Art Term Tuesday: Indoor v. Outdoor Sculpture

Elizabeth Kilmer, Exhibitions Content Manager

Sculpture is arguably one of the most accessible artistic mediums: think about how often you see a public sculpture while driving down the street, in a park, a courtyard, outside of a museum, or perhaps even tucked away in someone’s garden. And that’s just sculpture that’s easily seen in public – there is even more safely placed inside homes and museums. What is sculpture, then? Simply put, sculpture is the art of making three-dimensional representative or abstract forms by carving stone or wood and casting metal or plaster. Sculpture is more interactive than two-dimensional artwork as you’re able to walk around it, and oftentimes even through it, to appreciate it from all angles.

Is there a difference between indoor and outdoor sculpture, or those works of art found inside a home or museum versus outside on their grounds? At the definition level, no! A sculpture is a sculpture; however, there are different factors artists must take into consideration when creating artwork for indoors versus outdoors.

It is likely that indoor and outdoor sculpture originated around the same time, but it’s safe to say that outdoor sculpture was created with more of a defined purpose. For instance, for thousands of years outdoor sculpture was how governing bodies and religious organizations communicated with the general population, most of whom were illiterate. These sculptures, of leaders, cultural heroes, or religious figures, told the average person who was in charge and where they fit in the world.

As time went by, life in general became more comfortable (i.e. fewer outbreaks of plague and disease and general improvement in quality of life) and artists began creating works of art that were purely decorative, or “art for art’s sake”. While sculptures are still created to commemorate significant figures or historical events, this category is where many outdoor sculptures fall today – they are created to aesthetically enhance the environment around them, and are there for everyone to enjoy.

A large, white sculpture of abstracted forms on the grounds of the museum.
David Black, American, b. 1928. Crossings. Aluminum and white epoxy, 1984. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. John Csicsko, Dr. and Mrs. Robert Godley, Dr. Linda McMurray and Dr. Stephen McMurray, Mr. and Mrs. William McNaghy, Dr. and Mrs. Michael Mirro, Dr. and Mrs. Dan Paflas, Dr. and Mrs. Alan Peterson, Dr. and Mrs. Michael Schatzlein, Thomas Smith Fine Art, Mr. and Mrs. James Varin, Mr. Charles Weinraub, Main Street Art Society, Museum of Art Alliance, and the Museum of Art Sales and Rental Gallery. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

FWMoA has numerous outdoor sculptures on display for the local community. One of the first installed at the Main Street campus was David Black’s 1984 sculpture, Crossings. Located at the corner of Main Street and FWMoA’s driveway, this sculpture, like many public works, invites viewers to walk around and experience it from all angles. While a seemingly simple construction of white geometric shapes, as you navigate Crossings you can see how much creativity Black put into his sculpture, taking every point of view into consideration, matching his lines with those of the surrounding buildings.

A large, white sculpture of abstracted forms on the grounds of the museum surrounded by children and adults on a school tour.
David Black, American, b. 1928. Crossings. Aluminum and white epoxy, 1984. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. John Csicsko, Dr. and Mrs. Robert Godley, Dr. Linda McMurray and Dr. Stephen McMurray, Mr. and Mrs. William McNaghy, Dr. and Mrs. Michael Mirro, Dr. and Mrs. Dan Paflas, Dr. and Mrs. Alan Peterson, Dr. and Mrs. Michael Schatzlein, Thomas Smith Fine Art, Mr. and Mrs. James Varin, Mr. Charles Weinraub, Main Street Art Society, Museum of Art Alliance, and the Museum of Art Sales and Rental Gallery. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

One of FWMoA’s most well-known public sculptures is Mark di Suvero’s 1985 orange behemoth, Helmholtz. This work, much like Black’s Crossings, encourages observation from all angles. Placed further back from the road, next to the Arts United Center and Freimann Square, it possesses a more introspective mood, asking observers to take their time and truly explore what the steel structure has to offer – in fact, you’ll often find people taking their pictures amongst the beams.

Mark di Suvero, American, b. 1933. Helmholtz. Stainless steel and painted steel, 1985. Gift of the Artist and the Alcoa Foundation on behalf of Rea Magnet Wire Company. Installation made possible by Hagerman Construction Corporation and Martin, Inc. The work was conserved with the aid of funds provided by the Arts United Renaissance Campaign. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

In addition to being one of FWMoA’s most-photographed works, Helmholtz also has its own claim to fame – in the early morning of Father’s Day in 2013, the sculpture was hit by a drunk driver, virtually destroying it. While FWMoA had the sculpture reconstructed by di Suvero, this brings up an important element that creators of outdoor sculptures must consider – what are outside factors that can impact their work of art? There is also acid rain, regular rain, snow, ice, wind, and, unfortunately, the occasional graffiti artist (an individual with the ingenious tag of “POOP$” plagued the Arts Campus for a few months in 2016). While artists cannot control the weather or the whims of people, they can try to make accommodations for them. For instance, most public sculptures are constructed of metal or stone, as these withstand the elements better than other fine art mediums, such as wood, paper, or glass. Metal and stone also lend themselves to an elegant “aging” process for a work of art as the years go by of being rained on and bleached by the sun, the works of art weather and become part of the surrounding area, comfortably finding their place in the world – graffiti artists and reckless drivers notwithstanding.

When it comes to indoor sculpture, artists can create their work from virtually any medium – glass, metal, stone, or wood – without fear that the elements will destroy them, as indoor sculptures are created with the automatic plus of being protected by a building. Their work essentially stays pristine forever, barring any accidents like fire or a fall. As a result, artists utilize more vulnerable mediums, even on a large scale.

Our first example is Martin Blank’s 2004 sculpture, Repose in Amber. This sculpture, an abstract composition of a woman lying on her side, is made entirely of biomorphic blown glass forms perched on steel supports. While the sculpture is structurally sound and strong, we can see that it’s too vulnerable to be outside due to the slenderness of the support beams. Also, the glass Blank used is too soft (yes, glass can be considered soft!) to weather the elements – wind, rain, and ice would prove detrimental to its surface.

Martin Blank's monumental glass sculpture, set in steel, in the hallway at FMWoA.
Martin Blank, American, b. 1962. Repose in Amber. Hand-sculpted glass on steel, 2004. Gift of Joel and Nancy Barnett, 2019.198.1-.46. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

At times, indoor sculptures can look like they’d be able to be outdoors, but upon closer inspection one can tell they truly do belong inside. One such example is Dale Enochs’ 2017 sculpture, Double Exposure. While this sculpture is comprised of limestone and steel, both of which are regularly used in construction or outdoor sculpture, the way they’ve been used shows us that it’s meant for indoor display. The limestone itself is thin, thus making it more fragile and susceptible to the elements. This is further enforced by the intricate linework Enochs has covered his sculpture with; the lines are shallow and delicate, showing us that it needs to be kept indoors. Additionally, the metal elements are more decorative than structural, which would be necessary if it was going to be displayed outside.

A limestone-carved sculpture affixed to the wall featuring a horned devil with the words, from left to right corners top and bottom, clarity, confusion, a skull, and a snake.
Dale Enochs, American, b. 1952. Double Exposure. Limestone, steel, and bronze, 2017. Museum purchase, 2017.52.a-.c. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

Now, you may be wondering, do sculptors create works for both indoor and outdoor display? Yes, they do! Dale Enochs, who’s work Double Exposure (above) was previously discussed, has made a name for himself as one of Indiana’s premier public sculptors. In fact, his newest sculpture, There Are Rivers, will be installed outside FWMoA along Main Street on August 18, 2021!

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