and it is in abstract sculpture that we can expect artistically and culturally significant developments to occur in the future.
Recently, in the work of some abstract sculptors a profound change in the relationship between space and mass has occurred, one in which mass rather than space has assumed an assertive role in the formation of the work of art. This is true of the sculpture of Chris Newman. In Newman’s work mass achieves an emphatic authority over its spatial environment. Often the sculptural composition initiates in a strong rectangular form, reminiscent of the traditional plinth or base, from which is then generated an expansive shape – an arc or plowshare from suggestive of movement through space, an aggressive gesture which either captures a portion of space or penetrates it. Already present in Newman’s sculpture, these developments are rich in promise for the sculpture of the second half of this century. Newman’s sculpture bears close attention because it clearly manifests this reorientation in a highly developed and refined form.
Writing in the Renaissance, the Florentine architect and theorist, Leon Battista Alberti argued that architecture of lasting value had to possess the qualities of commodity, firmness and delight. Our terminology has changed, but Alberti’s criteria remain valid. And in good part they are essential to the work of art in sculpture as they are to that of architecture. True, the sculptor is freed from obvious functional considerations that apply to the work of the architect, but a sculptor, especially one working in an urban setting, must produce words in which Alberti’s qualities obtain.
Commodity, roughly translated into our present terminology as functionalism, is a more essential element in architecture, but in sculpture the term can be considered to describe the relationship of the work to its setting, and in urban environment the relationship is clearly ne of sculpture to architecture. It is no accident that the sculpture of Chris Newman is particularly successful when seen in an architectural context, for the shapes of Newman’s sculpture are strongly architectural, and in those instances in which he has had the opportunity to realize them in full scale, the proportions of his sculpture have complemented their architectural surroundings.
Firmness in the case of sculpture can be translated as durability, a quality too often overlooked in outdoor urban sculpture in recent time. Our cityscapes are strewn with the wreckage of sculpture made of ephemeral materials and fragile in form. Newman’s sculpture, designed for execution in materials such as steel, aluminum or bronze and often painted for easy maintenance, will support the weight of would-be gymnasts and will survive the efforts of graffiti enthusiasts.
Delight is surely the most elusive requisite quality in Alberti’s timeless list. It is also the quality least easily achieved, especially in outdoor sculpture where large scale and durable materials can easily result in shapes that rest heavily on the landscape creating unintended authoritarian forms. For all their Spartan abstraction the sculpture of Chris Newman is human in scale and humane in spirit. In their presence one is reminded of the man-made things that have freed us from environmental limitations. They reflect the human potentials that must be tapped if we are to preserve and enhance our civic culture, a culture which has found expression in public sculpture since its beginning in Ancient Greece.
Emeritus Professor of the History of Art
University of Pennsylvania
My Process: From Conception to Installation
- Folding Forms
- Grant Park, Chicago, IL