If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:5:28

Modern and contemporary art

Video transcript

we're in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a room devoted to the work of Constantine Brancusi an artist who redefined sculpture in the modern age sculpture at the turn from the 19th to the 20th century the great figure who stands out is Auguste Rodin I'm still very much within that narrative tradition of the 19th century Rodin broke all kinds of rules in terms of the way he handled surface fragmented the human figure and took issue with the classical ideal of the human body we can see that for instance in walking man brenn kuzu comes as an outsider to modernism and to the art establishment in Paris he was Romanian he did go to the Academy in Bucharest but made his way as a young man to Paris so it's important to remember too that Paris really is the center of the art world for the 19th century it's the home of what we think of as modern art and in a way at the end of the 19th century we see artists wanting to leave Paris to find other traditions there's this interest in something that was thought of as a more primitive or more true and with so interesting is that Brancusi brings that notion of a kind of primitive truth to Paris rather than having to leave Paris to find it he comes from Romania where there was a long-standing peasant tradition of stone carving and wood carving a kind of folk art and while Brancusi himself worked briefly in Auguste Rodin's studio when Bren koozie was more established the younger artist is Munna Gucci would work with this master and one of the things that Noguchi took from Brancusi was the artists regard for the nature of the object finding its internal spirit its structures we clearly see that here in this limestone sculpture called the kiss it's easier to fall into thinking oh this looks like something a child could do this is so simple it's so block like the forms are not carefully detailed in their depiction of the human body especially if you think about the academic tradition that's someone like Rodin is coming where there's a careful articulation of movement musculature of anatomy but here what we have instead is an attempt to retain the materiality this came from a block of stone look at the turn of the elbows and yes of course arms do turn at right angles but here those right angles are aligned with the corners of the block it's almost surprising to find those arms continuing around and lovely the way those hands clasp each other and hold the other figure tight so much so that these figures which are each defined only by the single incised line that separates the two without which they could almost be read as a single figure except that of course the figure on the right we read as a woman because that mind makes it an arc so we read those as breath she is ever so slightly thinner than he is her eye is slightly smaller but the eyes also joined together to create a single almost cyclopean eye in the middle of the forehead and the mouths which are lips reaching to each other are here singular Brancusi is making something that reveals the structure of the limestone we even have that sense in the simplified carving of the hair and there's also something in that idea of the union of these two figures of male and female coming together something primitive something truthful something about the human condition I think there's a real honouring of the material nature of this block he's leaving it raw it's not just the cubic quality it's the surface which is allowed to be rough look especially at the hair we can use the term primitive but I think it's also archaic it's harkening back to the tradition before the classical so outside of that academic tradition you go to the academy you learn how to sculpt you learn how to make a human figure you study human anatomy you learn how to polish stone so that it has a high degree of Sheen how radical this must have been after three or four hundred years from the Renaissance to the high polished sculptures of Bernini during the Baroque period to the academic art of the 19th century where the technical facility was at a high point to return to a basic beautiful form this was not the first version of the kiss this is actually the fourth and it was commissioned by an American collector who's interested in acquiring the first but Brancusi said it wasn't available and it's important that it's not on a typical face that we think of for sculpture in fact the artist didn't even want it on the piece of wood that we see it on in the museum he wanted it directly on the ground he said it would be a kind of amputation if it was placed on a platform this is important to the idea of taking sculpture out of the academic realm where sculpture had always been accorded a kind of high status put on a high pedestal the avant-garde has rejected the sophistication of the urban experience looking instead for truth in nature well you could say that that is the very definition of the avant-garde rejecting the authority and strictures of the Academy and finding an alternative that speaks more genuinely to the time that the artists loosen
AP® is a registered trademark of the College Board, which has not reviewed this resource.