A footnote to this story appears in 1938 when Thornycroft’s statuette of General Gordon was reproduced once more in silver as a regimental gift from Brigadier A. H. Hopwood for the First Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers on their withdrawal from Tientsin (for which Gordon has planned the British concession). Lady Thornycroft administered the conditions for the reproduction, stating that the model-making should only be done by one of her late husband’s pupils and that it should be approved by another of his pupils and that the model and the moulds should be returned to her. The model by Bradford-born pupil, Harold J. Youngman is now in Leeds City Art Galleries and the silver version, although not completed in time for the Fusiliers departure, was presented in June 1939.
THE CONTEMPORARY MULTIPLE
The tradition of reproduction continues today as contemporary artists use the same and sometimes new technologies of reproduction to make sculpture. However, the use of reproduction in contemporary art differs from the preceding tradition in that contemporary multiple sculptures are conceived in such a way that multiplication is somehow defined or predicated in the work, whereas the sculptures discussed so far were all conceived as individual and coherent works of art which became multiples after the fact. Reproduction was something which was done to them, a process or transformation which the sculptures underwent. They were ‘copied’ and became ‘copies’, whereas, the multiplication of contemporary sculpture is an intentional creative strategy. Sometimes it is a method by which the artists disguise their presence in the work; by which the sculpture is depersonalised. Sometimes the multiplicity is the point of the work and sometime the point is uniqueness. To paraphrase Walter Benjamin, one of the most significant factors to affect the production of art in the 20th century has been mechanical reproduction. Artists of the late 20th century more than their forerunners have been obliged to find an appropriate response not only to the condition of industrial mass production, but also to coexistence with mass media. Although historically sculptors have generally accepted the likelihood of their work being repeated, reproduction occurred as an afterthought. Contemporary sculpture uses repetition more as self-examination. Works of art when multiplied, can look at one another. Art becomes a mirror, not of life but of Art.
The notion that mass produced objects might be used as a material from which to make sculpture is at least as old as this century. It emerges from the Dada movement and from Duchamp’s concept of the ‘Ready made’. Gavin Turk, Jeff Koons, Katherine Fritsch, Allan McCollom and Caroline Russell are all, in different ways, inheritors of this tradition of making art. Crucial to Duchamp’s concept of the ‘ready made’ was the concept of the found object, which through the artist’s choice becomes a work of art. Jeff Koon’s ‘Basketball’, is such an object. Katharina Fritsch’s ‘Madonnenfigur’ uses the same strategy. A devotional artefact is inseparably associated with mass culture whilst being surrounded by an aura of religious mysticism transcends cultural and ethnic barriers and resists contextualization. Caroline Russell’s ‘Displays’ extend the concept of the ‘ready made’ Multiple to encompass packaging as well as sculpture. Her work responds to the condition of mass production by using standardised parts whose purpose is redefined within the context of the studio or gallery.
Gavin Turk’s ‘Font’ returns to Marcel Duchamp. Using the title of Duchamp’s infamous work by R. Mutt, Gavin Turk has reiterated the ambiguity of using manufactured objects to make sculpture. Turk has made a ceramic baptismal-font-shaped vessel using a slip casting technique more associated with the craft activity of pottery than the production of sculpture. Turk’s ‘Font’ interprets the title more literally and retains its status as a multiple but to what extent it is a ‘ready-made’ is open to question.
Allan McCollum’s ‘Plaster Surrogates’ reverse the previous strategy by making banal that which is normally unique. Here framed pictures usually associated with individuality and taste have been cast and turned into blank ciphers, objects onto which any meaning can be projected. The plaster surrogates developed from McCollum’s ‘Perpetual Photos’ which photographically reproduce moments from television dramas in which pictures are used as background details.
Julia Wood’s ‘White Square’ 1987 by contrast completely subverts the concept of the Multiple with her photographs of East London buildings which have been altered by the addition of small areas of Gouache paint. The paint marks spoil the glossy surface of the print like fingerprints. Julia Wood has taken a mass produced image and personalised it.
It is unsurprising that Edward Allington should make extensive use of casting in his work, which is so concerned with pursuing of the ghost of Classicism in western culture. In ‘Metropolitan Egypt from the East/of London’, Allington turns his attention from his usual preoccupation with Greco-Roman forms to explore the parent culture of Egypt. Conceived around a Sphinx plaster cast bought at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, from which the artist made further copies, this sculpture recalls an experience of Egyptian culture both ancient and modern. The inscrutable Sphinx is an emblem of the ancient and mysterious civilisation, transformed by modern mass production and retailing into a piece of universal, tourist kitsch and then ultimately into a sculpture. The colour scheme recalls the artist’s impression of the country’s flag as seen on the sides of Egyptian train compartments seen during a visit to Egypt made earlier in his career.