To coincide with First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone, the Nasher Sculpture Center’s curators have selected works that draw connections between the Paleolithic objects featured in First Sculpture and sculptures of the more recent past from the Nasher Collection.
Many of the works on view can be related to a psychological phenomenon called pareidolia, in which the mind perceives familiar patterns or forms where none exist. Examples of this include seeing a man’s face in the moon or recognizing images of animals or faces in cloud formations. As the curators of First Sculpture argue, our ancient ancestors experienced pareidolia in the natural world and made aesthetic decisions that enhanced this effect in handaxes and figure stones. This phenomenon is also apparent in such works as John Chamberlain’s abstract crushed car sculpture, Williamson Turn, which takes on the appearance of a human skull at certain viewpoints. Willem de Kooning’s untitled bronze sculptures similarly suggest the human figure in various poses, while Henri Matisse’s Tiari associates the flower petals of a Tahitian gardenia with the facial features and hair of a woman. In Ana Mendieta’s untitled wood and gun powder sculpture the artist burned a silhouette of an archetypal goddess figure. Through the process of pareidolia, our brains recognize the human figure or face in what are otherwise abstract forms.
Other works on view in this installation have a direct material or conceptual relationship to the objects in First Sculpture. Richard Long formed the concentric circles of Midsummer Circles from Delabole slate, a material rich with historical associations native to the Cornwall region where it has been quarried for over 1,000 years. In Long’s installation, the material acts as an index of a specific place and evokes ancient ritual sites, such as Stonehenge. In Commandment V, Alain Kirili forged his figures in iron—an ancient process that dates back several thousand years—and arranged them directly on the floor in a scattered but cohesive pattern. The work belongs to Kirili’s investigation into the unknown force that compels the artist to create, an urge that, as First Sculpture suggests, is far more ancient and fundamental to our species than has been previously understood.