UMBERTO BOCCIONI, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913 cast 1931). Bronze, approx. 431/3" high. The Museum of Modern rt, New York, (acquired through the Lillie P Bliss Bequest)
As we might expect, sculpture invited abstraction as did painting; many Cubists and Futurists were both sculptors and painters, and their abstractive methods, allowing for the physical differences of the media, were much the same. UMBERTO BOCCIONI (1882-1916) applied to sculpture the representational technique of Balla. What we want, he claimed, is not fixed movement in space, but the sensation of motion itself: "Owing to the persistence of images on the retina, objects in motion are multiplied and distorted, following one another like waves in space. Thus, a galloping horse has not four legs, it has twenty." Though Boccioni in this instance was talking about painting, his observation helps us to comprehend what is perhaps the definitive work of Futurist sculpture, his Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (figure above).
Unique Forms calls attention to the formal and spatial effects of motion rather than to the fact that the source for these is the striding human figure. The "figure" is so expanded, interrupted, and broken in plane and contour that it disappears, as it were, behind the blur of its movement; only the blur remains. Boccioni's search for plastic means with which to express dynamic movement reaches a monumental expression here. In its power and sense of vital activity, this sculpture surpasses similar efforts in painting (by Boccioni and his Futurist companions) to create images symbolic of the dynamic quality of modern life. To be convinced by it, we need only reflect on how details of an adjacent landscape appear in our peripheral vision when we are traveling at great speed on a highway or in a low-flying airplane. Although Boccioni's figure bears a curious resemblance to the ancient Nike of Samothrace (figure on the left below), a cursory comparison reveals how far the modern work departs from the ancient one. ut the representation of motion in sculpture reaches a limit here with Boccioni. After all, the piece itself does not move (It would be the motion picture, operating by rapid changes fixed images, that would produce convincing of movement.) Sculpture composed of actually moving parts, like a machine, would be designed by Alexander Calder and would make no pretense (figure on the right below) and would make no pretense of "representing" any movement other than its own.
Thus the field of experiment with abstraction was left to the Analytic Cubist sculptors, whose work assumed the observation to be in motion around an essentially stationary object rather than the object itself being in motion Analytic Cubism did not just open new ways of repre senting form on two-dimensional surfaces; it also inspired new approaches to sculpture. Picasso tested the possibilities of Cubism in sculpture throughout the years he and Braque were developing the style, but one of the most successful sculptors to adapt the spatial feeling of Analytic Cubist painting into three dimensions was JACQUES LIPCHITZ (1891-1973). Lipchitz was born in Latvia but resided for many years in France and the United States. His ideas for many of his sculptures were worked out in clay before being transferred in bronze or into stone. Bather (figure below) is typical of his Cubist style. The continuous form in this work is broken down into cubic volumes and planes.
As with Cubist painting, there is no single point of view, no continuity or simultaneity of image contour. Lipchitz was part of the second generation of Cubists-artists who invested the innovations of Braque and Picasso with theo ry and a more consistent technical approach. Proportion and mathematics were important analytical tools for these artists. Like many of them, Lipchitz based a considerable number of his sculptures on the Golden Mean, which had been used in antiquity to suggest the perfection of ideal proportion and order. Lipchitz combined this Classical mathematical formula with a modern energy to create what he called "the sense of twisting movement, of the fig ure spiraling around its axis." The spiraling movement in Bather recalls both the energy of El Greco's painted figures), which Lipchitz much admired, and the twisting tension of Mannerist works like Giovanni de Bologna's Abduction of the Sabine Women (figure on the left below). Yet these qualities are modified by the way in which the cubic shapes of Bather seem to slip and slide before our eyes, presenting first one view of the body parts and then another; Lipchitz has fully invested this figure with the qualities of space - time so important to the Cubist vision An even more decisive break with the long tradition of Western sculpture than this analysis of mass into planes is the piercing of the mass. An early example of this new turn can be seen in Woman Combing Her Hair (figure in the center below) by the Russian sculptor ALEKSANDR ARCHIPENKO (1887-1964). This statuette, recalling in its graceful contrapposto something of Renaissance Mannerism, introduces in place of the head a void with a shape of its own that figures importantly in the whole design. Enclosed spaces have always existed in figure sculpture for example, the space between the arm and the body when the hand rests on the hip, as in Verrocchio's David. But here there is penetration of the continuous mass of the figure, and shaped space (often referred to as negative space) occurs with happen mass in the same design. Archipenko's figure shows the same slipping of the planes that we have seen in pictorial Cubism, and the relation of the planes to each other is similarly complex. Thus, in painting and sculpture, the traditional limits are broken through and the medium transformed. Archipenko's figure is still quasi-representational, but sculpture (like painting) executed within the Cubist orbit tends to cast off the last vestiges of representation A friend of Picasso, JULIO GONZALEZ (1876-1942), shared his interest in the artistic possibilities of new materials and new methods borrowed from both industrial technology and traditional metalworking. Constructed or "direct' shapes (using ready-made bars, sheets, rods, or the like) of welded or wrought iron and bronze can produce, in effect, simple or incredibly complex sculptured spaces in a kind of fluent openwork, in which the solids function only as contours, boundaries, or dividing planes.
In Woman Combing Her Hair (figure on the right above) by Gonzalez (compare with Archipenko's version of the same subject; (figure above), fantasy is restrained by no traditional convention of representation, and the actual constructive process is unimpeded by the more demanding methods of carving and casting. Sculptors in the 1960s and 1970s would fully exploit the advantages of this method: linear effects i for other modes, flexibility in construction, speed of execution, and easy correction of errors or changes in intention. The direct metal method in the hands of contemporary sculp tors parallels the methods used by the so-called Abstract Expressionist painters. It should be noted that although Gonzalez innovates in material and method, he still thinks (as the title of this piece indicates) of the human figure as a point of departure for abstraction, even though the forms could stand without external reference to the natural world After years as an unsuccessful painter, Gonzalez was asked by Picasso for technical help in constructing metal sculpture. From that time, his influence has been continuous with a special impact on today's sculptors. Lipchitz, Archipenko, and Gonzalez dismantle the tradi tional, sculptured figure respective it to planes and volume, piercing its mass with open space, and transforming it into an open work of spaces, lines, bars, and rods. Yet they take the traditional figure as their point of departure and make reference to it by labels such as ancer" or "woman combing her hair." One work by the essentially independent painter and sculptor AMEDEO MODIGLIANI (1884-1920), however, steps outside the tradi tion altogether. Modigliani, who was only loosely related to Cubism, takes as his model the carved African mask, which already has been "analyzed" into geometrical pattern by the abstracting formal instinct and practice of a native tradition. We have seen the influence of the African mask in Picasso's Les Demoiselles. There it is only one exotic motif among several. Modigliani's Head is an adaptation of the African mode of repre- sentation. Through it Modigliani rejects the Western tradi- tion totally, accepting the exclusive authority of African art as its modern and entirely appropriate replacement. In his painting, also, Modigliani derives his characteristic shapes and volumes from the same African source, but he adapts them to Western themes, composition, and setting. From the Cubist point of view, his painting is conservative.
Sources: ART THROUGH THE AGES, Tenth Edition, RICHARD G. TANSEY, FRED S. KLEENEX