Los Angeles

“Twentieth Century Sculpture, 1900–1950”

University of California

An ambitious and vigorous program is inaugurated at this new University branch with a necessary survey of this century’s sculpture. Such an effort has not been seen locally since the circulation of selections from the Hirshhorn Collection, with which this could hardly attempt to be compared for number of examples, diversity of sizes, and sheer scope. The aim here has been the mounting of local and readily available examples for critical inspection and didactic exposition.

Twenty sculptors are presented. The sizes range from miniature to unassuming. At the small-scale extreme, four early capsule Cornells or five tiny Picasso fertility figurines. The homelessness of modern sculpture, its handcrafted and hand burnished qualities, the modest sizes, and the pedestal and spotlit focus combine to reduce all to elegant, even precious objets d’art.

The brief yet cogent catalog essay by the gallery’s Director, John Coplans, outlines the debilities of recent sculpture: the loss of the architectural framework of reference, the surrender of mass, monumentality, and even durability, and its dependence on the formal inventions of painting. Advantages are the exploitation of new materials and methods of construction and the loosening of rigidly defining boundaries between the purely haptic and optical arts.

As a single sculpture must stand for a lifetime of production or the tendencies of a whole group or school, the sculptures must be read as symbolic, key points. A first and obvious reflection is the apparent failure of “name” sculptors to sustain a lifetime of consistent high level achievement. Archipenko evenly devotes himself to moderne chic design, Lipchitz developed a bombastic baroque expressionism; Lehmbruck elongates the figure while Llachaise bloats it—both essentially idiosyncratic distortions; and Moore concerns himself with a “conservative eclecticism.” It is this group too which has clung most persistently to the figurative and to modeled monumentality, again traditional views.

The painters fare better. Matisse, as powerful as Madeleine I is, must be attached to the Greco-Roman, turn of the century, painter/sculptors whom the organizer has ruled out of bounds. The archaisms of other painters, Braque, Miró, Ernst, and, in this selection, Picasso, appear as marvelous and primitively forceful sidelines.

Four other historical developments have proven more fruitful. The full course of Cubist implications—its dislocations of space and destruction of form, its characteristic collage technique of rapid juxtaposition, its refinement to the geometric, has yet to be played out. Picasso, Gonzalez, Smith (here the mantle passes directly), and Giacometti, Gabo, and Pevsner as well as others unmentioned indicate the range of positions and inventions already made.

The Dada and Surreal recovery and concentration upon the object, its very thingness and pervading ideas and associations is as powerful now as it was with Duchamp and Cornell thirty to fifty years ago.

Living form was transmuted by Brancusi and Arp into the poetic essence and motion of biomorphic symbols. Kinetic sculpture, represented by Calder and De Rivera, is the merging of Cubist illusory space with biomorphic forms, or the alteration of post-Cubist geometry through organic movement. Poetry and construction combine. Perhaps Moholy-Nagy’s thirty year old prediction that sculpture will eventually become a purely visual experience may yet come to pass.

The coexistence of a half dozen major and dominant styles during the first quarter of the century provides a legacy created and drawn upon by these moderns. The anticipated survey of contemporary sculpture (1950–65) should test the strength, profundity, and fecundity of the New American painting.

Fidel A. Danieli