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Charles Ray looking down at his camera while standing beside one his sculpture depicting a mountain...
From Artist, Charles Ray
Charles Ray Hill Art Foundation Essay
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Charles Ray Hill Art Foundation Essay
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Charles Ray Hill Art Foundation Essay
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Charles Ray Hill Art Foundation Essay
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Charles Ray Hill Art Foundation Essay
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2019 09 24 Pamphlet V7 MMG Correction WEB (1) Page 6

Essay to accompany Three Christs, Sleeping Mime, and the Last Supper
Pagan Paradise

J. Tomilson Hill, a collector of Renaissance bronzes and contempo- rary art, acquired my sculpture of a mountain lion attacking a dog in 2018, after it was exhibited in a one-person exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery. A year later he added Mime (2014) to his collection. Last spring, he asked if I would curate an exhibition of his Renaissance bronzes, my sculptures, and other works of contemporary art from his collection. I agreed, and was happy to have the opportunity. I was familiar with his Renaissance sculptures and had on occasion spoken with him about the collection. 

The exhibition is at the Hill Art Foundation in a space that is both modern and corporate — if the two can be separated. They are surely joined together here by the designer Peter Marino, who is himself a collector and connoisseur of Renaissance bronzes. I would almost say he carries a strong sculptural aspect to his persona. A well-known fact is that some years ago the architect decided to always appear in public dressed in fetishistic leatherware. I see this not as a sexual trope but rather as something recognizably iconic, like a crucifix, or more specifically a piece of Renaissance art, magical in image, material, and scale. If he were viewed on a corporate pedestal he wouldn’t so much represent a cultural era as he would embody a whole curve of cultural space and time. The performative aspect of his social appearance seems somehow appropriate to both corporate interiors, Renaissance bronzes, and the power and wealth of the present era. It is here at the Hill Art Foundation, designed by Peter Marino, that the nine works of this exhibition will interrelate, hopefully generating reverberations that will spill out into the everyday experiences of a diversity of viewers. The title of the exhibition simply incorporates what is in the exhibition: three Christs, a sleeping mime, a last supper, and, upstairs, a pagan paradise. 

I read recently that the universe, being approximately thirteen billion years old, went through an early phase of expansion that places the edge of the universe — the edge of everything that might exist, including the ideas of things that don’t exist — at thirty-three billion light years away, farther than we can ever access. Perhaps Jesus’s most important question is his most political question: Who is my father? American philosopher David Lewis poses a similar question concerning causal histories, “whether they are infinite or merely enormous.” In a universe that’s tens of billions of light years to its edge, within a structure in which every place is the center and everything looks the same from everywhere, we find ourselves on a planet with no god in any direction we look. How then do we make sense of the images of Christ in this exhibition? Or, more specifically, how do we make sense of any god in this particular universe? How do we make sense not only of Jesus’s suffering but the built-in structure of the devoured and the devouring? How do we make sense of physical bodies that coexist in a world of ideas: of bodies centering on ideas and of ideas centering on bodies? 

Let’s start at the beginning of the exhibition. When you first see Alessandro Algardi’s crucifix you are at the entrance. Perhaps this is a tough age to look at images of Christ crucified. This exhibition contains three sculptures of Christ: one of Christ at the column, and two as crucified (one dead and one still alive). All three figures exist in different scales. Remember that specific size has nothing to do with figurative size or sculptural scale. All three Christs are smaller than life- size. Their scale finds three distinct relationships to the viewer. Christ at the column doesn’t need a column, as he is the column. Were it any larger, the sculpture would perhaps become a depiction of Jesus’s destruction. At this scale, however, thought experiments about the nature of divinity are allowed to emerge. Could Christ feel pain? If he could walk on water, how could he feel pain? Yet the viewer finds they can share the distance between themselves and the sculpture and realize Christ felt no pain but he certainly suffered. This space between the viewer and the work is not the space between a child and a doll. It’s not the space of devotion that exists in ecclesiastical statues; this little figure, importantly, is not a statue or simply a devotional object. The space between you and the figure of Christ is intellectual. Are divinity and flesh incarnate? If the modern viewer gives the sculpture its scale, its intimacy and physicality — if we bring ourselves to its temporality, the mystery of our own flesh and mind may transcend iconography and illuminate the fractal nature of our mistaken under- standing of scale. 

