Rebecca Warren – Large Concretised Monument to the Twentieth Century (2007)


The statue is standing on a rather high pedestal, which means that the viewer focuses at first on those monstrous feet. Above these unwieldy lumps rises a comparatively slender figure with thin, outstretched arms and disproportionately large and rounded forms that may be interpreted as breasts and buttocks. This human-height bronze sculpture is by Rebecca Warren (London, 1965, lives and works in London). The title Large Concretised Monument to the Twentieth Century (2007) is a reference to twentieth-century sculptural art: Warren often takes specific works by famous predecessors such as Boccioni, Rodin, Degas and Picasso as sources of inspiration for her sculptural works. She alternates identifiable elements with completely amorphous forms, but the lines of the female nude are undeniably present in most of Warren’s sculptures, a subject as old as art history itself. Warren consciously plays with all of the clichés associated with the genre, exaggerating them or subverting them. There are no faces, probably so as not to draw attention away from the inflated female curves. The poses are defiant and nipples appear throughout her work. Large Concretised Monument to the Twentieth Century features two nipples on the insteps of the foot.


In a critical, yet humorous way, Warren positions herself within the figurative sculptural tradition, which is primarily a masculine one. Warren’s sculptures bring to mind not only the old masters of sculpture, but also more contemporary artists. The most striking examples are photographer Helmut Newton and comic-book artist Robert Crumb, who she directly references and combines in the work Helmut Crumb (1998), a piece that established Warren’s international reputation. This is a statue of two pairs of legs and naked buttocks viewed from behind, an allusion to the two artists’ many sexually tinged depictions of these parts of the female body. Warren uses and parodies the lascivious gaze of the male. Like so many of her sculptures, Helmut Crumb is made from unfired clay. This self-drying clay is a versatile material, which can be adapted and reshaped for a long time. Warren’s sculptures reflect this quality, as though they were not created with a final form in mind, but made quickly, almost as a sketch, without a predetermined shape. The roughly finished sculptures of her often grotesque women stand on pedestals or on wheeled platforms. The unfired clay lends them a vital, but also unstable appearance and the taller works sometimes seem as though they might collapse at any moment, with the indestructible bronze of the pedestals offering a strong contrast.


So, both in her approach to the subject and her working methods, Warren flouts traditional sculptural conventions to create her own form of visual imagery within the ultimate classical genre. In addition to her sculptures in unfired clay and bronze, Warren also makes wall installations consisting of wooden display cabinets. Unlike in the sculptures, which suggest an improvised approach, she uses the utmost care to arrange all kinds of objects, found in and around her studio, in these works: from soft toys to beer bottles and pieces of fluorescent tube. The items on display have a very personal significance for Warren. Entirely different in appearance and concept from her sculptural work, with titles, such as I love the sound of breaking glass, that refer to films and pop songs, they clearly demonstrate Warren’s versatility as an artist.


Manon Braat / translation Laura Watkinson