Sculpture is defined as a medium of art that exists in 3 dimensions. Sculpture is considered a “plastic art,” meaning it involves the physical manipulation or moulding of a plastic medium, or a medium that can be carved or shaped such as wood, ceramic, stone, concrete or glass. The process of creating sculpture can be divided into two categories: reductive, where material is taken away from the original volume to reveal the finished product (like stone or wood carving) and additive, where material as added to itself or other material to create a finished product (like in clay/ceramic sculpting or merging metal).
The medium of sculpture began out of necessity. The first examples of pottery were created for cooking and food storage. As time progressed and man’s immediate needs began to be met with more ease, sculpture evolved into an art. Sculpture is central in religious culture and expression. Before literacy was a standard skill, sculpture, along with other art forms, helped convey religious and civil concepts. Sculpture, at its core, is a highly utilitarian and durable art form.
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Like almost all works of art, great value and emphasis is placed on the maker and the rarity of the object. Size, material, and age can play some role, but with the market trending towards an emphasis on 20th century and contemporary pieces, the artist will be the greatest determinant of value.
Reputable auction houses have teams of specialists that can confirm the authenticity of your sculpture, and large client bases that can potentially fetch you the largest price for your important work. For modern and contemporary pieces, there should be complete or nearly-complete provenance (list of previous owners) for each piece to bolster the likelihood of the piece being genuine. Sculptures from earlier periods might have been included in art historical publications and their authenticitity might be traceable through research.
In-the-Round- also described as free-standing sculpture, such as statues, are not connected to any surface (except traditionally at a base). Free-standing sculptures, particularly from earlier eras, are made from durable materials and have therefore survived the test of time, but not without casualties. Most ancient and classical sculptures were painted, but where stone stood strong, paint chipped away. This led to centuries of aesthetic interest in white marble sculpture.
Relief- Relief sculpture is a reductive media in which the three-dimensional forms are attached to a background surface. Relief sculpture is classified by the depth of the reduced surface.
Kinetic- sculpture that depends on motion for effect.
Cast- Casting is the process of pouring a liquid material into a mould containing the hollowed out cavity in the desired resultant shape.
Sculptures from the Classical periods were usually made from the most durable materials like bronze and other metals. Other popular and durable materials include stone, like marble, wood, bone and clay. Precious materials such as gold, jade and ivory were used for smaller, more luxurious works.
Sculptures were often painted using a variety of techniques including tempera, oil, and enamel. Some sculptures were even decorated with gold leaf.
More contemporary sculptors like Picasso or Duchamp often incorporated found objects into their sculptures. Duchamp, in particular, invented a new type of sculpture called the “readymade” when he used found objects to exclusively construct his works.
Sculpture at its origin was pottery for early populations to cook and store food. The tradition of utilitarian sculpture continues today and can be quite valuable. Vases, chandeliers, and tableware, depending on the maker, condition, and materials can be both collectible and valuable.
The top three most expensive sculptures ever sold came from the hand of Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti. L'Homme au doigt, L'Homme qui marche I, and Chariot sold for $152.4 million, $122.3 million, and $109.1 million respectively. Living American sculptor Jeff Koons occupies two of the top ten spots with his sculptures Rabbit and Balloon Dog (Orange), which fetched $91.1 million and $58.4 million, respectively.