Algardi’s crucifixion, seen first at the entrance to the exhibition, has a scale equal to a breath. Christ is still alive. His genitals are hidden by a perizoma held by a knot, a knot with the potential to become untied. The knot is coming undone; the cloth itself is a breath or the divine life shared by us all. There is interesting scholarship concerning the sculpture. Corpus Christi (Christo vivo) was originally modeled and cast in silver for Pope Innocent X, and a companion version in bronze, in which Christ is on a wooden cross, was recently acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago. The Christo vivo in this exhibition is without its cross and nails, and thus simultaneously more difficult and yet easier for the contemporary spectator to view. Visitors to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, may notice that every classroom, including the graduate and undergraduate art studios, has a crucifix hanging on the wall. A little like the Gideon Bible in the bedside table drawer in each and every hotel in America, the crucifix and the Bible rightfully lose their power and become the final reverberation of a symbol no longer useful for spiritual echolocation. Perhaps it is a new symbol — a political symbol in America’s culture wars. But to shed, if possible, one’s Christianity or one’s feelings about Christianity and look at the sculpture itself is perhaps easier with the cross relegated to the imagination. The abuse of making Christ say whatever we want him to say is lost to the hand of the sculptor; Algardi modeled these figures to convey flesh and breath — life in a dying body. What do we make of the sculpted knot, loosening in the power of a Good Friday afternoon — the wind or breath on the perizoma, which, more than simply a covering by description, is in full, equal relationship to the body of Christ? The French philosopher Quentin Meillassoux considers the likelihood of a godless universe ruled by hyper-chaos. There is no god except in the depth of time — a long, long time — wherein the possible becomes probable: out of hyper-chaos a god will randomly emerge, exploding into existence like the singularity of the big bang, holding us all accountable for our sins. 

The scale of this figure of Christ on the cross seems powerful in relationship to my own body. Could he be contemplated at a larger scale? At a smaller scale he becomes a fetishistic symbol. At Notre Dame, the crucifix hanging in every room simply reminds us where we are. The contemplation of life and death generated in the viewer by Algardi’s Christo vivo is in itself a form of prayer. Culture, too, can be seen as a form of prayer, and this cultural object, as a sculpture, transcends its own symbol and points to a condition that is a fact. Jan Faye, in his book How Matter Becomes Conscious, explains that standing in a certain perspective to something is first and foremost a physical relation. In this sense, sculpture has the ability to write an essay using the physical and spatial phenomena of our existence. Media is like velocity in Einstein’s relativity theory. Objects have different lengths and dura- tions whether the observer is at rest or in motion. What we perceive depends on our velocity. The beauty of Algardi’s Christo vivo is how its velocity crashes through or expands symbolism. Christ’s resurrection is important because the scale of the sculpture, of the figure, tells us not that the soul is in the body but that the body is the soul. It alone expands into the universe. 

The third figure of Christ is also a crucifixion: Christo morto, the sculpture by Antonio Susini, portrays Christ on the cross, dead. It is of a slightly smaller scale in gilded bronze. If Algardi’s sculpted loincloth is breath, it is the optic quality of the surface of Susini’s Christ that creates a relationship between the viewer and the divine. A photon that travels from distant galaxies only has a temporal dimension to all outside the path of its trajectory. Within its trajectory, to the nature of the photon itself, the voyage across the universe is instantaneous. Perhaps that is the special nature of the divine, as well as light itself. Einstein, when comforting the widow of a recently deceased friend, said that “this separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, if a stubborn one.” In effect, that death is not the end of the line — it’s just a corner of the room. I like to think that I can see all the long-dead viewers of this small and poignant artwork reflected in the body of a yet-to-be-resurrected Christ. Does my own reflection, however, as a fallen Catholic or atheistic, bring relevance to the sculpture in my own era? Will it pass again into the hands of future believers? What can this little sculpture do for all of us today? I don’t believe in resurrection. I don’t truly believe God’s resurrection of us all at some future time is a real possibility as much as it is a misunderstanding of the numbers. But the death of Christ and this optical surface does make me wonder if time itself and the minuscule gap between life and death is simply an illusion in the way that sculptural reflections are not. 

