In the case of Perfect Forms, the original surface of Boccioni’s work has been smoothed, its angles sharpened, nicks and scratches have been repaired and the mirrored finish has been added so that the work, quite literally, reflects the world around it. The aerodynamic, fluid form of the original sculpture was intended to convey the speed and dynamism of the emergent machine age, and this spectre of modernity is thus perhaps uniquely suited to re-interpretation within the context of 21st century technologies.
The notion of revisiting an historical work for a contemporary audience is of course not a recent one. There exist countless later versions of classical, renaissance and baroque works, whose alterations and adaptations over the centuries might provide a prototype here. Ball’s ongoing Masterpieces series, begun in 2008, of which Perfect Forms is a part, takes as its unifying theme the difficult task of making new sculptures that are ‘more perfect’ than their purportedly ‘perfect’ historical prototypes. These productions are thus at once skeptical and optimistic, challenging the sacrosanct nature of their historic forbears, and simultaneously laying a clear path for contemporary and future artists: within this context, new works based upon older ones are not so much copies as upgrades.
These productions are thus at once skeptical and optimistic, challenging the sacrosanct nature of their historic forbears, and simultaneously laying a clear path for contemporary and future artists: within this context, new works based upon older ones are not so much copies as upgrades.
Purity (2008-2011) was inspired by Antonio Corradini’s 18th century bust of the same name, popularly known as the Veiled Woman. This sculpture has, since its creation, been subject to countless re-imaginings, and Ball’s work thus forms the current telos in the work’s long history of reinvention. In the 19th century, the sculptor Raffaele Monti produced a highly successful, if rather less mystical variation on the work, adding a wreath of flowers around the head and subtly altering and softening the facial features in accordance with a mid-19th century taste for prettiness. Shortly thereafter, the Copeland pottery mass-produced a Parian copy of Monti’s sculpture, (now titled The Bride, in keeping with Victorian sentiment), which soon came to adorn countless middle-class mantelpieces.
Ball exhibits a very different set of motivations in his alterations to Corradini’s original form 150 years later. In his multiple versions of Purity, the most immediately apparent shift is in the material itself, where traditional white Carrara marble has been replaced by a variety of coloured stones, each with a differing level of opacity. These range from a delicate rose-tinted Iranian onyx, with all the luminous fragility of a sea-shell, to a rich and oily Belgian black marble. Each sculpture is created in-the-round, with even its underside meticulously polished, thereby eliminating the unfinished sections common to Corradini’s original and the aforementioned later copies, and making possible new modes of display. In his description of the work, Ball refers to “correcting” the damages that have occurred over time—filling in chips, scratches and scuffs. The veil has been extended and its lace border removed to enhance the liquidity of the form, and in another particularly sensuous detail, Ball has polished the small section of exposed skin to contrast with the matte surface of the veil.
One might question whether Ball’s alterations hold particular cultural or political significance for his own period, or whether the overarching ideal of aesthetic perfection transcends notions of historical specificity. Ball has spoken about his elimination of religious imagery from Purity—as such the sculpture is both secularised and made universal, better available for subjective interpretation. More playfully, he also points out that he has subtly enlarged the figure’s breasts, amplifying what he describes as the “veiled yet overt sensuality” already present in Corradini’s work. Common to all of Ball’s alterations is an aura of sensitivity to the apparent intentions of the prototype’s creator. Ball explains that in the case of another work from this series, The Sleeping Hermaphrodite, the entire lower portion of the face in the classical sculpture is unfinished, and he has thus stepped in where the original sculptor (perhaps for lack of time or funds) was unable to perfect his own project.