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Steel Sculpture

Steel sculpture appeared in art during the twentieth century. In previous centuries precious metals were the most frequently used in sculpture but the industrial revolution and urbanisation led to a wider use of more commonplace metals, including steel. Before that, bronze, a very resistant material, had been the medium of choice for sculptors creating artworks that would be installed outdoors.

Unlike other metals, steel is easily malleable at a high temperature. Stainless steel has the advantage of being very resistant to rust and harsh weather conditions, making it an ideal choice for outdoor sculptures. Indeed, over the course of the twentieth century it was often used for this purpose. Steel sculptures were used, and continue to be used, to decorate and enhance public spaces in cities as well as gardens.

One of the artists most well-known for his use of steel is Richard Serra. The material occupied a core part of his minimalist practice. In his early work, he used sheets of steel as well as steel rolls which were carefully balanced on the ground. To prevent the material from degrading and changing over time in an uncontrolled way, he coated the pieces with a solution which made them appear rusted. Later on in his career, Serra focussed on site-specific, monumental sculptures. His works were influenced by the environment they were destined for and thus perfectly suited to it. The curves of the sculptures encourage viewers to walk around them while the their impressive size dwarfs the viewers and leads them to reflect on the perception they have of their bodies in relation to indoor and outdoor spaces.

Another artist famous for his gigantic steel sculptures is Bernar Venet. You can find his huge steel arches in cities all over the world and you'll also find some of his artworks on Artsper. Amongst the greatest sculptors working in steel, there is of course Alexander Calder, who succeeded in creating sculptures of surprising delicacy despite the hardness of the material. His colourful mobiles have become iconic artworks. How can such a dense material appear so light and frail? His sculptures are part of the kinetic art movement and the careful equilibrium that Calder achieved so deftly continues to fascinate viewers.

In a very different style, César also used steel, among other materials, to create works that are far less elegant. His “Compression" sculptures used lead, iron and steel to criticise our consumerist society.

Steel continues to be used by today's contemporary sculptors, mainly for monumental sculptures. Indeed, several contemporary artists have demonstrated a mastery of steel. Chief among them, is Jeff Koons and his famous "Balloon Dog" made of stainless steel with a coloured mirror finish surface. With steel, Jeff Koons turned the ephemeral balloon dog into an almost eternal work. Another well-known example is Chicago's "Cloud Gate" sculpture by Anish Kapoor.

On Artsper, discover modern sculptures and contemporary sculptures from the best art galleries. Explore Japanese artist Tsuyu's elegant and poetic steel sculptures, Nicolas Dubreuille's colourful and minimalist works and Paradox Creations's sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder's mobiles.

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