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Charles Ray American

Not on view

These intimately scaled sculptures are closely linked in concept and material. A study for Chicken later finished as a complete work, Handheld bird is made from durable steel contoured into a solid fetal form. In Hand holding egg, which originated as a fragment of an unrealized sculpture, delicate porcelain describes a cracked and empty shell resting on a child’s palm. The media combine in Chicken to create a porcelain hatchling encased in steel.

Both their size and their potential for tactile engagement connect these pieces to a long history of sculptures that are meant to be turned in a viewer’s hand, from Renaissance bronzes to Japanese netsuke. Each is premised on the spatial effects of various points of contact. Space is separated, directed, or linked, be it through the hollow of Hand holding egg or through the circular aperture in Chicken. The latter is unnaturally round, signaling that subject matter and verisimilitude are of less importance than the structure and the dynamics of the space it creates. Chicken may initially invite visual engagement, but it also relies on extra-optical readings of the parts that remain hidden. This reliance on touch is even greater for Handheld bird, which, though it must remain inside a vitrine for conservation reasons, is intended to be grasped, activating a subtle interplay between visual and tactile cues.

Chicken, Charles Ray (American, born Chicago, Illinois, 1953), Painted stainless steel and porcelain

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photograph by Josh White