With these marbles Quinn has taken an inert material, laden with tradition and used it to represent vibrantly living real people. They appear to be fragments, but are in fact portraits of whole people.
By bringing these sculptures into a context conditioned by our knowledge of what art should look like they gain a whole other dimension of meaning.
The starting point for the marble series came from observing people’s reaction to the classical and neo-classical statuary on display in the British Museum, which, of course, already exists in a condition of mutilation. Quinn began to think that if someone from real life came in who had a similar form, the reaction would be completely the opposite. In this instance, avoidance would replace aesthetic scrutiny. That conceptually became the starting point for the sculpture.
Interestingly all of these works were carved in the same town that a lot of the Renaissance and neo-classical statuary came from. There is a direct physical link between the neo-classical perfection of Canova and these marbles. Except, by using “imperfect” bodies, Quinn is bringing into question the very notion of perfection central to the neo-classical project. It’s true also that they express the idea of an idea which itself never really existed, since classical statuary was, after all both complete and painted.
Formally these sculptures oscillate between two views, are they whole or are they fragmented? However, emotionally, Quinn says that for him they are very definitely celebrations of wholeness, not evocative fragment. The works are first and foremost portraits of specific people but Quinn thinks that any good work of art works on many levels and reflects what any given person brings to it, so these sculptures will act as metaphors.
Lots of Quinn’s works question the Freudian dictum that biology is destiny. ‘The Complete Marbles’ are really about how biology isn’t destiny. All these people have overcome the biological roadblocks in their lives. Marble is the classical material for heroes of ancient times and these people are modern day heroes because they have dealt with their bodies and inner worlds. Their free will has conquered biological destiny and so they become celebratory.
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