Between Susini’s dead Christ and Algardi’s live Christ, my modern Mime dissolves its figuration not so much into an abstraction than as a cinematic reinterpretation of shape-shifting via digital technology. Does my mime sleep, or does he mime sleep? Is he an image of a person or a reverberating abstraction? He was carved by a robot. Perhaps his human-ness can be seen as an artifact of the future. The dream and the sleeper and the sleeper and the cot are unified structures like the complicated mask and figure of Bacchus upstairs in Pagan Paradise. This mime’s liquidness is not an illusion. If anything, it reinterprets Phillip K. Dick’s question: Do androids dream of electric sheep? The material, carved by the hand of the robot, functions in relationship to the irritation that a mime might cause were this sculpture to sit up and perform during the exhibition. The animation exists in the nature of the sculpture’s construction. Seams and tool paths across the complexity of the figure’s convoluted surface combine to deflect photons from the future — or in a direction that is the opposite of Susini’s crucifixion. Both sculptures are present in the room. One comes from the past; the other comes from the present but is perhaps illuminated by the future. The trajectory of the present is an important aspect of an artwork. Art from the past can be wonderfully viewed in the present. 

Perhaps I ramble too much in trying to define the temporal dimension. Let’s consider the lion attacking an animal. To the left of Algardi’s crucifixion is Barthélemy Prieur’s Lion Devouring a Doe. It’s a small, powerful sculpture, and it exists in a long lineage. Not so much of images of lions feasting on prey, or depictions of life-and-death struggles; the food chain is meaningless not due to existential nihilism but because meaning is emergent from it, rather than it from meaning. It’s interesting to travel up and down a temporal food chain and try to see the greater abstraction in this terrifying aspect of our sculptural existence. A prototype that for me somehow exists in totality, with a diameter of thirty-three billion light years, is the lion devouring the horse from the Capitoline Museums — a sculpture of such weight and majesty that it brings a recognition of a gravitational field and the bending of space and time in the pull of teeth and claws as two beasts define both physical and societal conditions. The sculpture survives Michelangelo’s corny restoration of the over-expressive head and legs of the horse itself. This great sculpture can’t be held in the mind, but instead forces you, the viewer, to orbit like a planet being drawn into the collision of two neutron stars. It’s a work, I think, that defines gravity as a field that creates and dictates all that occurs. Like a spinario, the boy pulling the thorn out of his foot, art and artists spill forth from this piece of marble; its popish restoration only anchors its originary relationship to Prieur’s Lion Attacking a Doe. Prieur’s sculpture doesn’t so much owe its image and its artfulness to this work in the Capitoline as much as it is the same work looked at from a different trajectory or inertial frame. Its scale is sculptural. It’s no less small, because small is not a word that can be mentioned in terms of sculptural scale. Prieur’s piece is of a scale that fits in the mind with interference. The gestural torque of life and death could be felt with the hands — if you were still allowed to touch like one could in the Renaissance. It could be held on a shelf, even passed around. As the lion devours the doe, the whole thing fits into my intestine; I see it as a stomach itself, its nature sexual, almost private and intimate. Its craft and making are the energy that the sculpture displaces. The Capitoline lion and horse have a planetary energy, almost celestial, while these Renaissance bronzes exhibit a craftsmanship that is something like clockmaking — extending tempo- rally, carrying the work to viewers across time. Craft never removes

expression. It orientates the individual to a dance of technologies and concerns outside of oneself — art’s own timeline. It’s not a fine piece of work. It’s a delicate orchestration between what can be seen and what can be made. In fact, in this delicateness, its craft becomes an aspect of image and formality. The interference of its fit in the mind is an engineering term. A cannonball fits in its barrel with interference, meaning it just fits and can’t be wiggled to-and-fro. That is how this wonderful sculpture sits in my mind. 

