Art Term

Metal

Metal is a solid, hard, opaque material that has been used by sculptors since ancient times

Sir Hamo Thornycroft, ‘Teucer’ 1881
Sir Hamo Thornycroft
Teucer 1881
Tate
Carl Andre, ‘Venus Forge’ 1980
Carl Andre
Venus Forge 1980
Tate
© Carl Andre/VAGA, New York and DACS, London 2017
David Annesley, ‘Swing Low’ 1964
David Annesley
Swing Low 1964
Tate
© David Annesley

There are two families of metals: ferrous and non ferrous. All ferrous metals contain iron. Non ferrous metals include aluminium, zinc and copper and its alloys, for example bronze. Metals can be hammered without breaking or cracking them in order to shape them, they can also be melted and used in moulds or made into wire and modelled – this makes them ideal media for sculptors to work with.

The use of bronze for making cast sculpture is very ancient, and bronze is perhaps the metal most traditionally thought of as a sculptural medium. From the early twentieth century, however, artists such as Pablo Picasso and the Russian constructivists began to explore the use of other metals, and Julio González introduced welded metal sculpture. The use of a range of metals and of industrial making techniques became widespread in minimal art and new generation sculpture for example.