Fig. 90 Donald Sultan, Lemons, May 16, 1984, 1984. Latex, tar on vinyl tile over wood, 97 in. 971/2 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Gift of the Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation. Photo: Katherine Wetzel. © 1996 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
e live in a physical world whose properties are familiar, and, together with line, space is one of the most familiar. It is all around us, all the time. We talk about “outer” space (the space outside our world) and “inner” space (the space inside our own minds). We cherish our own “space.” We give “space” to people or things that scare us. But in the twenty-first century, space has become an increasingly contested
issue. Since Einstein, we have come to recognize that the space in which we live is fluid. It takes place in time. We have developed new kinds of space as well— the space of mass media, the Internet, the computer screen, “virtual reality,” and cyberspace. All these new kinds of space result, as we shall see, in new media for artists. But first, we need to define some elementary concepts of shape and mass.
A World of Art, Sixth Edition, by Henry M. Sayre. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2010 by Pearson Education, Inc.
SHAPE AND TWO-DIMENSIONAL SPACE
A shape is flat. In mathematical terms, a shape is a two-dimensional area; that is, its boundaries can be measured in terms of height and width. A form, or mass, on the other hand, is a solid that occupies a three-dimensional volume. It must be measured in terms of height, width, and depth. Though mass also implies density and weight, in the simplest terms, the difference between shape and mass is the difference between a square and a cube, a circle and a sphere. Donald Sultan’s Lemons, May 16, 1984 (Fig. 90) is an image of three lemons overlapping in space, but it consists of a flat yellow shape on a black ground over 8 feet square. To create the image, Sultan covered vinyl composite tile with tar. Then he drew the outline of the lemons, scraped out the area inside the outline, filled it with plaster, and painted the plaster area yellow. The shape of the three lemons is created not only by the outline Sultan drew but also by the contrasting colors and textures, black and yellow, tar and plaster. Sultan’s image contains two shapes: the square black background, and the yellow figure. Indeed, the instant we place any shape on a ground, another shape is created. The ground is known as a negative shape, while the figure that commands our attention is known as a positive shape. Consider, however, the more dynamic figure-ground relationship in Figure 91. At first glance, the figure appears to be a black vase resting on a white ground. But the image also contains the figure of two heads resting on a black ground. Such figure-ground reversals help us recognize how important both positive and negative shapes are to our perception of an image.
Fig. 92 Martin Puryear, Self, 1978. Polychromed red cedar and mahogany, 69 Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha.
A photograph cannot quite reproduce the experience of seeing Martin Puryear’s Self (Fig. 92), a sculptural mass that stands nearly six feet high. Made of wood, it looms out of the floor like a giant basalt outcropping, and it seems to satisfy the other implied meanings of mass—that is, it seems to possess weight and density as well as volume. “It looks as though it might have been created by erosion,” Puryear has said, “like a rock worn by sand and weather until the angles are all gone. . . . It’s meant to be a visual notion of the self, rather than any particular self—the self as a secret entity, as a secret, hidden place.” And, in fact, it does not possess the mass it visually announces. It is actually very lightweight, built of thin layers of wood over a hollow core. This hidden, almost secret fragility is the “self” of Puryear’s title. Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture...