The Modern Sculpture Reader Edited by Jon Wood et al.HMI Publications, 2007.542pp. £20.00
In an editorial earlier this year (AJ 25.01.07), Isabel Allen argued that 'visual intelligence, good judgement and creative critique' were the key components of architectural design, not a knee-jerk recourse to 'functionalism'. It was a reminder not only that functionalist reality may just be an escape for those who aren't strong enough to sustain their architectural dreams, but that sculpture and architecture's own archive remain the primary fantasy support for architecture.
It is in this sense that exhibitions of sculpture can prompt the architectural imaginaire, and when a book on sculpture is published that features nothing but words, the promise is that it will stir fruitful architectural narratives. For those seeking to enjoy architecture's many relations to sculpture, The Modern Sculpture Reader consists of 70 highly stimulating short essays on sculpture from the last 100 years by artists, critics, poets and art historians, many with short introductions.
A few of the essays deserve special mention, particularly ones since the 1960s. Rosalind Krauss' 'Sculpture in the Expanded Field' sets out one of the most powerful statements of sculpture's formalist logic, locating it in a matrix between 'architecture and landscape' and 'not-architecture and notlandscape', and it has proved powerful for architecture too in suggesting and making sense of many 'shapist' works. Those interested in Gehry will enjoy the essay by Oldenberg; in phenomenology and deconstruction, the interview between Richard Serra and Peter Eisenman; in the materialisation of architectural space, the interview with Rachel Whiteread.
Although an anthology, what this book provides is all the pieces of a story in which sculptors have increasingly produced 'architectural objects' and installations, and architects have reclaimed and recruited almost every new object type and spatial relation that avantgarde sculptors have explored.
Minimising, displacing, scattering, biomorphing, mirroring, appropriating and dematerialising (to name but a few) have become some of the most successful design strategies in architecture.
By entertaining these fantasy relations to sculpture, architects curiously end up the more aware of their own drives in relation, say, to the question of functionalism and its possible alternatives.
Here a caveat is due. It's easy to state that architects who sacrifice their dreams to functionalist reality risk undermining the valuable contribution that architecture makes to (what might be called) the 'libidinal' economy of the built environment. What's harder is to say why architecture's imaginary relations with sculpture prompt all sorts of dreams - nightmares included - and to distinguish one from the other.
After all, there's relatively little in this book of the benevolence that distinguishes architecture from sculpture. And in this question of good will, much difference may lie.
Tim Martin teaches at Leicester De Montfort University