Art busts are booming. More people buy them

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Meet Glenda. She has streaks of gold in her white hair, drooping eyes of melatonin, and a tragic lack of a chest.

A nickname coined at the Philadelphia Bureau of Anthropology, Glenda is a bust planter officially known as the Grecian Bust Pot, with a gaping crevice where her cement brain would have been. When the lifestyle chain introduced the piece in 2018, it quickly sold out. Now available in two sizes (small, for $24, and large, for $44), it’s a consistent bestseller in Anthropologie’s “gift” category, said Mary Beth Sheridan, lead merchant at home. the company.

I first spotted Glenda in a TikTok video of Brigette Muller’s apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where the bust sat on a coat. Ms Muller, 34, a freelance content creator, describes her decorating style as “feminine and beautiful”, “chic and elevated”. She bought Glenda in 2019 to make her space “feel more elevated and mature,” she said.

“All of a sudden, I got really interested in statues and columns,” Ms Muller added. “That kind of Greek chic feeling.”

This interest is not unique to her: On Etsy, there was a 9% increase in searches for busts or statues made of concrete, cement, ceramic, clay or marble in 2021 compared to 2020, said Dayna Isom Johnson, social trends expert.

The online marketplace currently has some 158,000 bust listings, including a 3D-printed bust of Greek poet Sappho (from $13), a golden bust of Donald Trump ($125), too-beautiful wax candle busts to be burned and a bust of Jeff Bezos. ($59) that doubles as a stand for headphones (interestingly, it’s not for sale on Amazon).

On Chairish, an online secondhand marketplace for furniture and decor, the number of busts for sale increased 150% from December 2020 to December 2021, said Noel Fahden, its vice president of merchandising. Among them: A cast stone bust of Hermes for $3,400, which includes a plinth.

Historically, the term “bust” refers to both a sculpted torso (hence “bust”, as in cleavage) and head sculptures. The latter, also known as portrait busts, were made as realistic memorials for dearly departed ones, usually carved in marble and belonging to nobility.

As the art form popularized again during the Renaissance in Europe, royalty had busts made “as a sort of propaganda”, said Emerson Bowyer, Searle curator of painting and sculpture at the Art Institute. of Chicago. “A bust of Napoleon in your home somehow connects you to Napoleon,” said Mr. Bowyer, who owns a bust of Napoleon. “And so I think there’s this sense of creating imaginary genealogies.”

Throughout the Renaissance and into the 19th century, busts mainly appeared in town centers and in the homes of those who could afford to make hand-carved marble. Today, mass manufacturing, 3D printing, cheaper materials, and a strong online network of second-hand retailers have democratized this art form. Busts are no longer just sacred relics, but trinkets available to anyone with a bare shelf.

On Amazon, a popular portrait bust is a $22 resin replica of Michelangelo’s David. Away from home plate, Mr Bowyer says it is “still imbued in some way with the aura of the original object”.

David Land, 48, a photographer-director, has at least eight busts at his home in Brooklyn, where he lives with his husband, Rumaan Alam, 44, a writer and author, and their two sons. Their collection runs the gamut, from playful (a spray-painted “David-ish” bust, as Mr. Land put it, to plaster of Paris by artist Kelly O’Neal that the couple bought the last year), historical (a papier-mâché bust of Haitian revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines), camp (David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, also in papier-mâché).

Their most prized bust, “St. Francis of Adelaide,” a small marble piece by Kehinde Wiley, depicts a black man wearing a tank top holding the globus cruciger, symbol of royalty, in a holy pose. He is sitting on Mr. Alam’s desk. “Our sons are African American,” Mr. Land said. “Having art in our homes that reflects who we are as a family is important to us.”

The “St. Francis of Adelaide” is one of many busts that reflect collectors’ desire to see themselves in this art form. After purchasing an ivory-colored Imani bust ($38) from the Purely Human Nature Etsy shop last year, Natalie Holbenn, 35, immediately purchased a second piece in “coffee,” the shade closest to her skin tone. his wife.

Ms Holbenn, who works on the Portland Japanese Garden‘s Member Services team, placed the pair of busts around a photo of the couple on a shelf at their home in Portland, Oregon. “I bought them because they’re not like the usual sculptures,” she said. “Most are thin and ‘perfect’. These busts were perfect for me and much more realistic.

Samira Sinare, the designer who runs Purely Human Nature, says she receives requests for custom busts depicting the bodies of breast cancer survivors and transgender people, which she accommodates when she can. (Ms. Sinare, who lives in New York, uses molds to make her concrete busts.)

Perhaps no contemporary designer has had as much fun with busts as potter Jonathan Adler, who has been carving them for decades in his New York studio. “Or don’t I have a bust? he said on the phone. “I’m looking at one as we talk!”

Specifically, it was his Atlas Split Bust Vase ($450), a multi-sided piece of white porcelain with gold accents, in which he had stuffed ostrich feathers. For his recent Grand Tour collection, Mr. Adler made a series of classically styled busts inspired by the winding European vacations the wealthy used to take in the 18th and 19th centuries, from which they often returned with a souvenir bust or two. .

Each of the three styles — God ($895), Goddess ($895), and Soldier ($495) — are cast with two pieces of acrylic sandwiched around an etching and designed to fit narrow mantels.

“I think there’s been a real trend in the decorating world to take things that are traditionally very serious and deface them a bit,” Adler said. In the case of Anthropologie’s Glenda or his bust vases, this means digging a small hole in the head; for his Grand Tour busts, this meant designing them to “hit all the right notes of scale, craftsmanship and a snap”.

Mr Adler said people have a “biological imperative” to gaze at the human face and believes sculpture allows for a more faithful approximation of that experience than any other art form.

Patrick Monahan, an art consultant in New York who has purchased a few busts for recent clients, suggested another reason for the renewed interest in them.

“After all this time inside, we just need to talk to someone new,” he said.


All Consuming is a column about the things we see – and want to buy right now.

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