Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sculpture Review - William Morris Artifact Panel

In 2000 William Morris completed his Artifact Panel that is now installed in the Portland Art Museum. It spans across two floors, and can be seen from each floor by balconies. This piece is a part of their Native American exhibit which is filled with historical artifacts such as clothing, utensils and decorative household items. While William Morris' artifact panel is not composed of authentic, found artifacts, each hand-blown glass 'artifact' is a replica of an actual artifact. The piece is huge, I'm estimating it was about 10 ft. x 15 ft. and contained 399 unique, hand-made artifacts. It's hard to say exactly what the artifacts were but it appears that most of them were prehistoric animal sculptures, fossil-like objects, and ancient vessels.
The piece was presented in a systematic way, evenly spacing the objects over a grid with each object suspended in the air, protruding from the wall by a single wire hook. Just the sheer number of artifacts in this piece makes it very impressive and awe-inspiring. Every artifact presented was unique and they came in all shapes, sizes and colors. Altogether, I think they are a lot more interesting as viewed as a whole, rather than if they were viewed individually.
The most obvious sculptural term I can use for this piece is the use of unity and repetition in the overall piece, and the use of variety in each individual piece. I'm not sure if the term applies but the panel uses approximate symmetry as well. The negative and positive space also plays a big role in this pice. It's interesting the way the shadows are seen behind each object that creates this illusion of space and I wonder what a white background would do for this piece that would make those shadows appear even more. I'd also say this piece is interactive because you get this changing perspective if you view it from either floor. When you're on the bottom floor the pieces seem to be never-ending and appear to be ascending upward and when you're on the upper floor the pieces seem to be cascading downward. I really appreciate the way the artist and the museum thought about the presentation of this piece that allows the viewers perspective to change drastically depending on where you view it. It changes the entire mood of the piece.
It may lessen my interest knowing that these artifacts aren't necessarily real, but contemplating the amount of work that went into it makes it worthy of appreciation. I like the fact that they are all based off of real artifacts but I think it would have been interesting to be able to marvel at all the history displayed and wonder about the background on each piece. I think the emphasis on this piece is placed in the vast number of replicas presented, as well as the implied lines within the grid-like structure, acting as a unifying element between the uniquely different pieces.

I wasn't able to upload my camera-phone pictures and I tried to find pictures of this piece online but unfortunately I only found pictures similar to the one in the Portland Art Museum. This particular Artifact Panel was done in 1998 and is more or less identical to the one in the PAM but the one at PAM had a black background and was vertical, spanning over two floors.

Olivia Serrill

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