Presence: The Art of Portrait Sculpture by Alexander Sturgis
From the monuments of the ancient world to the modern waxwork museum, the sculpted portrait represents and makes present the living and the dead. Today, the art form remains the victim of its 19th-century heyday: the self-confidence, if not self-regard, of an age that populated our city streets and squares with countless monuments to statesmen, soldiers, industrialists and philanthropists whose deeds have long since slipped from popular memory, has rendered the very act of such monumental commemoration suspect. In town halls and public buildings, ranks of bewhiskered worthies punctuate corridors and halls, but seldom demand, still less receive, more than a passing glance. The very ubiquity and apparent sameness of the portrait bust and public monument has, with a few notable exceptions, made them all but invisible. However, the fact that the run-of-the-mill portrait bust can seem the least vital of all art forms risks blinding us to the compelling and, at times, troubling potency of the sculpted portrait. This short book, and the Holburne Museum exhibition it accompanies, opens our eyes to the virtues, power and peculiarities of the portrait sculpture, while at the same time drawing attention to the surprising fact that many of the most celebrated works by a generation of artists that emerged in the 1990s - including Jeff Koons, Ron Mueck and Marc Quinn, each discussed herein - are responses to, or exercised in, this, on the face of it, curiously overlooked genre.