For American artist Barry X Ball, imitation is the highest form of innovation. The sculptor has dedicated the past two decades of his practice to recreating familiar forms in two series: the Masterpieces, replicas of famous artworks; and the Portraits, sculptures based off of plaster casts of Ball’s family, friends, and fellow art people. What separates these pieces from their inspiration is the meticulous processes through which they’re created, a combination of cutting-edge technology and centuries-old techniques. Ball plays by the rules of art history and sometimes rewrites them. This is the theme of the sculptor’s first major U.S. museum exhibition, Barry X Ball: Remaking Sculpture, on view at the Nasher Sculpture Center through April 19.
Ball uses 3D scanning technology, computer-aided modeling software, and CNC milling machines with time-consuming handiwork to shape materials that would otherwise be unyielding. His Sleeping Hermaphrodite, copied from the Louvre’s ancient Greek and Roman Sleeping Hermaphrodite (plus Bernini’s 17th century marble mattress), is forged in translucent pink Iranian onyx, a semi-precious stone rarely used in sculpture.
The process allows him to repair damages done by time, alter certain elements of the original work, and produce something which bears the mark of modern technology–the micro-fluted lines from the CNC machine are either accentuated or polished smooth by hand.
Between the use of unconventional materials and altering specific details, the artist presents old work in a contemporary light, opening long-held ideas to new interpretations. There are no chips or divots in the stone, no erosion from hundreds of years of being. They are new to the world once again.
The media alone–Belgian Black marble, onyx, Golden Honeycomb calcite–demand the viewer to pause and take a closer look. There’s something familiar to consider, but these are not like the objects you’ll see in the ancient Greek section of the DMA, or even Galleria Borghese in Rome. Replication usually cheapens an object, but when the copy is made from something more precious than the original, then things get interesting.