Upside Down, Invisible Sculpture
Artist David Lamelas discusses the history and influences of Corner Piece.
David Lamelas, Inés Katzenstein
Jan 14, 2021
Art is not just sculpture, or a painting; it can be something else, and go far beyond the bourgeois idea of art.
Can you characterize the energy of that moment in Buenos Aires?
Besides the work of your colleagues in Argentina, what artists interested you at that time?
A work that really impressed me was Marcel Duchamp’s The Mile of String that he did in a Surrealist exhibition in New York, in the ’40s. I remember seeing it in a very small photo. There were paintings by the greatest—Picasso, Picabia, Magritte—and Duchamp surrounded all the exhibition panels, and the works, with string. Even though there were great paintings, they really looked pathetic to me next to this courageous piece of Duchamp. That image really changed my conception of art; it gave me the freedom to imagine that art is not just sculpture, or a painting; it can be something else, and go far beyond the bourgeois idea of art.
I am sure you know that Duchamp did a very curious work in a corner, Door: 11 rue Larrey.
I always loved that work. It always intrigued me. What was that door in the corner? How did Duchamp manage to do it?
In previous interviews you stated that you were primarily interested in treating space, and specifically the space of the gallery, as a medium that you can manipulate.
Yes. That interest started early on in the ’60s. I remember that I convinced the director of the Galería Lirolay, where the extreme cutting-edge art was happening in Buenos Aires, to give me a show. I made Super Elástico (1965), a minimalist object that would expand and take over the space. It was rather flamboyant. It had color, it had shapes. It was entertaining. But then I decided, little by little, to get rid of color, to get rid of decoration. The next step was Pink Skin (1965). The sculpture was attached to the wall, and it was about architecture, because if you look at it carefully, it is a house, with a column and a roof attached to the wall. And a habitat is usually made for humans to live in. So then I thought to paint the color of the palm of my hand.
I was thinking about sculpture, but I was also thinking about abandoning the conception of sculpture as an object.
David Lamelas. Corner Piece. 1965/2018. Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum. Photo courtesy Eat Pomegranate Photography
Any culture, any human being, we need to be supported.
Corner Piece does a little bit of the same. It disappears.
I have done Corner Piece for different specific sites, and most of the time it is ignored. People pass by. They just think it’s architecture. And at the beginning I used to be hurt by it, but then I thought, “No. This is great. That’s what it is.”
That’s funny because, you know, the gallery where it’s installed now at MoMA is called Touching the Void.
I know, and I am very happy about it. I have always been thinking about the void.
I have one last question. Which of your more recent works do you feel continues the ideas of inversion, topography, and hybridity of Corner Piece?
Well, you know, there is one from the ’90s. (Can you call a work made more than 20 years ago “recent”?) It is called Falling Wall, and it is a piece that I made in Milan in 1991. After many years of dealing with film and video, I decided to return to sculpture. I was looking back at what I had been trying to do in the ’60s and finally understanding it. Falling Wall represents a wall that falls into space, sustained by tree trunks.
And it seems to produce the same kind of disorienting effect in relationship to the body of the viewer as Corner Piece.
Yes, it does. It’s the weight of the wall coming at you, making the space full of meaning. It is about architecture, but it’s also about us, human beings. The work was made just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And somehow it refers to the fact that we all need support. Any culture, any human being, we need to be supported. And finally, walls shouldn’t be made to divide, but to join, in a way. We will always find a way to get through.