The Philadelphia Museum of Art's holdings in modern and contemporary sculpture are the product of years of ambitious collecting in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a particularly radical period in the history of sculpture. Because of limitations in gallery space in the main Museum, many of the masterworks of this collection are not always on view, and some have only rarely been exhibited. With the opening of the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, a new special exhibitions gallery will provide a beautiful light-filled space, characterized by floor-to-ceiling arched windows that line opposite sides of the gallery, ideal for the display of sculptures. The works in the inaugural exhibition, A Conversation in Three Dimensions: Sculpture from the Collections, have been selected from the modern and contemporary art collection to take advantage of the spectacular new space and literally bring to light infrequently seen sculptures from the Museum's diverse collections. On view from September 15, 2007 through May 25, 2008, this inaugural exhibition highlights the many ways in which artists have pushed the limits of this medium and explored its relations with other art forms, through variations in surface, color, and the handling of light.
Jean Dubuffet’s Landscape with Tree (1968) is an example of a work that blurs traditional boundaries, employing the formal language of not only sculpture, but painting and drawing as well. Other works—such as Richard Long’s Limestone Circle (1985) and Sol LeWitt’s Splotch (2003) — sit directly on the floor rather than on a pedestal, and have a horizontal rather than a vertical orientation. Untitled (Petit Palais) (1992) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres can be displayed differently with each installation, thereby challenging the general understanding of sculpture as a static and rigid form.
A Conversation in Three Dimensions features works rendered in traditional materials like bronze and iron as well as in everyday objects such as light bulbs and even car parts. Stylistically they range from the representational to the abstract, the colossal to the delicate, and from the monumental to the personal. A few of the works, including Christopher Wilmarth’s Clearing for a Standing Man, No. 6 (1973), and Anselm Kiefer’s Palette with Wings (1985) have not been displayed for many years. Katharina Fritsch’s intriguing, monumental Knot (1993), made from plaster, iron, and pigment, will be on view for the first time since its acquisition. Mark di Suvero’s Amerigo for My Father (1963) resonates with the same artist’s spectacular outdoor sculpture recently given to Philadelphia and installed nearby along Pennsylvania Avenue.
“It is truly a delight for the Museum to be able to display this dramatic and diverse group of sculptures in an environment that allows them to shine,” Museum Director Anne d’Harnoncourt said. “The opening of this new space in the Perelman Building helps to extend and continue the creative dialogue with artists whose sculptures are on view in the main building of the Museum, such as Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp, or with the work of Auguste Rodin at the Rodin Museum just a few blocks away down the Parkway.”
The public spaces of the Perelman Building will also provide other opportunities to display sculptures from the collections. For example, Paul Manship's intricate bronze reliefs of 1914 symbolizing The Four Elements: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water, originally designed for the American Telephone & Telegraph building in New York City, will be installed (for the first time since their acquisition) in the reading room of the Museum's new library in the Perelman Building. Also on view in the Skylit Galleria and other public areas will be John Chamberlain’s colorful, crushed car sculpture, Glossalia Adagio (1984), Joan Miró’s bronze Lunar Bird (1966), on loan from the Fairmont Park Association, and Jacques Lipchitz’s plaster relief, Musical Instruments with Bunch of Grapes (1922-24).