The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture 1839 to Today

View Themes

The advent of photography in 1839, when aesthetic experience was firmly rooted in Romanticist tenets of originality, brought into focus the critical role that the copy plays in the perception of art. But if the photograph’s reproducibility challenged the aura attributed to the original, it also reflected a very personal form of perception and offered a model for dissemination that would transform the entire nature of art. The distinctive expression of the photograph, the archival value of a document bearing the trace of history, and the combinatory capacity of the image, open to be edited into sequences in which it mixes with others—all these contribute to the status of photography as both an art form and a medium of communication.

In his 1947 book Le Musée imaginaire (Museum without Walls), French novelist and politician André Malraux postulated that art history, and the history of sculpture in particular, had become “the history of that which can be photographed.” Sculpture was among the first subjects to be treated in photography. There were many reasons for this, including the immobility of sculpture, which suited the long exposure times needed with the early photographic processes, and the desire to document, collect, publicize, and circulate objects that were not always portable. Through crop, focus, angle of view, degree of close-up, and lighting, as well as techniques of darkroom manipulation, collage, montage, and assemblage, photographers have not only interpreted sculpture but created stunning reinventions of it.

The Original Copy presents a critical examination of the intersections between photography and sculpture, exploring how the one medium has been implicated in the analysis and creative redefinition of the other. Bringing together three hundred pictures, magazines, and journals by more than one hundred artists from the dawn of modernism to the present, the exhibition looks at the ways in which photography at once informs and challenges our understanding of what sculpture is.

The exhibition is organized by Roxana Marcoci, Curator, Department of Photography.

The exhibition is made possible by The William Randolph Hearst Endowment Fund.

Additional support is provided by David Teiger and The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Bruce Nauman - Waxing Hot
Bruce Nauman (American, born 1941). Waxing Hot from Eleven Color Photographs. 1966–67/1970/2007 +

Bruce Nauman (American, born 1941). Waxing Hot from Eleven Color Photographs. 1966–67/1970/2007. Inkjet print (originally chromogenic color print), printed 2010. 19 15/16 x 19 15/16" (50.6 x 50.6 cm). Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Gerald S. Elliott Collection. © 2010 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

View Themes