||According to the Brittanica,
The ARMORY SHOW, formally International Exhibition Of Modern Art, an exhibition of painting and sculpture held from Feb. 17 to March 15, 1913, at the Sixty-ninth Regiment Armory in New York City. The show, a decisive event in the development of American art, was originally conceived by its organizers, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, as a selection of representational works exclusively by American artists, members both of the National Academy of Design and of the more progressive Ashcan School and The Eight. The election of Arthur B. Davies as president of the association changed this conception. A member of The Eight, Davies produced pleasant, Romantic paintings that enjoyed the respect of almost all of the American art establishment. He was also a man with a broad, highly developed taste, capable of appreciating trends in art far more radical than his own style, and he was aware of developments in Europe. Davies, with the help of Walt Kuhn and Walter Pach, spent a year, much of it in Europe, assembling a collection that was later called a "harbinger of universal anarchy." The exhibition traveled to New York City, Chicago, and Boston and was seen by approximately 300,000 Americans. Of the 1,600 works included in the show, about one-third were European, and attention became focused on them. The selection was almost a history of European Modernism. Beginning with J.-A.-D. Ingres and Eugène Delacroix, the exhibition displayed works by Impressionists, Symbolists, Postimpressionists, Fauves, and Cubists. Although the sculpture section was weak and the Expressionists were poorly represented, the show exposed the American public for the first time to advanced European art. American art suffered by contrast.
Brancusi, Bird in Space, 1919
|Excerpts from, FUNK AND CHIC by Robert Hughes
Time, 12/18/95, Vol. 146 Issue 25, p77, 2p
BRANCUSI, Constantin -- Exhibitions; SCULPTURE
THIRTY YEARS BEFORE his death in 1957, there had ceased to be any doubt of Constantin Brancusi's status as a modernist master. He devoted a long life to distilling extremes of formal perfection from a narrow range of motifs. This perfection is never frozen: it always contains some organic character, an affinity to life and therefore to change. "I never seek what to make a pure or abstract form," Brancusi said. "Timelessness,'' "wholeness,'' "essence,'' "aliveness": such words inescapably recur in what has been written about him over the past 70 or 80 years. They are well-worn tokens, rubbed smooth by use, but you can't visit the Brancusi retrospective that is now in its last weeks at the Philadelphia Museum of Art without feeling how his work revives them.
Brancusi was born in 1876, in a small village in Romania. He completed a long and thorough training in sculpture in Bucharest before reaching Paris, almost penniless, in 1904. He even worked briefly as a studio menial for Auguste Rodin before quitting in the realization that, as he later put it, nothing grows under great trees. Throughout his life, legends stuck to Brancusi like burrs; he was apt to be seen as a peasant sage, a Carpathian exotic (to most Parisians, Romania barely qualified as part of Europe). And he seemed even more of an original to American collectors, who, fervently egged on by Marcel Duchamp, were his chief support.
But, in fact, he was an artist of immense sophistication, the friend of Duchamp, Erik Satie, James Joyce and Ezra Pound. His work, with its flowing contours and obsessively refined surfaces, was one of the main sources for Art Deco style. Imagine the top of the Chrysler Building carved from oak, and you have something very like his sculptural bases. As Rowell points out in the catalog, guests in his Paris studio would be regaled with homemade sheep's milk cheese and a glass of iced champagne--funk and chic together, essential Brancusi. He loved contrasting the rough with the smooth, the hyper-refined freehand curve with the lump and the block. And when those sleek organic forms, half-volatilized in light, rise up from their wooden pedestals, you think of the resurrection of glorified bodies.
The Endless Column was created by Constantin Brancusi, the internationally acclaimed Romanian sculptor, and erected by the engineer Stefan Georgescu-Gorjan in 1937-1938. It was conceived as a tribute to young Romanians who died during World War I. The Column was seen both as a symbolic means of ascension to heaven for the soldiers’ souls and as Brancusi himself stated, a way to “sustain the vault of heaven”. It differs from classical columns comprising bases and capitals in that it consists of endlessly repeated identical modules (truncated pyramids joined by their bases), which give the impression of ‘endlessness’.
