best work has a certain purity of line, a serenity, that is not
the simplicity of minimalism, but is instead thought concentrated
and reduced to abstraction. As if he gathered the very essence of
something and then removed everything else but the thin line that
expressed this essence. And always, in creation of line and form,
a heightened consciousness of beauty.
There is the recurring
serene ovoid shape that one sees in works such as Mademoiselle
Pogany (1913) and Sleeping Muse (1910). The face curving gently to
the triangle of chin is a shape that has something archetypal in
its classical beauty, seen even in the ancient heads of the royal
women of Amarna. Brancusi borrowed not only from African art but
also from Romanian masks and the work of his friend Amedeo
Modigliani. In both these sculptures the egg shape is a move
towards a purer line, an impulse to reduce to the heart of things.
There are four known variations on the Sleeping Muse theme -
Brancusi left behind a very small number of sculptures and he kept
refining certain forms, certain images, certain themes.
moved as a young man to Paris from Romania to study and even
worked briefly in the studio of Rodin. Like Picasso in the realm
of painting, he was instrumental in the move in sculpture towards
a more abstract vocabulary and away from the representational
tradition that had held sway. Paul Gauguin, influenced by Tahitian
art, began to use direct carving, and it is thought that this
inspired Brancusi in his own studies of tribal art. Brancusi's
Adam and Eve (1916), made of chestnut and oak, has carved and
serrated wooden forms that recall African sculpture and Native
American totem poles.
The bird was another archetypal image that
he kept returning to and refining. Bird in Space and Golden Bird
are two series where he played with the idea of flight, of
streamlined form. The attempt here was to capture the very
essence of flight with the solidity of brass or marble. A
seemingly impossible task but then the answer to Brancusi was
reductionism. Ab ovo!
Brancusi 1876-1957, Bach, Rowell, & Temkin