Suspension – A History of Abstract Hanging Sculpture 1918 – 2018

Olivier Malingue
London, UK
Opening during Frieze
1 October – 15 December 2018

With works by Alexander Calder, Yves Klein, Artur Lescher, Man Ray, François Morellet, Bruno Munari, Ernesto Neto, Alexander Rodchenko, Tomás Saraceno, Joel Shapiro, Jesús Rafael Soto, Takis and Xavier Veilhan.

Palais d’Iéna
Paris, France
Opening during FIAC
16 – 28 October 2018

Endorsed by the French Ministry of Culture
With works by Leonor Antunes, Max Bill, Louise Bourgeois, Daniel Buren, Alexander Calder, Carlos Cruz Diez, Marcel Duchamp, Gego, Antony Gormley, Hans Haacke, Yves Klein, Julio Le Parc, Artur Lescher, Sol LeWitt, Man Ray, Christian Megert, François Morellet, Robert Morris, Bruno Munari, Ernesto Neto, Hélio Oiticica, Alexander Rodchenko, Tomás Saraceno, Joel Shapiro, Monika Sosnowska, Jesús Rafael Soto, Jean Tinguely, Georges Vantongerloo, Xavier Veilhan, Cerith Wyn Evans and Haegue Yang.

Suspension – A History of Abstract Hanging Sculpture 1918 – 2018 will present more than 50 works related to this little-known sculptural genre, produced by 30 artists, such as Duchamp, Calder, Neto or Antunes, of 15 different nationalities, across two exhibitions. Exceptional loans from institutions and collections around the world will be presented for two months at Olivier Malingue in London, and for two weeks in the 1500m2 space of the Palais d’Iéna in Paris, where an unprecedented dialogue will be created between the works and the modern classicism of the monumental space, designed and built by architect Auguste Perret during the 1930s.

This event presents a century of abstract sculpture (1918 – 2018) through the unprecedented perspective of aerial suspension. It gathers more than 50 key works, produced since 1918, by more than 30 artists, each from diverse generations and nationalities. This artistic category emerged at the end of the 1910s with Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Alexander Rodchenko, and continued through the 1930s with Alexander Calder and Bruno Munari, expressing itself in the 1950s through the work of Soto, François Morellet, Gego, Daniel Buren, Julio Le Parc, then Sol LeWitt and Robert Morris. It finds its contemporary continuation through the work of Xavier Veilhan, Ernesto Neto, Tomás Saraceno and Haegue Yang.

If some of these suspended works remain static, then certain works amongst them echo the principle of the “mobile,” to borrow the term formulated by Duchamp himself in 1931, regarding the first sculptures by Calder, fastened to the ceiling and given over to the invisible forces of the air. This new aesthetic typology became linked to the dynamic spatialisation of the modern gaze—as much as to the questioning of traditional modalities of display. It was thus indissociable from a zenithal hanging, that is to say, from a ceiling or from cables, and excluded all conventional systems of showcasing sculpture, such as on the ground, on a base, from brackets, from porticos or even on the wall. At the Palais d’Iéna, a veritable canopy of horizontally stretched cables will enable the vertical suspension required for these works.

Although resolutely non-narrative, this genre is linked to the cosmogonic imagination, to the conquest of the air and, in the postwar period, to space, to a fear of the void, to chandeliers, to hanging, to climbing, to falling as well as to levitation or even swaying. Although it resonates with these images and universes, this sculptural genre breaks from the idea of figuration and representation that would limit its initial meaning and interpretive significance to the anecdotal. It is the corollary, in real time and space, to abstract painting, which sprung up a few years beforehand, around 1912.

In order to notably limit the exerted traction, the sculptural materiality eases up, becomes lighter. The contours of the forms, launched into orbit, indicate a desire to escape gravity or fight it. What these sculptures lose in inert mass, they gain in transparence, balance, structure and sometimes even in physical mobility, with regard to the “mobiles.” This aesthetic stems from a renewed relationship to the spectator, to the circulation of the gaze via structures no longer opaque but opened up and, consequently, sensitive to their immediate environment: that is to say, to the spatial parameters of the setting hosting them.

This type of sculpture is thus no longer classically constructed, like an edifice, but built upon an aerial—even astral—model. Due to its maintained distance from the ground, as though in levitation, it is partially extracted from the meandering surface. This means of negotiating with space and gravity proves itself to be a necessarily abstract, aesthetic operation. That is to say: these elements draw away from narration and representation, which arrest the meaning and presence of these celestial objects, resulting instead in a constant tension between the elevation of the work and the surrounding forces – Matthieu Poirier

Joel Shapiro. Exhibition views at the Nasher Sculpture Center in 2016. Courtesy of the artist