Inspired by industrial landscapes and materials, Carol Bove (American, born 1971 in Geneva, Switzerland) interrogates sculptural vocabulary and strategies of display around three-dimensional objects. Although born in Geneva, Bove grew up in Berkeley, California, an influence that made its way into her early work. Sculptures from the 1990s and early 2000s consisted of domestically scaled objects, elements fabricated in concrete and steel, and found materials including feathers, seashells, and rare books installed on precisely mounted shelves. The content of these bookshelf works were frequently vintage paperbacks she collected from used bookstores in her Berkeley neighborhood. The infusion of environment and context similarly affected her work once Bove moved in 2000 to Red Hook, an industrial waterfront community in Brooklyn, New York. Bove regularly collected found objects from the neighborhood that would be used in her work—a “junk” aesthetic relating to California assemblage artists like Bruce Conner, George Herms, and Ed Kienholz. Although now formalized and expanded, this improvisational collecting-and-editing of an environment for her art remains part of the artist’s process.
In the past several years, Bove has increasingly turned toward industrial and large-scale steel sculpture, combining new and found elements into assemblages of steel, wood, and paint in alternately raw and finished compositions. Her forms reference narratives of midcentury Modernists—Anthony Caro, David Smith, Tony Smith—as well as 1960s and 1970s Minimalists—Donald Judd and John Chamberlain—with a decidedly contemporary perspective. Bove follows this muscular tradition with complexity and nuance, combining it with color and setting up elements of contrast between found and made and high and low aesthetics. Perhaps because of the material’s industrial origins, Bove’s work seems to thrive in imperfect and raw spaces and environments, acting in symphony with otherwise inconspicuous elements in the landscape, such as abandoned architecture, detritus, foliage, or subtle color palettes. In this way, Bove carefully deploys strategies of exhibition and display to generate meaning, in addition to her use of materials, form, and process. Where sculptures are placed in relation to one another, whether or not they stand on a plinth or pedestal, and how they interact with the walls, ground, and ceiling or sky complicate and enhance the experience and meaning of her individual objects.
In November 2017, The Contemporary Austin presents an outdoor exhibition of new and recent large-scale sculptures by Bove in the meadow of Laguna Gloria. For the museum’s first monographic exhibition of a single artist at the sculpture park, and the artist’s first exhibition in Austin in a decade, Bove interprets a classical sculpture garden, reinventing it in a multitude of abstract forms in varying shapes, colors, and scales. From the Sun to Zurich, 2016, anchors the installation: it is among the largest examples from the series of spray-painted steel tube sculptures Bove refers to as “glyphs,” whose curving forms could alternately suggest a cosmological spiral, an ancient hieroglyphic language, or a wayward noodle. The exhibition also features a sculpture that resembles an upright minimalist grid, installed as if the last remaining freestanding wall of a home were precariously abandoned. Several newly commissioned works include collaged abstract steel forms in cyan, yellow, and orange, from Bove’s “pipe monster” series, as the artist has humorously referred to them.
These consist of crushed metal (sourced from new industrial steel tubing, the cutting-room floor parts of previous works, or found scrap metal) with surfaces that are either left as-is—in the case of the raw, rusted found pieces—or painted with light-absorbing, velvety car paint. Sited in the lower meadow of Laguna Gloria, the exhibition requires visitors to first approach the sculptures from a distance, generating a gradually decreasing perspective. The first vantage point captures fragments of the forms peeking through the treetops and gaps in the woods; as the viewer nears and the distance narrows, the objects’ size and formal qualities are revealed. This confusion and subversion of scale, as Bove has said, allows the viewer to see “the monumental in the miniature, or objects’ arbitrary relationship to scale.” The contemplative space of her installation reveals an equilibrium among elements and between the object and its surroundings—an etymological assemblage that allows for a poetic language of the parts within the whole to emerge.