The initial two decades of the 21st century have borne witness to a blossoming of innovation and diversity within the realm of contemporary art. Artists have embarked on a journey to navigate the shifting tides of the interconnected art world, resulting in an array of thought-provoking works. In this compilation, we present 10 remarkable sculptures from Phaidon’s “The Twenty-First Century Art Book,” each illuminating the innovative responses of artists to our ever-evolving century.
1. Concrete Imóvel (2015) by Jonathas de Andrade
Sixty-one concrete breezeblocks meticulously stacked within a supermarket trolley. This sculpture harmoniously borrows from Minimalism while channeling the Modernist skyscrapers that punctuate São Paulo’s cityscape. The title, “Concrete Imóvel,” alludes to its immobilized state, burdened by its own weight. De Andrade’s use of concrete serves as a poignant reminder of the unfulfilled promises of utopian Modernist architecture that once swept through Latin American cities. His art scrutinizes the urban environment, exploring the intricate interplay of language, politics, and art history. Notably, his creations venture beyond the studio, subtly leaving artistic imprints within the city’s streets.
2. Monkey Trap (2004) by Andreas Slominski
Slominski’s ongoing series of traps, while seemingly designed for animals, ensnare the intellectual curiosity of human minds. “Monkey Trap” embodies this concept metaphorically, drawing viewers into constructing interpretations only to playfully reveal its nature as a trap. The sculpture capitalizes on the notion that a monkey’s greed can lead it to cling to a banana it cannot extract from the cage—a metaphorical tale that beckons contemplation. Slominski’s works, including “Imprint of the Nose Cone of a Glider (2005),” often blur the line between art and whimsical storytelling, leaving viewers to navigate the realms of imagination.
3. MOONRISE. east. april (2006) by Ugo Rondinone
Ugo Rondinone’s art is a testament to his gentle, humor-infused sensibility. His diverse portfolio spans airbrushed circular paintings resembling targets, jubilant rainbow-patterned signs with messages like “Hell Yes!” (2001), and monumental statues meticulously crafted from rough-hewn rock. “MOONRISE. east. april” finds its place within a twelve-part series of clay heads, each named after a month. These clay sculptures bear the preserved finger marks of the artist, embarking on a journey from clay to final bronze casts, their painted finish mirroring their original material. Rondinone’s sculptures serve as meditations on time’s passage and the significance of daydreaming and fantasy in our lives.
4. Hospital (Ground Zero) (2008) by Isa Genzken
An assemblage of disparate objects, shrouded in fabric, composes an enigmatic outline resembling a skyscraper. Part of Genzken’s series of architectural proposals for New York’s World Trade Center site, this sculpture appears precarious yet intentionally structured. Working alongside structural engineers, Genzken ensured the feasibility of constructing these monumental visions. Genzken’s art transcends categorization but consistently incorporates recurring motifs, such as the column, to probe the intersections of art, architecture, design, and social experiences. Her work, often laced with flamboyant humor, explores construction and deconstruction from a light-hearted perspective, as seen in “Hospital (Ground Zero),” a vibrant and humane tribute commemorating a tragic historical event.
5. Sneakers 1 (2008) by Andro Wekua
A hauntingly lifelike wax figure of a dark-haired girl, perched with her head nestled between her knees, dominates this sculpture. Painted with a harlequin pattern on her back and crowned with a theatrical mask that smiles toward the heavens, the girl stands naked except for a pair of vibrant purple sneakers. Resting upon a makeshift table composed of diverse components, placed atop an aluminum cast pallet, the figure’s solitude and loneliness permeate the work. Andro Wekua, renowned for his wax mannequins, explores themes of human experience, collective memory, identity, and history through sculpture, painting, and photography, weaving personal and shared iconographies into narratives that captivate.
6. Lost in Thought (2005-2006) by Tony Cragg
Towering and composed of countless layers of laminated plywood, “Lost in Thought” invites viewers to peer inside its intricate, recessed curves and folds. Tony Cragg’s intuitive approach allows this sculpture to take shape organically, from the inside out. For Cragg, it serves as a representation of being ensnared in contemplation, protected by the social defenses we construct. Cragg emerged as a key figure of the New British Sculpture movement in the 1980s, departing from the conceptual practices of the preceding decade. His work spans a wide spectrum of materials, from bronze to glass, constantly pushing the boundaries of sculpture’s language.
7. Lilicoptère (2012) by Joana Vasconcelos
Joana Vasconcelos transforms a Bell 47 helicopter into a lavish spectacle adorned with ostrich feathers, rhinestones, ornate woodwork, and embroidered upholstery. Inspired by the opulence of France’s Palace of Versailles, “Lilicoptère” envisions a motorized vehicle fit for Marie Antoinette’s modern-day enjoyment. Vasconcelos excels in subverting commonplace objects, injecting them with fresh meanings while delving into the past to critique the present. Her work often engages with feminist issues, employing artisanal techniques and materials traditionally associated with female labor, exemplified by her 2005 Venice Biennale exhibit featuring a giant chandelier crafted from tampons.
8. Ndize: Tail (2012) by Nicholas Hlobo
South African artist Nicholas Hlobo orchestrates large-scale installations, paintings, drawings, and performance-based works that unite materials as diverse as leather, lace, satin, and car tire inner tubes. “Ndize: Tail” unfurls across gallery walls and floors, forming an abstract design suggestive of organic shapes. Hlobo’s choice of materials carries multilayered references, from Xhosa culture to urban life in Johannesburg. His work navigates the ambiguous territory of gender, mingling traditionally masculine and feminine materials deliberately.
9. Twin Palm Island (2012) by Yto Barrada
Tangier, Yto Barrada’s hometown, sets the stage for her multifaceted endeavors as an artist and activist. This piece, “Twin Palm Island,” juxtaposes the artist’s socio-political exploration of Tangier as a nexus of African migration hopes and cross-cultural intersections. Barrada’s work often hints at implied absences, echoing the city’s enigmatic nature. Her examination extends to the surrounding “third landscape,” depicted through toy-like fairground signage. Barrada critiques the use of botanical symbols in Moroccan public spaces, employing various mediums, from photographs to sculptures, to investigate the multifaceted symbol of the palm tree.
10. Patrick More (2013) by Sarah Lucas
Sarah Lucas, an integral figure of the Young British Artists movement, brings forth “Patrick More,” a testament to her irreverent and resourceful artistic approach. Lucas’s iconic “Bunny” series, initiated in 1997, morphed tights into figurative sculptures that challenged conventions. This series eventually birthed “NUDS” (2009), where knotted stuffed tights became abstract yet corporeally suggestive objects. In recent works like “Patrick More,” Lucas transforms these soft sculptures into polished bronze, a nod to mid-century Modernist sculptors like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Her creations playfully explore working-class vernacular culture and DIY resourcefulness, leaving an indelible mark on the art world’s landscape.
These sculptures, each a testament to the boundless creativity of contemporary artists, beckon us to explore the myriad facets of our ever-evolving world through the lens of art.