Inquiries Into Contemporary Sculpture: A Conversation With Mary Ceruti

04/14/2015 02:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 13, 2015

Inquiries into Contemporary Sculpture is an innovative and insightful book series that is being developed around a series of questions. By doing so, it will most certainly elevate the conversation around contemporary sculpture.

The book series is co-edited by Mary Ceruti, Executive Director and Chief Curator at SculptureCenter and Ruba Katrib, Curator at SculptureCenter. In this conversation, Mary Ceruti talks to us about this project.

Lilia Ziamou: What was the motivation for starting this book series?

Mary Ceruti: The motivation was to take a step back from our programming and think about the field of sculpture from a broader perspective. At the SculptureCenter, we work like a Kunsthalle. We don't have a collection that defines how we think about sculpture. We think of each one of our exhibitions as a proposition about what is important about sculpture at the moment. Exhibitions are temporal and they are about one artist's, or one curator's proposition about what is happening at that moment. To approach this conversation as a book project allowed us to think about the bigger issues around how exhibitions of sculpture are made and how sculpture itself is made.

There isn't much scholarly and critical writing around sculpture as a discipline. Perhaps in part because the field is so expansive and not well defined. The most common theoretical reference is Rosalind Krauss' Sculpture in the Expanded Field (1979). This is an amazing text and I think about it differently every time I read it, but it is over 30 years old. So, an important part of the motivation was to spur writing and thinking about sculpture as an art making mode and to contribute to the current scholarly discourse about the field of sculpture.

Lilia Ziamou: The first two titles in the series are "Where is Production?" and "What about Power?" Why are these themes phrased as questions?

Mary Ceruti: The series reflects the way we approach our entire program. We don't have a working definition of sculpture -- what is sculpture and what is not. Everything is a hypothesis or a question. To approach sculpture as a question is a way of signaling that there are no definitive answers. We are exploring the possibilities. This is the way we work as an institution, we are always asking questions: What are the conditions that we are working in? What are artists thinking about? What are the factors that shape what we are doing? Sculpture has been an evolving field. It is always a question what is the current state of sculpture and what is the future potential of sculpture.

I think what also makes these books different than other books is that each one starts with a convening of people. When we started, we knew that we wanted to talk about current concerns of contemporary sculpture. So, we brought together a group of people who were art historians, curators, artists, writers, a fabricator, and a conservator and asked questions about what they were thinking relative to sculpture, what was important to them, and honed in on the question about production, which is the topic of the first book in the series. We followed a similar process for the second book.

Lilia Ziamou: What do you hope to achieve with this book series? How can this series change the conversation around contemporary sculpture?

Mary Ceruti: Very much like our program, the series reflects our belief that there are different ways to contribute to knowledge and artists do it in ways that may not be as expository but are equally valid. Contributions include visual propositions, essays, and even an excerpt from a play. I think it is important that we are not privileging one form of intellectual contribution over another.

One of the things I was really happy about when the first book came out is that several colleagues who teach told me that they were using it in their classes. It is not a traditional textbook; there is a lot to be gleaned from these books.

If this book series leads to more questions than those we had when we started, then I think it is productive. If these inquiries are generative of other questions, this is a successful project.

Lilia Ziamou: "Where is Production?" Why is this question important?

Mary Ceruti: As an organization that does a lot of commissioning, we are supporting the production of a lot of work. There are some really practical as well as philosophical questions that come up. How you choose to produce something and where you produce it has significant impact on the meaning of the work. Ruba Katrib, our curator, wrote a great essay about location and how it affects the production of meaning. The contemporary art conversation is a global conversation. But does the work mean the same thing when you move it from one locale to another? And how are the processes that are available in different locations affecting the meaning of the work?

Lilia Ziamou: The second book in this series, "What about Power?" will be presented in a panel at the New York Public Library on April 15. Tell us about this theme and what will be discussed in the panel.

Mary Ceruti: We will be discussing how sculpture has been embedded within various power dynamics. For example, Malik Gaines wrote an essay on how race is an organizing structural condition in which artists are making work. Candice Hopkins wrote an essay on rituals and Native American masks as a way of thinking the power of objects and how those ceremonial objects hold power.

Of course, I am sure we will talk about money, monuments, and materials. Gender will certainly come up too. How gender dynamics influence how we think about sculpture. We are all aware that art in general and sculpture in particular has a history of privileging men. It has been a constructed idea that sculpture is male because it requires physicality. All these are questions we think about as we make exhibitions and work in the field.

Lilia Ziamou: What are some additional concerns of and around contemporary sculpture?

Mary Ceruti: I think there are several questions about how sculpture fits into today's world. For example, if we think about the digitization of our lives. We get music, as we need it, when and where we need it. And with 3D printing, we can now manufacture unique objects from a file with a click (or almost that simply). So much is digital and so much is disposable but artists still make objects that matter. This is a challenge for artists and all of us. But a very exciting one.

Inquiries into Contemporary Sculpture: What About Power? - SculptureCenter's Book Launch and Panel Discussion will be held on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at the New York Public Library.