Soft-pink alabaster, dark and hard ebony, clear glass, and heavy 19th-century cast iron: every material seems to submit willingly to the hands of the Amsterdam sculptor Hans Hovy. His unique style is not tied to any one single material. He cuts, files, casts and polishes until he has shaped the different materials entirely to his liking. Until he has achieved the right degree of gleam, transparency, weight or curvature that allows the tension and the interplay between attraction and repulsion and between innocence and taboo, themes that run throughout his work, to come perfectly into their own.
Hovy’s sculptures stand out in the first place because of their incredible force of attraction. Not only because of their soft, organic forms – which often seem more moulded than drilled and filed – but also because of the precise choices and skills underlying them, as a result of which they radiate a natural perfection. But once captivated by the inviting beauty of the sculptures, the viewer encounters a dilemma: the sculptures tempt us to touch them and pick them up, but that is exactly what is not allowed. At first, Hovy exploited this idea in sculptures that suggest a form of game. Tables made of ebony and maple wood, their colours alluding to a chessboard or a draughtboard. And cast-iron platters, as in Gietijzer Ordinair (1995–1996), in which plinth and sculpture merge, with a number of objects taking up position horizontally and vertically. In the form of skittles, cubes, doughnuts and sausages, they almost beg to be touched. Because you want to experience the way they lie in your hand. Because you want to feel their weight and their fit or because you want to disrupt their casual-looking yet exciting arrangement in order to investigate whether another constellation is possible. But intervention is out of the question. The viewer’s hands are tied.
In his sculptures of alabaster and soapstone, Hovy goes a step further, as these works evoke associations with physicality and eroticism. Take, for example, Inside Beauty (2010/2013), in which the ‘body’ is pierced by holes that are filled with gleaming, pink ‘sausage-like’ objects, as Hovy calls them. Other holes invite the viewer to look inside – as in a peepshow – where they can see more suggestive and beautiful figures. The transparent quality of the alabaster, which allows the velvety-soft light to shine through, increases the sensuality of the ‘show’. But no matter how attractive they are, looking at them also feels like peeping, like voyeurism, and the titles, serious as they are ironic, such as Little Secret and Pure Love, reinforce the thoughts of sex and lust. Yet these hints of sexuality do not constitute a statement for Hovy. He alludes more to the playful and the humorous, a bit tongue in cheek, celebrating the ambiguity. Because, as Hovy’s visual language is indeed suggestive but not explicit, you never know for certain what you are looking at. Something may be male or female, hard or soft, interior or exterior. The stage may be a playing field or a battlefield. Every meaning is fluid and Hovy does not provide any answers. Every association – and this is his sophisticated and simultaneously stimulating game – is in the eye of the beholder.
With such powers of seduction, Hovy playfully shows his strength as a sculptor again and again. His ironic approach to himself and to sculpture is evident in works such as King of Sculpture (2018), in which the title of the work, along with his own name, is written in carved and polished letters in a piece of alabaster on which he has almost teasingly balanced rough chunks of the same stone. There are references to classical and modern sculpture, to the beauty of the ruin, to the American presidents on Mount Rushmore and to the famous letters in Hollywood. But the work could also be symbolic of Hovy’s oeuvre and artistry. Of Hovy as the ‘King of Sculpture’, who, in his quest for pure beauty, steers your desire, who can make you believe in anything while he himself triumphs as an elusive magician.
text: Esther Darley
translation: Laura Watkinson
photo: Machiel Botman