Since 1997, Barry X Ball has adapted innovative technologies and traditional techniques to make carefully honed sculptures in semi-precious stones—rarely used due to their difficulty to carve and lack of consistency—that push the physical and conceptual boundaries of sculpture. The artist reinvents traditional sculptural formats and existing art historical landmarks using state-of-the-art, 3D scanning technology, computer-aided modeling software, and CNC milling machines, in combination with centuries-old craft techniques requiring thousands of hours of detailed handwork. Barry X Ball: Remaking Sculpture is the artist’s first major U.S. museum survey.
The exhibition features works from the past three decades delving into and providing context for the two main series of that period, the Portraits and the Masterpieces. The Portraits series transforms precise digital scans of carefully tooled plaster casts of his subjects—friends, artists, and art world figures—into strange, evocative sculptures that seem at once ancient and of the digital age. Rendered in semi-precious materials such as Belgian black marble, Golden Honeycomb calcite, and Mexican and Iranian onyx, Ball takes advantage of the unique properties of each, allowing irregularities and flaws in the stones to complicate the surfaces and suggest natural deterioration or destructive intervention. Additions and distortions made to the digital files result in illusionistic and theatrical effects, the stone in some appearing soft and supple, like stretched skin, or in others retaining the linear marks of the milling process to underscore its digital origins. More recently, Ball has begun to push the digital technology to its limits, creating fine, open-work, gold and silver portraits, the likeness of which is composed of elements associated with the life of the subject. The motifs define the exterior surface of the portrait, and well as details on the interior of the head, requiring both 3D printing technology to produce the model and the expert collaboration of the goldsmiths at Damiani jewelers to produce the final product.
The Masterpieces series takes as its subject works of art history, from the ancient Greek and Roman Sleeping Hermaphrodite (with 17th century marble mattress by Gian Lorenzo Bernini) in the collection of the Louvre to modernist works by Umberto Boccioni and Medardo Rosso. For these, Ball works with the institutions responsible for each work, making high-resolution 3D scans of the original works, donating the raw scans for documentation and conservation purposes, and using them as points of departure for his reinterpretations of the works. The artist digitally flips the composition, so that his work mirrors the original; accentuates, reduces, eliminates, or adds details; and produces the result in exotic stones whose pitting, veining, and translucency suggest a host of new interpretive possibilities.
Organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center, Barry X Ball: Remaking Sculpture will be accompanied by a handsomely illustrated catalogue. The catalogue features an essay by Nasher Chief Curator, and curator of the exhibition, Jed Morse, as well as contributions by David C. Hunt, an independent curator and writer, and Glenn Adamson, a noted curator and scholar who works at the intersection of craft, design history, and contemporary art.