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Don’t lose your head

Sculpture amazes me, and I have stood for long periods of time in awe of the detail – in different styles – that sculptors such as Rodin, Louise Bourgeois (the sight of her Maman standing aloft in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall still haunts me!), Michelangelo and Alberto Giacometti manage to infuse into their pieces. I also love more abstract sculpture by artists like Richard Serra and Henry Moore, which are often particularly striking through sheer size, shape and vision, rather than minute, life-like detail. Surely though, the human body must remain as one of the most challenging subjects for a sculptor. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why the two pieces of sculpture below caught my eye during our travels over the last few months, and have lingered in my mind. As you can see, both are of human heads but they are separated by centuries and vastly different stylistic techniques. Yet looking at the photos I took of them, I find them both captivating and convincing pieces of artwork, and seeing them here next to each other, I like the contrast too.

This sculpture pictured above was sitting in the deserted basement-level Oceania and Asian sculpture section of the Musee du Louvre in Paris, but my eye was drawn to it right away. It dates from around the 15th century and is a Toba-Batak sculpture from the Northern region of Sumatra in Indonesia, on loan from Musee du Quai Branly . My photo shows only the head of the sculpture, because I especially like its angular lines and the abstract features. When viewing this piece in the Museum, I thought it was sculpted from stone. But when I came home and translated the description which was alongside the sculpture in the Museum, I learned that I was wrong; this sculpture is in fact wood, “covered with a patina of soot”. This intriguing piece of information makes me like the sculpture even more.

Now to the second impressive sculpture find, which makes me think “don’t lose your head!” This piece was part of an exhibition which on the whole I found rather confronting at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, called Passions – Five centuries of art and the emotions. The sculpture, entitled Conscience, Executed (2004) is by a Swedish artist named Olof Lundström. I can’t tell you much at all about Olof Lundström as he is rather elusive online, and there also seem to be quite a few Swedish people by the same name but none who appear to be sculptors… That will teach me for not enquiring at the museum about an artist I particularly like (I guess in this internet-age I just assumed that an artist exhibiting in a national gallery would be straightforward to track down!). Nevertheless, although I am left wanting to know more, Mr. Lundström’s work drew me in, with its incredibly life-like depiction of a human head and face being clutched in a pair of floating hands. I think this is quite a masterful sculpture, and standing in front of this piece I felt disturbed and unsettled by the depth of agony and angst that is portrayed here.

In two very different museums in two European cities this summer, these sculptures moved me, and I found a renewed respect for the art of the sculptor, both ancient and present-day.


First photo by CIA in the Musee du Louvre, Paris, June 2012; second photo  by CIA in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, July 2012.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you for posting photographs, and your thoughts, of these two sculptures. The exploration of the human form, and the manifestation of our emotions, is, I think, the most compelling of art forms and I’m so glad to have seen these two works which I would otherwise not have … I’m amazed, and attracted by the modernity of the Toba-Batak piece – and like you, love its’ sooty patina!

    August 7, 2012
  2. Nienke Verhoeks #

    Take me on one of your Museum wanders!!
    I love it, but don’t take the time to do it!


    August 15, 2012

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