Framed Sculptures

The photographs in this series were taken between 2017 and 2019 during photowalks in Miami and New York City. None depict actual sculptures, of course — though in retrospect, reflecting on the process, it is possible to connect my impulse to take the photographs in the way that I did to my appreciation for the tradition of readymade sculptures and found art. Indeed, the idea of the readymade sculpture must have crept into mind when I was out and about, working my way through the urban landscape.

I think one of the most amusing pieces of readymade sculpture is Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain, the now iconic urinal he signed not with his own name, but with the pseudonym “R. Mutt.” I love the irreverent multilayered humor of the piece, the ironic title, and especially the consequences of the change in context–the urinal moved from a men’s lavatory to The Grand Central Palace in New York City, where, amidst much controversy, it was first shown. Duchamp was able to turn one of the lowliest of all objects into one of the most important sculptures of the 20th century.

Many artists, before Duchamp and after, have understood the importance of context. It could be argued that throughout time all artists have. But not all have deliberately made context a work of art’s primary subject or used it so cleverly. Like Duchamp, the Pop artist Andy Warhol comes to mind as one who did too. Especially when I consider his deadpan, screen-printed Brillo pad boxes, tongue-in-cheek sculptures that reference, copy, and comment on the ubiquity of mass-produced products and consumer culture. Warhol manipulated context to shape meaning, playfully raising the question, “What is art?”

Another one of my favorite artists, Joseph Cornell, took a different approach, and he assembled objects found in junk yards, thrift stores, and trash bins to create his enigmatic, surreal boxes which are part collage, part sculpture. I am particularly attracted to the ways in which he mixed media and crossed genres. Interestingly, to me as a photographer who must rely on a rectangular camera viewfinder, he used boxes to frame and organize his found objects. Photographers have a similar constraint, as the viewfinder forces us to make decisions about what can and cannot be included in a picture.

What these photographs all have in common is the extraction of an object from a decaying and dissembling urban environment. It might be an old radiator, a rusting car, or  a shattered piece of glass. These objects all had meaning and were integrated into someone’s life. They may be “readymades” in the Duchampian sense, but they are also shadows of relationships and actions that are now lost to the past.

I like to think of the photographs in the series as framed sculptures, for it is the camera’s rectangular viewfinder, and ultimately the edges of the photograph, that frame the subject matter and shapes the context. It’s the viewfinder that causes the objects depicted within to be seen differently than how they would otherwise be regarded in the real world. The series reminds me that the camera, which is uniquely able to capture a specific moment of time, can also be used, depending on the photographer’s selection of detail, to influence meaning and to create something new.

All photos © Scott Brennan

 

When I walked past the chest of drawers, which I regretted not buying the previous week, I was surprised to discover it in the same spot where I had first seen it, on the sidewalk in front of the second-hand furniture store.

 

I was driving down Ali Baba Way, the last dirt road in Miami, trying to find a shortcut from point A to point B (rushing to a birthday party I dreaded having to go to), when I came across this carcass of an automobile, if you could even call it that.

 

What a solemn night, because I had just learned an acquaintance of mine—I could never really call him a friend—had passed away.

 

During the hurricane, the police, responding to innumerable crises, working long hours and deprived of sleep, found themselves taxed to the limit. A perfect time, the thieves inferred, to back a truck into the warehouse wall, gain easy access, and loot the building of its television sets, cell phones, stereo equipment, and computers.

 

How many times had I passed the convenience store, which had gone out of business months ago? How many times had I been tempted to pick a stone up off the pavement, throw it at those fragile white tubes?

 

I waited outside the warehouse for Rachel’s band practice to end. February in New York, bitter cold. The things you do for a friend. I looked at my cell phone for a text message, impatient and annoyed, as she was to have finished an hour ago. And then—what an idiot—I realized I was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

The concrete statue of the giant, at last complete, strapped horizontally to the bed of the truck, was ready to be transported to his final destination.

 

I had stopped by the warehouse yet again, frustrated by the manner in which the negotiations had been proceeding. This time the man I had been dealing with—he always wore a tight, black t-shirt, blew smoke from his vape pen in my face—which I hated—dropped his cordial affect and became angry, his gruff voice agitating his German shepherd, which he kept in the room. Pacing back and forth, anxious and confused by its master’s demeanor, the dog’s hind legs became tangled in the wire of the lamp, causing it to crash to the floor.

 

Somebody must have told somebody who must have told somebody else a safe still remained in the otherwise vacant warehouse. So heavy, missing a wheel, the thieves gave up on their get-rich-quick scheme, abandoning the safe in the parking lot, where it remains to this day.

 

Rachel and I had just finished the photoshoot in Wynwood—she had hoped to use some of the pictures to promote her band’s new EP—but not one single shot pleased her. Walking back to my car, disappointed with my work, disappointed she didn’t want to hang out afterward and have a drink, I paused before the warehouse wall as the sun began to set over the city.

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