There are so many examples of this particular trope: Lion Attacking a Horse in the collection of the Capitoline Museums; Lion Attacking a Horse by Giambologna and Susini; Barthélemy Prieur’s Lion Attacking a Doe; Antoine Louis Barye’s Jaguar Devouring a Hare; and Henri Matisse’s Jaguar Devouring a Hare (after Antoine Louis Barye). Mereology might tell us that this is not a set of objects but rather one object with many parts. Like Kathrin Koslicki’s motorcycle taken apart and stored in a garage, set theory deals with all the disassembled parts. Mereology deals with the whole, which are the relationships between the parts. Could we look at all these lion attacks in terms of mereology rather than set theory? Could it be that a single sculpture comes into focus, like in an old rangefinder camera where images slowly come together as the lens rings turn? 

My mountain lion attacking a dog is a cinematic piece of sculpture. I chose silver as a material because of its cinematic reflectivity. Its scale slowly developed over the temporal period of its making. Originally this sculpture was on the floor at a life-size scale. The viewer, always separated from it, looked at a depiction — almost a natural-history-style diorama of the pornographic quality of an animal attack. When I compressed the scale and the sculpture to fit on a base, the sculpture then fit into your mind and perhaps closed a gap of separation between art and viewer. The sculpture is an essay in mark making. Tool marks coexist with illusionistically rendered hair and belly. Cartoon graphics of tooth and claw hold their own amid gestural and formal concerns. While Prieur’s attack fits in the mind with interference, my sculpture 

is large enough to roam freely, to fight freely, to exist freely and find a more open place within different regions of the viewer’s mind, his past or present, or his anxiety about the future — or absolutely none of the above. When Valentine Michael Smith, the protagonist of Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, is asked if he “feels like some breakfast,” he takes it as a compliment, thinking that although he “knew he was food,” he hadn’t expected “to be selected for such an honor.”

The mime can still be viewed from the balcony upstairs — perhaps the way we think of the soul viewing its own dead body in the operating theater below. 

But before these thoughts occur we might pause in Pagan Paradise at a small golden crab apple. I made this for my wife, Silvia Gaspardo Moro. As a piece of jewelry, it has no band, no clasp, and no pin because it always sits at home in a closet safe, bolted to the floor, unseen by all. Until today it has existed solely as a piece of jewelry in the mind of our marriage. If there was an Adam and Eve, I believe they had belly buttons. 

And Bacchus, around the corner, in front of the Paradise Market, is perhaps the most complex sculpture in the exhibition. Claudia Kryza Gersch’s catalogue entry in Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Hill Collection beautifully describes the various identities and figures embodied in the sculpture. Once a fountain on a column in the nymphaeum of Villa Visconti Borromeo Litta, the Bacchic mask obscures the identity of a known person, Giovan Paolo Lomazzo, a painter who became a poet and whose poems found the beauty beneath the grotesque. Take time to slowly wander around the sculpture. Find where water once broke forth, and what complex history comes out today. Look across the surface of the figure and find evidence of how it was made. Note the cross-hatching across the seams, necessary for its making but also sculptural today. Bronze flows from the process of its casting as history flows today through the ports and windows of this expansive fountain of a moment. I recommend when you cross the balcony and enter the reading room, look for the essay in this prodigious and flowing piece of art.

1. David K. Lewis, “Causal Explanation,” in David Lewis (ed.), Philosophical Papers Vol. II, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1986, pp. 214–40.
2. Jim Holt, When Einstein Walked with Gödel: Excursions to the Edge
of Thought, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018, p. 14.
3. Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, New York: Ace
Books, 2018, p. 12.

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