Contemporary Sculpture, How Sweet It Is

Paul Shore and Nicole Root, "New York Brownie Room (After Walter De Maria)," 2010. Brownie. Courtesy of the artists.

Has Walter de Maria’s New York Earth Room ever made you crave brownies? Have you ever noticed how much Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall looks like a meandering Payday candy bar? Probably not. But trust me, your take on contemporary sculpture is about to get a whole lot sweeter.

Three years ago, New York-based artist Paul Shore and art historian Nicole Root began collaborating on a series of contemporary candy sculptures that was sparked by a conversation about Richard Serra’s retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. “As I remember it,” said Root, “Paul and I were having a summer afternoon beer and I mentioned that I would like to make a Serra sculpture out of meat. There was something about the texture of his large ellipses that appealed to me. Paul said it would work better with a piece of taffy. Imagining a small-scale Serra you can stick in your mouth was just too funny—the opposite of his serious, large-scale, large-budget works.” Trips to Duane Reade, Economy Candy, and Dylan’s Candy Store quickly ensued and what started as a joke between the artists became a full-blown project of more than 70 miniature parodies.

"Necco Circle (After Richard Long)," 2010. Necco Wafers. Courtesy of the artists.

"L-Wafers (After Robert Morris)," 2010. Sugar Wafers and gum. Courtesy of the artists.

Shore and Root narrowed their focus to important Minimalist and Earthwork artists and sculptures that have been widely reproduced and exhibited. Shore laughs thinking back to how he hardly had room for a quart of milk after the project took off; the candy sculptures were stored in his fridge for “a long time.” Eventually, they crumbled and all that remains today are the exhibition photographs, a selection of which will be shown for the first time in Licked Sucked Stacked Stuck, opening at Brattelboro Museum & Art Center in Vermont next month.

In their first collaboration nine years ago, Shore and Root spent a day playing a game of art charade, using their bodies to enact Tony Smith sculptures. Smith’s work appears again in Licked Sucked Stacked Stuck, but this time in Hershey Bar. Other playful creations include an all-white Yayoi Kusama chair in Good & Plenty, two Joseph Beuys felt suits in pink and blue cotton candy, and a Richard Long slate circle made up of 100 pieces of broken Necco Wafers. Shore’s wooden kitchen table, where all of the works were built and shot, just happens to resemble a concrete gallery floor in photographs.

"Die (After Tony Smith)," 2010. Hershey bars. Courtesy of the artists.

As the Brattelboro exhibition title suggests, Shore and Root’s working process involved licking, sucking, stacking, and sticking. Sound like a dream come true? Not quite. Shore is sugar intolerant (sweets give him headaches), leaving Root responsible for most of the chewing which she didn’t always enjoy. “The funny thing about working with candy,” she says “is that once you have to chew or otherwise consume a lot of it in order to make a sculpture, you realize how disgusting it can be. It was not pleasant.”

"Chair (After Yayoi Kusama)," 2010. Good & Plenty, Graham crackers and gum. Courtesy of the artists.

"Pink in a Corner (After Dan Flavin)," 2010. Wax Stix. Courtesy of the artists.

The repetitious nature of candy worked especially well for replicating Minimalist works, since the originals were often made from stock forms and objects. Starbursts suited Donald Judd’s stacked boxes, Pez lent themselves to a Carl Andre floor sculpture, and a neon pink Wax Stix perched in a corner against white matte board is somehow lovelier than a real Dan Flavin fluorescent tube.

To preserve the integrity of their medium, Shore and Root used other sweets as adherents and support devices. For instance, their Kusama chair is built around Graham cracker armature; and the Fruit Roll-Ups used to mimic Christo & Jean-Claude’s Central Park Gates were stretched across Pocky Stick poles held upright by Rolos. In some cases, they had to use other forms of sugar to achieve the right texture and appearance. Constructing Claes Oldenburg’s Floor Cone and Floor Cake was a no-brainer—they purchased packaged cake, green-colored ice cream, and miniature cones. Kiki Smith’s Tale was a tad more complicated. The figure was sculpted from marzipan and the trail of excrement was made of what else but Tootsie Roll.

"Tale (After Kiki Smith)," 2010. Marzipan and Tootsie Roll. Courtesy of the artists.

"Double Figure (Pals) (After Mike Kelley)," 2010. Marshmallow Pals. Courtesy of the artists.

Smith is one of many Art21 artists you will find in Licked Sucked Stacked Stuck. Jeff Koons’s Blue Diamond appears as a Ring Pop of course and, adding another layer of childhood nostalgia to the exhibition, Mike Kelley’s stuffed-animals are represented by Marshmallow Pals. “We made sure to use the down-market marshmallow candies you can find at Duane Reade around Easter. It was important to match the somewhat sad aspect of those Marshmallow Pals with Kelley’s choice of used and abused specimens of homemade or down-market toys,” said Root. (She was working on a dissertation of Kelley’s writings around this time.) She adds, “They were also very fun to squish together.” Delicate and temperamental, candy presented the artists with some unforeseen challenges. But Shore, who works with beeswax and found objects in his own practice, quickly mastered the material. “At a certain point, it becomes just another medium,” he said. “You develop techniques and learn how to handle it.”

Shore and Root didn’t get around to using all of the candies they wanted to work with, such as your everyday M&Ms, but still covered a lot of confectionery, as well as historical ground. In one of the three videos that accompany the exhibition, Shore attempts to catch Hershey’s Kisses with his hand, a spoof on Richard Serra’s early work Hand Catching Lead. And in a gut-busting version of the Robert Smithson documentary Spiral Jetty, Root imitates Smithson’s dreary monologue as the camera follows the path of a Rock Candy, Heath Bar, Jell-o and powdered sugar spiral. Root says, “I think the art historically-minded audience will find the show funny…For those viewers less acquainted with recent art history, I hope our work will make these contemporary sculptors seem much more approachable.”

When I asked Shore if the project will continue or pick up again, he replied in all seriousness, “No, it’s consuming.”

Lick Sucked Stacked Stuck is on view at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center, November 6 – February 6, 2011.