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Video transcript

[Music] in some ways the 20th century starts in 1914 with the outbreak of the first world war and ultimately the collapse of the great empires of the 19th century this is such a moment of transition and that idea is beautifully embodied in a sculpture by Raymond Duchamp vo horse from 1914 and in fact the creation of this sculpture was interrupted by the First World War and so it really is a pivot for the 20th century and for this sculpture in fact the artist was only able to finish it when he was on leave from the Army so what do we see see a horse but only when I stand in particular places as we walk around it the spot where we're standing now I see a galloping horse where do you find that this vertical form as a leg and I see the diagonal behind it as the legs coming together the way that a horse's legs come together when it's galloping so I see a horse in motion and I see the mane of the horse whipping around and the wind and the head of the horse those circular shapes below okay so I can just make out the slightly more rounded forms at the very front and perhaps make out the face of the horse ever so slightly and I can certainly see a little bit of a hoof down at the bottom but this is a hard piece of metal it's geometric this is certainly not our naturalistic rendering of a horse although if you look at early sketches of this sculpture you can see something derived directly from nature that's right and it really is only from very specific points of view as you walk around it that it comes to barely resemble a horse but for the most part it looks very mechanical I feel like I see bolts and nuts and rivets there really is only a trace of the horse left only a trace of the organic what we're seeing instead are cogs and pistons and rotors and the transformation into the machine this is the power of the 20th century and so we might think about cubism in the reduction of the horse to geometric shapes and we might also think about futurism in the interest in movement and dynamism this is very machine-like you have this dark bronze you have these hard angles and edges the machined surface all of this is the product of industry the great European powers entered into the First World War thinking that this would be perhaps a war like those of the 19th century but it would be in fact a war that would collapse the great empires of Europe it would be a war where the cavalry where the horses would be replaced by tanks the horses are completely ineffective in World War one well that's right you had trenches you had mustard gas a barbed wire and perhaps most devastating you had machine guns that could lay fire across the fields of Belgium across the fields of northern France and horses and the cavalry didn't stand a chance they were replaced by armor and armored vehicles and so here we have in this sculpture at this critical moment this transition from the 19th century the historic direct kind of combat to a mechanized combat that was far more deadly and that reminds us really of the way war is fought now in the early 21st century and so we have a sculpture that is both beautiful and terrifying as well and it encapsulates our fears and our hopes the mechanization that this horse represents the Machine Age has raised our standard of living it has done great good but it is also wrought terrible violence and all of that complication is beautifully encapsulated by the artist here [Music]