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Bird In Space
Georges Seurat & Constantin Brancusi : Page 2 of 2

Constantin Brancusi: Bird in Space (1928)

Part two of Seurat and Brancusi: A discussion of the visual elements and principles of design in Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and Constantin Brancusi's Bird in Space.

By Chris Dunmire

continued from page 1

The initial reaction I had to Bird in Space: I was attracted to the simple form and abstract quality of the sculpture, and I enjoyed interpreting the essence of the bird and flight. I chose this piece to write about because I wanted the opportunity to analyze a different kind of work other than a painting, and I wanted to take the opportunity to get to know Brancusi's work better.

The associations I make with Bird in Space range from interior decorations for the rich-to appreciating that even the essence of something can be depicted in such an artful way. I was intrigued to learn that this sculpture was the source of controversy in the early 1900's-and at first was not considered "art." The Guggenheim Museum Web site reports what happened as a result of the controversy:

"A historic trial was initiated in the United States to determine whether Brancusi's Bird in Space was liable for duty as a manufactured object or as a work of art. The court decided in 1928 that the sculpture was a work of art." (Guggenheim)

Brancusi once said, "All of my life I have sought the essence of flight. Flight! What bliss!" (Peasant Wisdom) It would seem that he did indeed achieve this through the creation of this sculpture. However, Bird in Space is much more than a sculpture with a "stout base, a diminishing waist, and then an expanding shape on top." (Hoving 136) It portrays an elegant uplifting form representing the essence of a bird in flight. Brancusi further expressed this message by creating Bird in Space in a vertical form, in a soaring motion reminiscent of flight. And just as birds seem almost weightless as they fly through the air, the reflective polished bronze surface adds a lot to the form's weightless quality. I am very much in agreement with Hoven's description at how one may feel when they see this sculpture: "…One is immediately lifted into the air, both mentally and physically." (Hoving 136)

Visual elements of Bird in Space:

Shape and Mass: Brancusi used geometric shapes in this sculpture: A rectangle for the base, a cylinder for the neck, and an elongated cylinder for the bird.

Color: The color of the sculpture comes from the natural colors of the materials used: wood, marble, and bronze. The reflective quality of the polished bronze also reflects the color of other objects near it.

Texture: The smooth texture of the sculpture comes from the materials used (wood, marble, and bronze) and is actual texture we can touch and feel.

Line: There are several types of lines depicted through Brancusi's sculpture. The geometrical shapes on the base and neck create horizontal and vertical lines. The lines on the elongated cylinder for the bird are curving (even flowing) lines.

Principles of design of Bird in Space:

Balance: Depending on your viewing perspective, Bird in Space could have symmetrical or asymmetrical balance.

Unity: Unity is achieved with Bird in Space because it has the appearance of oneness — it is solid and together.

Brancusi created Bird in Space in 1928. At that time, artists created sculpture in more representational forms like human forms and objects from nature. After making sculptures in the style of Rodin (and declining an offer to work as his assistant), Brancusi developed his own style of sculpture-known as abstract sculpture that changed the way people thought about form and space. Bird in Space is more abstract than non-representational to me because I see the essence of a bird in flight, along with the beak, body, and feet of the bird.

Initially, th is sculpture was carved in marble and may have been one "in a series of seven sculptures carved from marble and cast in bronze." (Metropolitan Museum) Even so, the materials in the final form (bronze, wood, and marble) were all common materials being used by sculptures in the early 20th century. The subject matter relates to the timeless nature of birds and Brancusi's own desire to seek the essence of flight.

Seurat and Brancusi's Famous Works of Art

Conclusion: A Contrast and Comparison of Two Works of Art

The two art objects I chose to discuss, Seurat's La Grande Jatte, and Brancusi's Bird in Space, are examples of different kinds of works of art-created with completely different materials, and in different forms. La Grande Jatte is a painting, whereas Bird in Space is a sculpture. La Grande Jatte is a flat, two-dimensional depiction with illusional dimension and depth, while Bird in Space is a three-dimensional sculpture with true dimension and form.

The content of La Grande Jatte also differs from Bird in Space; it is a satirical depiction of the life Seurat knew, while Bird in Space is even more abstract, and perhaps more of a personal and even spiritual experience to the viewer. Finally, when first created, La Grande Jatte was in fact considered art, but Bird in Space was not immediately accepted and had to go to trial to establish it as such. Incidentally, both works of art were created within 44 years of each other.

My experience with viewing the objects in either a museum or on a Web site was very contrasting. Viewing La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute gave me a much deeper appreciation for the painting than when I viewed it in a book or on a poster. I could observe more true detail at its full size-as Seurat meant to be viewed. Conversely, viewing Bird in Space on a Web site or as a picture in a book did not give me the complete experience of viewing the piece. Being a three-dimensional sculpture, it should be viewed from all angles in real life. The experience would have been more complete and meaningful if I saw the sculpture in a gallery, which I hope to do some day. •

Bibliography

Art Institute of Chicago. Georges Seurat - A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884, 1999, <http://www.artic.edu/aic/ collections/eurptg/28pc_seurat.html> (29 March 2002).

Guerra, Vasco. Constantin Brancusi - Vasco Guerra's tribute (image), December 1999, <http://alfa.ist.utl.pt/~vguerra/ Other/brancusi.htm> (29 March 2002). 

Guggenheim Museum. Guggenheim Collection - Artist - Brancusi - Biography, 2001, <http://www.guggenheim collection.org/site/artist_bio_22.html> (29 March 2002).

Hoving, Thomas. Greatest works of art of Western civilization. New York: Artisan, 1997.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Collection: Modern Art: View 1 - Bird in Space, 1923, 2002, <http://www.metmuseum.org/ collections/view1.asp? dep=21&full=0&item =1996%2E403%2E7ab> (29 March 2002).

Ross, Zachary. Peasant Wisdom: An Analysis of Brancusi's Rumanian Heritage, PART: Journal of the CUNY PhD Program in Art History, 2000, <http://dsc.gc.cuny.edu/part/ articles/zross.html> (29 March 2002).

© 2002 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.

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