These are installation views of the artist Erin Shirreff’s exhibition Sculpture and their shadows at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York in 2021. The bronze sculpture in the foreground of this image is called Maquette (2019). The framed work in the background is a dye sublimation print on aluminum titled Steel on paper (Smith, Waldman, Heald & Aronowitz) (2019).
Shirreff’s prints are made by scanning pages of art anthologies with photographic reproductions of modern and contemporary sculpture. The scans are printed and fused with cut-metal aluminum. The sculpture-photographs are then combined and presented inside a frame—a display form typically reserved for two-dimensional art. Shirreff reconstitutes printed reproductions of three-dimensional objects that—like sculptures by Tony Smith—are encountered mostly through photographs.
The sculptures titled Maquette in the exhibition are, in fact, three-dimensional objects. Yet, as the exhibition title suggests, these works could also be stand-ins or “shadows” for a future iteration to come or a final work existing elsewhere. The reference to maquette connotes a step in a process of developing “the real thing.” In both bodies of work, Shirreff considers questions on what the real thing is and the media through which art is experienced and interpreted.
Sculptures and their shadows was not the first time Shirreff explored the histories and discourses around Smith’s work and modernism. In 2011, she was commissioned by the Public Art Fund in New York to create Sculpture for Snow as part of the yearlong exhibition A Promise Is a Cloud. The exhibition was curated by Andria Hickey at MetroTech Center in Brooklyn. Sculpture for Snow was inspired by Shirreff's fascination with looking long at reproductions of Smith's large-scale sculpture in books and online. Using a single jpeg image of Smith's sculpture Amaryllis (1965) as a starting point, she reduced the solidity and volume typically associated with his works to a thinly drawn, almost dematerialized sculptural form in Sculpture for Snow.
Sculpture for Snow reflects Shirreff's early interests—developed further in more recent work in Sculpture and their shadows—to reconcile the romance and intrigue viewers can have with mediated reproductions of three-dimensional forms compared to the actuality of experiencing them in person.
Prior to Sculpture for Snow, Shirreff made the video Sculpture Park (Tony Smith) in 2006. These are stills from the silent, 37-minute video based on her study of photographic images of public sculptures by Smith—Amaryllis, Die, The Keys to Given!, She Who Must be Obeyed, and Spitball. Shirreff created small maquettes based on images pulled from books and the internet, which she then shot in darkness in her studio while artificial snow falls over the forms catching the light.
Through the mediated and experiential form of video, Erin Shirreff examines how the presence of a work, or an image, is transformed through the durational quality inherent in perception. It takes time to see. And what one sees after an extended period of looking at something can show itself to be something else. Tony Smith called his sculptural forms “presences.” He was interested in how the works could materialize and dematerialize, their forms generating anew with each incremenal shift of a spectator’s position.
Erin Shirreff's 16mm film iteration titled Sculpture Park (Tony Smith, Amaryllis) (2016) was presented in her solo exhibition Halves and Wholes at Kunsthalle Basel in 2016.
James Voorhies, December 27, 2021, New York