Innovation or copy? Barry X Ball on show at Tefaf 2019, Maastricht.

Each year Tefaf lures art visitors, vendors, buyers and art enthusiast into its halls in Maastricht. This year the Artist Barry X Ball (California, 1955) with his Masterpiece series, on view at Fergus McCaffrey, emerged as one of the most prominent figures. His artworks were under the most photographed, talked and posted about on social networks. Now one might ask why, but the answers seems to be a fairly simple one: aesthetics.

The sculptures on view were all carefully carved from shimmering stone and polished softly as to leave no harsh edges, imitating life to their fullest capacity. Most of the sculptures are recognisable famous artworks, such as Putitá by Antonio Carradini (1688-1752) or Sleeping Hermaphroditus, an ancient marble sculpture with a re-furbished mattress by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) added in 1620. The original sculptures on their own are already masterpieces in their own right and have been drawing attention since their creation. It is therefore easy to assume Barry X Ball to have simply crafted copies utilising new materials as to cater to the 21st century aesthetic appeal. But this would indicate a simple and irrational understatement. At first glance one can safely state him to have manipulated the hard surface in such a way as to create a replica. Examining the sculptures further, one will however come to realise their material and aesthetic potential; one which is far greater than being a simple replica or copy.

Purity, carved from a translucent white Iranian onyx and stainless steel, and Sleeping Hermaphrodite, carved from a translucent pink Iranian onyx, Greek Thasos marble and stainless steel, indicate a new dynamic within the artwork altogether. The abandonment of the traditional white Italian marble, enabled Barry X Ball to craft individual personas and not just sheer appropriations of the known. The intricate shimmering materials invite the viewer to engage and wonder at the lifeless stone, which simultaneously emerges as authentic and lively nonetheless. His aim resided in the perfection of the already perfected. He therefore altered each sculpture in ways which make the sculptures more human than alien. The folds, drapes and facial expressions are all more refined and softened, aiding the refinement and strive of perfection to the already perfect.

Barry X Ball: Purity, translucent white Iranian onyx, stainless steel, 175.3 x 41.9 x 30.5 cm, 2008-2018.

Barry X Ball’s sculptures, on view at this years Tefaf Maastricht exhibition, therefore represent an innovation of the known. Their character as copies of masterworks can easily be denied, when interacting with the sculptures and the artist intention for them. Their creation almost seems as a satirical comment on today’s society where perfection alone is not enough. The constant alteration and refinement of the human physique is a must in this more often than not superficial society. A society driven by social media and constant innovations aiming for a progression of the already perfected. In light of this Purity and Sleeping Hermaphrodite could emerge as a contemporary visual commentary and questioning of the necessity for the perfection of the already perfect.

Barry X Ball: Sleeping Hermaphrodite, Translucent pink Iranian onyx, Greek Thassos marble and stainless steel, 189.9 x 105.4 x 105.4 cm, 2008-2017.

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