Outside the Museum: Peter Coffin’s Sculpture Silhouettes

Peter Coffin recently plucked 13 of the most influential sculptures in Art History from their place in survey books and reduced them to silhouettes. The resulting works are currently on view in City Hall Park and will remain there through May of 2010. What might first appear to be a simple rehashing of other artist’s aesthetic pursuits is actually based largely on the function of memory instead of the individual works themselves.

Each of the steel silhouettes are between 8 and 10 feet tall, painted a flat black and are a mere 1 inch thick. In the lobby of City Hall, 3-dimensional maquettes of the original sculptures are displayed on a small pedestal and serve to index the larger simpler version just outside. Several of the works, including variations on Rodin’s The Thinker and Michelangelo’s David, are instantly and widely recognizable. The instant recognition speaks of Jungian ideas and evidences a collective aesthetic unconscious. This idea is  central to the artist’s choosing of specific works. The artist has also chosen some works that are not quite as iconic in hopes that the viewer may recognize that they are consistent in their mode of creation.

Although these sculptures are a-dimensional, their outlines suggest the space that the referenced sculptures occupy. The idea that the volume of these works is referenced instead of recreated forces the viewer to call upon their own memories to flesh out these outlines. In so doing the viewer reconciles past and present actions, memories are reworked in this new context. Much like memories, the large silhouettes drift in and out of view as one walks through the park.

Untitled (Sculpture Silhouettes) is free and open to the public, although reservations are required for tours inside City Hall and can be made by calling 311 or visiting http://www.nyc.gov. Photographs by the author.


Emilie Keldie

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