The Sacrifice sculptures were born with Kadishman’s live sheep project at the 1978 Venice Biennale. Now, in1999, countless heads of youths are laid out before us.
Hundreds of thousands who fell in battle, millions who were massacred. Women and children in the midst of wars of nations that rise up against one another, always by command of governments whose power becomes godlike when they decide on the fate of the living. Since the earliest phases of his oeuvre, Kadishman has persistently exposed the injustice of any decision to rise up and murder the other: already in the sixties he created an expression for these pains in sharp, broken glass panels which wound the eye that looks on them, and are buried in acute-angled pits in graves or trenches of soldiers in the battlefield.
The anti-gravity sculptures of Kadishman’s more minimalist period in the mid-sixties may be seen today as questions about the security of life itself, life that hangs from a thread. The dream of progress, the hope of hovering, the belief in constructions, as a symbol of a future flowering — all these seem to stand on a razor’s edge. An analysis of this early work of Kadishman rests upon our acquaintance with his works of more recent years, and brings us to a reassessment of his entire artistic world-view which is inextricably bound up with his grave attitude to the fate of humanity in our times, to life between progress and disaster. This is an art that reaches aesthetic and stylistic heights, but is suffused with concern for the very existence of the individual and about the destructive orientations of civilization.
Kadishman’s astounding shift to the use of live sheep at the 1978 Venice Biennale surprised even his admirers who had been following his minimalist sculptural work that he had developed at the center of young minimalist sculpture in England in the early sixties.This shift emerged from a laboratory-like process in the domain of conceptual projects which also already contained hints of themes which became central in art only twenty years later: themes such as displacement, migration, which had already appeared as the themes of his work at the Haus Lange Museum in Krefeld in 1971-1972.
I would like to conduct the discussion of Kadishman’s oeuvre to an understanding of a continuum that cuts across various styles, a continuum of social, political and human involvement. related imageThe project with the live sheep (Venice, 1978) constituted a release of powerful energy which also burst beyond the limitations of defined styles and currents, beyond theoretical predictions, out of a freedom previously unknown in the domains of minimalism and conceptualism. The sheep project burst every dam of art currents in Kadishman’s oeuvre, towards the urgency of remonstration against the injustice, the wars, the sacrifice of sons and the suicide of society, which on the face of it had attained the summits of technological development; the living and breathing herd in Venice became an infinity of paintings in bold colors, and from here on the way was opened to the metal sculptures that cried out against the sacrificing of sons, to a continuum of sculptures with an expressiveness that was different from anything we had known before.
These were the Birth sculptures, each of them a formal invention that was amazing in its structural insight and its expression of the theme: the pain and suffering entailed in bearing sons who will be sent off to die in wars which are always superfluous. The pain and suffering of loss, which casts doubt on the continuity of the generations, have been poured into the innumerable heads that lie before us, cut from iron. Open-mouthed, they are an expression of the great anxiety about the loss of sons, and a sharp, direct outcry to stop the wars, the genocide, the injustice which constitute the voiding of human existence and culture. Kadishman creates like a prophet at the city gates, uncompromisingly, without insinuations, but with a power of statement which is most exceptional in the domain of contemporary art. An outflow of creation, by a man who has chosen life, an artist who has chosen the life of an urgent mission. In this urgency there are poetry and beauty which constitute a language. He works as he himself defines it: without alternative, without submitting to precedents and limitations. His art opens a new chapter in the presence and the position of art in the tangled texture of contemporary reality.