Copyright 2000 www.cosmopolis.ch Louis Gerber All rights
Sculpture 1900-1945: After
Penelope Curtis, Oxford History of Art
Paperback, Dec. 1999, 288p. Get it from Amazon.co.uk
Penelope Curtis did not have an easy job trying to fashion a
survey for the history of sculpture "because of the lack of synthetic
accounts giving sculpture a historical context. Sculpture has been so
effectively set apart [...]" that she had little choice but to use
monographic accounts to build up her overview on Sculpture 1900-1945.
Penelope Curtis tries to put sculpture into a larger perspective, including
architecture and painting, but concentrates on Western Sculpture and
concentrates on Paris and Rodin as the starting point.
Born in Paris in 1840, Auguste Rodin had "spent decades
working up from being an apprentice to the point when, in 1900, he was able to
promote his first solo exhibition in his own country, the point at which he
could be said securely to have established his reputation." Until his
death in 1917, his studio became a Mecca for the international world of art.
Though most of the more distinctive sculptors reacted
against Rodin, he was their point of departure. This is the case for Bernhard
Hoetger, Max Klinger, Georg Kolbe and Wilhelm Lehmbruck from Germany, Gustav
Vigeland from Norway, Jacques Lipchitz from Lithuania, Ossip Zadkine and
Alexander Archipenko from Russia, Constantin Brancusi from Romania and many
others. "Rodin serves to introduce, and to act as a foil for,
developments which might be seen as the keys to an understanding of the
evolution of sculpture in this period." He returned sculpture to the
forefront of artistic discussion.
In fact Penelope Curtis begins with sculpture before Rodin
when it was "only quite rarely assessed for itself in the gallery; it was
mostly made for others arenas, where it followed a different set of
conventions. Sculpture had a task to perform; it was a filter to something
else beyond itself". It served in outdoor and public sites, and
especially commemorative purpose. "Memorials were designed to preserve
the names of those they commemorated rather than those who designed
them." Among the other sites for sculpture at the end of the 19th century
were the fountain, the fašade, the relief and the tablet or panel. The emergence
of company headquarters required buildings which demonstrated status, even if
(literally) only on the surface. The sculptor had primarily to serve
architecture in the big cities. Her chapters on "statuemania"
and "monument inflation", on the mass graves after the First World
War and on sculpture related to commemorate the soldiers are worthwhile
Sculpture 1900-1945 is organized in chapters around the public place
of sculpture, the tradition of monument, direct expression through the
material, sculpture in the private arena, etc. Among the topics of sculpture
after Rodin, Penelope Curtis examines the case of authoritarian regimes, of
communism, fascism and national-socialism. "Though Mussolini and Hitler
looked to a nominal imperial past, neither was over-concerned with about the
preservation of the historical monuments in the way of their new
schemes." Unfortunately, Penelope Curtis does not examine Socialist
Realism in detail.
The author has a look at new styles such as Art Nouveau, Art
Deco. She introduces the modernist movements such as Cubism, Expressionism,
Futurism, Dadaism and Surrealism. New means of expression and new materials
emerge, boundaries are crossed, e.g. with collage. The sculpture finds its way
into the private space.
On less than 300 pages, Penelope Curtis offers a valuable
overview on the history of sculpture of the first half of the 20th century.
Not everything can be analyzed in detail, not all major artists get their fair
share, but since 30 years, this is the first concise history of