With its tubular metal spine, the Endless Column supports seventeen cast iron modules. Of these, two are half-modules and are placed on the top and bottom welded respectively to the whole structure itself and it’s below ground foundations. The height of the Column is almost 30 metres. The impression of continuity is ensured by the perfect superposition of the modules.
|On the one hand, he could come up with images like his versions of
the Bird in Space, those pure blades of stone or polished bronze that,
soaring upward from their delicately flared connections to the base, are
among the greatest images of transcendence in modern art--and that, even
today, make the Concorde look like a Sopwith Camel. But he could also be
as funny as Joan Miro, carving big wooden teacups, portraying the formidable
matron Agnes Meyer as a black-marble visitor from Easter Island, and translating
Nancy Cunard's chinless profile into a swell of bronze topped with a fat
worm of a chignon, sitting on a carved-oak base, whose stacked lobes probably
refer to the African bangles with which this socialite encumbered her anorexic
It was one thing to be a peasant and quite another to draw on sources in folk culture, and Brancusi's "primitive" interests matched those of other Europeans, starting with Gauguin. Brancusi's own Tahiti was his childhood and youth. He remembered peasant Romania very well. Its big-boned craft shapes--lintels, shallow wooden arches, the massive oak screw threads of rustic presses for oil and wine--are preserved in his carvings, where they mingle with disguised quotations from African sculpture. The folk-legend of Maiastra, a miraculous bird with shining golden feathers that guided a prince to his imprisoned lover, helped to inspire his prolific series of bird sculptures. His Endless Columns, those stacks of notched hourglass units that could be piled up to tree-height or to heaven (late in his life, Brancusi had fantasies of building one more than 1,000 ft. high), derived from grave markers in village cemeteries.
But this folk source doesn't explain Brancusi's spiritual aims in making
them: he seems to have thought of the endless column as a link between
man and God. Nor does the source account for the columns' strictly modernist
power. Brancusi's decision to make a modular sculpture out of identical
rhomboids, without a fixed end, opens on a world of sculptural possibility
that hadn't existed before and was later to be colonized by American Minimalism.
The list of sculptors whose work carries traces of Brancusi's dna is almost
as long as those columns: Isamu Noguchi, Donald Judd, Carl Andre, William
Tucker, Claes Oldenburg, Christopher Willmarth and so on to Scott Burton,
who made sculpture as furniture and thought Brancusi's bases were as self-sufficient
as his carvings. It seems strange, though, that Minimalists should have
picked up on Brancusi's processes, such as the stacking of units, without
paying the least attention to his spiritual ambitions. Whatever else Minimalism
was about, it wasn't the aliveness and metamorphic intensity of Brancusi.
Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss
23 x 13 1/4 x 10 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art:
The Louise and Walter
Arensberg Collection, 1950
© 2002 Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York
|On occasions, Brancusi was a brilliant manipulator of peasant "artlessness"--a
fiction but a powerful one. For example, The Kiss, 1916, is an archetype
of erotic modern sculpture. The two figures, minimally distinguished within
the single block by the slight softness of the woman's breast and belly
and the length of her hair, are united in substance: one flesh, or at least
one stone. Their joined profiles make an ogival arch, with one split eye.
The hair frames this like water running down a roof. It is an incredibly
compressed image, just this side of absurdity.
Brancusi was after a healing wholeness. He didn't care about "truth to material," but he did strive to make the action of the hand and the movement of thought one. He believed that every aspect of sculpture--whether rough, like his urgently hewn oak and walnut carvings, or exquisitely nuanced, like his marble head or bird forms, polished to the point where light and substantial weight become mysteriously the same--needed to be manual before it could be whole.
He loathed the fragmentation of Picasso's work and had no taste for the open, pieced-together asymmetry of Constructivism. Form for him is always closed and unitary, though different forms could be added to one another to make a whole, as in the interplay between sculpture and base. And he especially loved form that spoke of life or awareness at their origins: primal, self-enclosed, a marble egg floating in its own space like a cell, an egg like head lying on its side, filled with what the poet Octavio Paz called "the dreams of undreaming stone."
