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No. 6, May 2000
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Sculpture 1900-1945: After Rodin
Penelope Curtis, Oxford History of Art
Paperback, Dec. 1999, 288p.
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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 reading.
 
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 sculpture.
 
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www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 6, May 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  Advertise  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.