May 22, 2010 - Philadelphia Museum of Art - Two Decades of Contemporary Sculpture
May 22, 2010

Two Decades of Contemporary Sculpture

Robert Morris (American, born 1931) Untitled, 1968
Philadelphia Museum of Art. Purchased with funds contributed by Henry S. McNeil, Jr., and with the Joseph E. Temple Fund, the Margaretta S. Hinchman Fund, and the Edgar Viguers Seeler Fund

Two Decades of Contemporary Sculpture​
Forms of Contingency: New York and Turin, 1960s-1970s

April 24 – September 2010

26th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Forms of Contingency: New York and Turin, 1960s-1970s—now on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—charts the changing attitudes toward sculpture in this formative time period and document the importance of these cities as centers of artistic innovation. Featuring works by Giovanni Anselmo, Mel Bochner, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Eva Hesse, Jannis Kounellis, Barry Le Va, Richard Long, Robert Morris, Mario Merz, Bruce Nauman, Robert Smithson, Alan Sonfist, and Lawrence Weiner, Forms of Contingency brings together works from the Museum’s permanent collection and the Sonnabend Collection, New York.

The late 1960s and early1970s witnessed a dramatic shift in sculptural practice away from the severe geometry of Minimalism towards the eccentric, energetic, and often highly expressive forms of Post-Minimalism in the United States and Arte Povera in Italy. Forms of Contingency explores the new approaches to sculpture that emerged in New York and Turin at this time, in which a shared interest in process and the resonant use of materials gave way to an amazing diversity of formal solutions. Works on view embody the idea of contingency in their formal configurations and conceptual approaches. Produced by employing an extraordinary array of materials—such as neon, felt, glass, sound, earth, water, and found objects—they evidence a common interest in emphasizing the circumstances in which art is created.

“We are delighted to collaborate with the Sonnabend Collection on this presentation,” said Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art, “This gallery installation represents an extraordinary opportunity for our audiences to be exposed to a number of amazing works, and it brings to light the importance of New York and Turin as centers for important developments in contemporary art.”

In Turin, Arte Povera (whose literal translation is “poor art”) developed in a climate of political and social unrest from 1967 to 1972 and established a visual and experiential practice characterized by employing non-art materials and the engagement of artists in ephemeral activities. In this gallery presentation, works by artists associated with Arte Povera embody these themes, such as Anselmo’s Untitled (1969) in which the concreteness of an industrial steel container is counterbalanced by the transience of evaporating water. In Calzolari’s Untitled (Zerorose) (1970) a row of twenty-nine zeroes in white neon is accompanied by an audio recording in which “zero” is endlessly repeated.

In New York, post-minimal sculpture encompassed a wide a variety of approaches, represented by the diverse sculptural works in Forms of Contingency, including Robert Smithson’s Red Sandstone Corner Piece (1968) and Alan Sonfist’s Earth Paintings (1968-69)—both of which utilize soil as a material, but to very different ends. Gravity plays a key role in shaping both Morris’s Untitled (1968) felt sculpture and Hesse’s Tori (1969). Meanwhile, Barry Le Va’s One Edge, Two Corners; On Center Shattered (Variation 14, Within the Series of Layered Pattern Acts) of 1968 is the product of a prescribed action of shattering twelve sheets of glass and is created anew each time it is installed.

Taken together, the works in Forms of Contingency represent the vitality and spirit of experimentation that characterized sculptural practice in the 1960s and 1970s. “This installation has given us a welcome chance to develop an art historical context for works from the Museum’s collection that have not recently been on view,” said Erica Battle, Project Curatorial Assistant of Modern and Contemporary Art. “As installed in the Alter Gallery, the works demonstrate a pivotal moment in the history of sculpture, yet they retain a freshness and immediacy that is still undeniably radical today.”

About the Sonnabend Collection:
The Sonnabend Collection is a private collection belonging to the family of the late Ileana and Michael Sonnabend. The collection was the subject of a major traveling exhibition that was first shown at the Reina Sofia, Madrid, in 1987-88, and subsequently traveled to major institutions in France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Japan until 1991. Another traveling exhibition, From Pop to Now: Selections from the Sonnabend Collection, was organized by the Tang Teaching Museum in 2002. Works from the Sonnabend Collection are on long-term loan in museums in the United States and Europe. The Museum first collaborated with the Sonnabend Collection in the presentation of Notations: Gilbert and George in 2008.

About the “Notations” Series:
Notations/Forms of Contingency: New York and Turin, 1960s-1970s is part of an ongoing series of gallery installations titled “Notations,” named after the 1968 book by the American composer, writer, and visual artist John Cage, who was widely celebrated for his experimental approach to the arts. Cage’s Notations was an international and interdisciplinary anthology of scores by avant-garde musicians, with contributions from visual artists and writers. It was also an exhibition in book form, in which the scores doubled as drawings. The “Notations” series at the Museum serves as a flexible tool to explore contemporary art.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is among the largest art museums in the United States, showcasing more than 2,000 years of exceptional human creativity in masterpieces of painting, sculpture, worksv information, contact the Communications Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art at (215) 684-7860. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street. For general information, call (215) 763-8100 or visit the Museum’s website at

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