You may have seen one of the greatest works of sculpture of the 20th century in the film ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ or may have read about the law-suit brought against the studio for using ‘Ex Nihilo’ without permission. If you’re a veteran in the U.S. then you will be familiar with this other public work (right). Even if you don’t know who created it. It most certainly wasn’t made by having models stand absolutely still while plaster set about them to make a cast as the dubiously unskilled
poseur ‘sculptor’ Maya Lin reportedly thought at the time the statue was unveiled.
I first discovered the work of Frederick Hart in conversation with a museum guard at Aberdeen’s art gallery while still at university. While studying philosophy, I’d gotten interested in semiology and had somehow got it into my head that by watching how people respond to works of art, I might gain more understanding about how they were experiencing and understanding those things that they saw.
I clearly looked ‘shifty’ so had to explain what I was doing to a museum guard. He scoffed. This isn’t art, he said. He then told me that I’d made a clear mistake, confusing what was simply referred to as art with what was actually art. Don’t overlook public works, he said. There’s a reason that some things are left standing for so many years while a lot of this, he gestured about him, is often on loan or sitting in storage.
It took me a long while to get what this guard was talking about but there’s a reason so many people visit The National Cathedral in Washington and it’s not all about religion.
The obituary by author Tom Wolfe not only gives a brief summation of Frederick Hart’s life but, as originally published in The New York Times, states in black-and-white why you may never have heard of one America’s greatest artists. Contemporary art and more specifically, the journalists we trust to spread the word about what is great art, simply don’t report on those works which are not publicly rejected and therefore considered ground-breaking. Blank slabs of stone are called masonry, Ms Lin. Contorted pieces of steel can be recycled. To pull something that touches the heart as it attempts to speak to our minds out of an inorganic substance takes skill. In short, the reason you may not have heard of Frederick Hart is jealousy, or as Tom Stoppard put it in his play ‘Artist Descending a Staircase’, ”Imagination without skill gives us contemporary art.”
The artist’s official website is here.