Constantin Brancusi. Mademoiselle Pogany. 1912
|Form: Carved marble, abstraction of a head, in a basic form
Iconography: "Brancusi’s marble Muse is a subtle monument to the aesthetic
act and to the myth that woman is its inspiration. The finely chiseled
and smoothly honed head is poised atop a sinuous neck, the curve of which
is counterbalanced by a fragmentary arm pressed against the ear. The facial
features, although barely articulated, embody the proportions of classical
beauty. As in the sculptor’s Mlle Pogany, also of 1912, the subject’s hair
is coifed in a bun at the base of the neck. But while Mlle Pogany is the
image of a particular woman, The Muse is the embodiment of an ideal." (www.guggenheimcollection.org)
Context: Brancusi would make three versions of Mademoiselle Pogany throughout
his lifetime. "Madmoiselle Pogany II" is part of his most important sculptural
series, a sequence of three portraits of a young Parisian dancer originally
produced in 1912, 1919 and 1931."
Constantin Brancusi, Head of a Boy 1905 bronze
Constantin Brancusi, Sleep. 1908 marble
Constantin Brancusi, Sleeping Muse. 1909-10
|Form: Bronze and marble busts. its sort of a time line to how he reached
his minimalist approach. first its extremely realistic, second the head's
still realistic, but now he's paying homage to the material he made it
out of like Rodin. then he goes even simpler partially abstract, with just
a head lying on its side no neck or base to support it, the last even though
it has no realistic features, you get the distinct impression that a baby
Iconography: These heads, when viewed together, show eloquently how
Brancusi developed. First, as an apprentice to Rodin, and then on to what
he wished to do for himself and express to the world. "When Constantin
Brancusi moved to Paris from his native Romania in 1904, he was introduced
to Auguste Rodin, the French master sculptor who was then at the height
of his career. He invited Brancusi to join his atelier as an apprentice,
but the younger artist—with the confidence, stubbornness, and independence
of youth—declined, claiming that “nothing grows in the shade of a tall
tree.” Brancusi rejected Rodin’s 19th-century emphasis on theatricality
and accumulation of detail in favor of radical simplification and abbreviation;
he suppressed all decoration and explicit narrative referents in an effort
to create pure and resonant forms. His goal was to capture the essence
of his subjects—which included birds in flight, fish, penguins, and a kissing
couple—and render them visible with minimal formal means. Brancusi often
depicted the human head, another favorite subject, as a unitary ovoid shape
separate from the body. When placed on its side, it evokes images of repose.
Some of Brancusi’s streamlined oval heads, whose forms recall Indian fertility
sculptures in their fusion of egg like and phallic shapes, suggest the
miracle of creation."
Context: It is easy for a viewer who is disinclined towards abstraction or 'modern' art to claim that the artist creates his abstractions in that manner because they simply do not know of any other way. In short, that they are untalented. However, by looking at the earliest works of Brancusi, much like looking at an early Picasso, it becomes clear that the opposite is true. The artist may be too talented, and disillusioned with the ideals that all fine art must inspire awe with its' obvious painstaking creation. Instead, Brancusi chose to simplify, and create a beauty which is no less awe-inspiring than that of The Pieta.
||Form: Carved marble, metal and stone
Iconography: Brancusi may have been trying to answer the age old riddle, "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Here, we see that he thought it was the egg. And, who knows...maybe he was right. It is also known as 'Sculptur for the Blind'. Not as a joke, but to make people understand that sculpture is a three dimensional, tactile experience. Unlike a painting, which is, essentially, a lie because it is pigment on canvas meant to fool the viewer into believing things that aren't there, a sculpture exists in our reality. We are discouraged from touching a painting, while a sculpture may be felt, sat on, climbed over or caressed. In this sculpture the base is as much a part of the work as the supposed "main focus" sitting on top.
Context: As one of Brancusi's later works, we can see how far he has taken abstraction and simplification. This may not even be meant to represent an egg, it may be little more than a smoothed out ovoid reminiscent of his 'head' sculptures. It may be 'The Newborn' simplified down as far as it can get.
Brancusi. Torso of a Young Man. 1917
|Form: polished bronze on stone
Iconography: "The Torso is not anatomy, it recalls none of that glorious
straining of muscles and sinews, present in Greek or Renaissance marble
sculptures. Nor is it a mere reduction to a metaphor ; it celebrates the
beauty of the material itself, but a humanized material." http://www.dntis.ro/romania/mr/romanian_images/sculptors/brancusi/
Context: Note how perfectly polished and symmetrical this bronze piece is, it is meant to invite the viewer to run their hands over it as a tactile experience, much like 'Beginning of the World'.