Students and community members stopped by the Benton Wednesday afternoon to examine a small bronze man in one of the galleries. Well, not an actual man, but the figure of one- Leonard Baskin’s sculpture “Daedalus.”
During Critical Looking: A Gallery Dialogue, Curator Amanda Douberley facilitated a discussion on the statue’s appearance and the artist’s intentions in order to introduce students to new ways of thinking about a piece of art and the story behind it. The 30-minute session allowed attendees to focus their attention on a single piece in the Benton’s collection as well as encouraging them to interpret it on their own.
The subject of consideration, “Daedalus,” is no taller than four feet. It depicts a nude middle-aged adult male with a beard. He stands upright with his right arm at his side and left arm slightly in front of him. Both of his feet seem firmly planted on the statue’s base. The man’s face is slightly turned up, but his eyes appear closed.
When Douberley asked what was immediately noticeable about the statue, one attendee responded with “He’s naked.” Douberley noted that this was an important observation but one that was hard to fully explain. Others pointed out that the man was not a normal subject to be depicted in the nude. This Daedalus was older and, though not exactly portly, a little more stout than the typical young, muscular and idealized man usually portrayed in statues or paintings. Douberley pointed out that, had the man been clothed, his natural form would have been covered from view, taking away from some of what the artist was trying to depict. Similarly, another attendee mentioned that his lack of clothing portrays the man simply as a human, rather than as a part of a certain society or culture.
When questioning why Daedalus was portrayed the way he was, Douberley encouraged attendees to think about the time period in which the sculpture was created (1967) and the artist himself. Additionally, she claimed that the story of the mythical Daedalus (a craftsman who created the Minotaur’s Labyrinth on Crete and built wings of wax and feathers for himself and his son) might have inspired the piece. As an artist, Baskin might have felt connected to Daedalus, as a legendary artist.
“This is actually a sort of self-portrait of the artist,” Douberley said.
Another big idea Douberley touched on was the idea of the statue and sculpture in general as a monument. She had attendees consider the installation of this sculpture on a pedestal and how that might change how viewers looked at it. Furthermore, she questioned why Baskin created “Daedalus” as relatively short.
Attendees suggested that the short height might make the statue and the person it depicts less threatening. One attendee saw this choice as a “function of distance from [viewers],” a sort of way to demonstrate the depicted man’s detachment from contemporary audiences or from people in his own world.
By the end, many attendees found that the different features incorporated in “Daedalus” allow viewers to see a man of myth as a man of reality. Pondering Baskin’s intentions as well as Daedalus’ own story inspired attendees to form their own interpretation of the sculpture.
“It’s really sort of grounding us in humanism, in humanity,” Douberley said.
Overall, the discussion inspired attendees to learn more about art and trained them to deeply consider each individual piece. The guided reflection on this one piece provided an interesting and thought-provoking midday break.
Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.