Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space (1923-1940)

Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space (1923). Executed in marble seven times and cast in bronze nine times, 57 inches tall. Marble shown in the second picture currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Brancusi was a Romanian born artist who worked primarily in France during his lifetime. During his studies in Paris he was attracted to the realist styles but began working in more abstract manners to distance himself from the popular style of Auguste Rodin (see previous post on the Burghers of Calais, Friday, February 26, 2010). While studying in Paris he mingled with his peers and among them were Modigliani, Duchamp, Matisse and Leger.

"From the 1920s to the '40s, Brancusi was preoccupied by the theme of a bird in flight. He concentrated not on the physical attributes of the bird but on its movement. In Bird in Space, wings and feathers are eliminated, the swell of the body is elongated, and the head and beak are reduced to a slanted oval plane. Balanced on a slender conical footing, the figure's upward thrust is unfettered. Brancusi's inspired abstraction realizes his stated intent to capture "the essence of flight." - metmuseum.org from their page on the Bird in Space (the marble version shown above) in their collection.

The interest in birds for Brancusi was not new with this series. He had begun working on the ideas of birds and their movements with his Maiastra sculptures and then also worked through them from a new perspective in his Golden Bird series. With both the marble and bronze works executed, their polish and reflectivity is essential. Attempting to hide the materials in favor of the shape and curve of the sculpture, Brancusi wanted to show the idea of movement far more than any idea of a specific bird shape and so he uses these materials and their polished surfaces to make the sculpture move while light hits it from different angles as the viewer moves around it in a three dimensional space.

While Brancusi worked in Paris, he was surrounded by the sculpture of Rodin, and its representative qualities, but also by Matisse, and the artists who used abstraction to show how they wanted to express the feeling or idea more than a naturalistic representation. This idea is seen clearly in the Bird in Space sculptures, as Brancusi works to convey the freedom of wings and the speed of flight without the weight of a bird or the constraints of gravity that humans feel. However, it is not completely other-worldly. The top tip of the work is shaved an angle that makes a small indent. This small defect is a flaw that helps to humanize and ground the sculpture in real life. It takes the idea of flight, and its dream-like quality, and roots it in the here and now with a small but important defect that grounds the sculpture in the same way humans lack of wings ground them.

*Some information taken from the metmuseum.org website. A brilliant resource on all their works and very easy to navigate!

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