As a young man and a promising young artist
, Brancusi took up residence
with the aging (but still powerful) legend, Auguste Rodin
. For those of you who haven't seen Rodin before, he was able to mix the best of the classical Roman sculptors
with a palpable
energy, swirling molded clay
that very nearly moves on its own power. Rodin portrayed classical
forms without the smooth, ultra-real style common of the ancients
. It was all in how Rodin manipulate
d the clay, how he was in tune with it and imbued it with his own restless, extroverted
spirit. Brancusi, silent and shy, learned from this, and produced his own takes on that very idea, abstract
ing the subject and leveraging
the material towards a more beautiful sculpture
Where Rodin sculpted, whirling around a great mass of clay and making strong, sweeping gestures, Brancusi carved. He sat and whittled or chiseled or polished, a minimum of movement. His forms were simplified, later growing more and more geometric, gaining a quietness all to their own. But more importantly, he was able to do this in his smooth, ovoid-flowing shapes of wood and metal as well as his blocky naive stone sculptures.
Also, Brancusi had a great feel for both the abstracting of art that was seen in the cubist paintings of the time and for the abstracted forms of early sculpture; he mixed and matched the two at will, melding the old and the new. Henri Rousseau claimed that Brancusi 'made the ancient modern'.
He had the past in his stones; see The Kiss, a simple grey brick of stone with very minimal chiseling, just enough to show two people in deep liplock and at the same time recall Greek columns and pre-Greek sculpture, wavy hair and all. He had the future in Bird in Space, a silver-quick piece of sculpted metal, all long elegant curves, suggesting both an crane, silent and standing, and the same bird zooming through the heavens. And he had the present in the carved wood, the simple geometric forms of Sleeping Muse, a sideways-tilted head with closed eyes, calm and affecting.
Others would take from him and Rodin, using the medium as part of the message; Giacometti with his freakish, lonely forms of lumped clay, Smith with his speed-demon metal blocks, Henry Moore with his abstract, staring stone pieces, and Chihuly's fragile, translucent glass. The Art Deco movement also came and vaccuumed up the ancient-inflected geometry of his work, sometimes melding it with Klimt's long, lean colors. Most artists are lucky to have half the influence that he had, but Brancusi changed sculpture in one more way.
He was very concerned about where the sculpture sat, in relation to other pieces of sculpture - what you'll hear referred to as 'negative space'. He would require that he place the pieces at an exhibition, and before his death, he signed a contract with a French museum that they solely be allowed to display his works only by exactly reconstructing his studio on the day of his death. Brancusi would attempt to photograph his works, to get across the exact meaning of his sculpture, and often succeeded, but also often failed - he was a sculptor first and foremost, and his technical skill with the camera was lacking. This focus on using the whole room to serve the art was the source from which the past three decades' installation art movement got its start.