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Bird in Space (Yellow Bird)

Constantin Brancusi, French (born Romania), 1876 - 1957

Date:
1923-24

Medium:
Marble with marble, limestone, and oak base

Dimensions:
Height with base: 8 feet 7 inches (261.6 cm)

Copyright:
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curatorial Department:
Modern and Contemporary Art

Object Location:

* Gallery 188, Modern and Contemporary Art, first floor (Brodsky Gallery)

Accession Number:
1950-134-19

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Additional information:
  • PublicationConstantin Brancusi: 1876-1957

    This is the second carved version of Bird in Space. While it shares the body design of the white marble Bird in Space (1923), its proportions are more slender, with a longer footing and a shorter, slimmer body. With this Bird in Space, Brancusi arrived at his definitive solution for the footing: a tall, thin element with a gracefully undulating contour--tilting forward, and flaring at its bottom--that is more naturally integrated with the upper body. Unfortunately, two extensive repair procedures in 1938 and 1948 (documented in the Maynard Walker Gallery Papers, Archives of American Art) resulted in a footing much different in shape than the original footing shown in a photograph of 1926. Sidney Geist has suggested that this photograph reveals the original marble footing to have been an element separate from the body, and subsequent analysis seems to support this hypothesis (Geist, Sidney. "The Birds." Review of Brancusi's Birds, by Athena T. Spear. Artforum {New York}, vol. 9, no. 3 {November 1970}, p. 78).

    Another photograph shows Brancusi with the sculpture at the Exhibition of Tri-National Art at the Wildenstein Galleries in New York in January 1926, where it was placed on a stone cruciform and a wooden X form. The present base, composed of two equally sized limestone drums and an oak sawtooth form, is original to the period surrounding the Brummer show in November 1926. Ann Temkin, from Constantin Brancusi 1876-1957 (1995), p. 214.
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    The bird is the predominant theme of Constantin Brancusi's work, forming the subject of over twenty-five marble or bronze sculptures that he made during the course of four decades, three of which are in the Museum's collection. It epitomized his search for an ideal form that triumphs over the imperfections of earthly existence. In Bird in Space all the parts of the creature become part of one soaring movement, with an elegance resulting from the slight swell of its chest and the graceful undulation of its slender footing. Brancusi considered his bases integral to his sculpture, and their contribution to the principles of balance, proportion, and combination was central to his aesthetic. Here the pedestal consists of a small marble cylinder, a limestone drum, a sawtooth form in oak, and a second limestone drum similar to the first. These rough textures and varieties of shape provide a counterpoint to the smooth unity of the yellow marble bird. The harmony of the whole achieves Brancusi's mystical goal of unifying opposites. Ann Temkin, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 320.
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The work of Brancusi redefined sculpture for a new century. Born in Romania but living in Paris after 1904, Brancusi aimed to develop a sculptural idiom that looked absolutely modern. His work moved beyond the verisimilitude and melodrama exemplified by the vastly popular sculpture of Auguste Rodin. Brancusi sought inspiration in ancient, folk, and exotic precedents that preceded or bypassed the classical Western tradition of sculpture. This brought Brancusi to simplified forms, reduction of details, and hand carving of materials.

    The theme of the bird constitutes Brancusi's lifelong obsession, a subject he would explore in more than thirty marble and bronze versions over the course of four decades. The extreme reduction of detail that Brancusi evolved for his Bird in Space provoked the most notorious public misunderstanding of the artist's work. In 1926 a U.S. customs official insisted on labeling a version of the sculpture as a "miscellaneous household good" rather than a work of art, which would be tax-exempt for importation. After a long courtroom battle, the presiding judge stated that "while some difficulty might be encountered in associating it with a bird, it is nevertheless pleasing to look at and highly ornamental," and he ruled in Brancusi's favor. The dramatically long, slim sculptures represent Brancusi's idea of the essence of a bird, rather than a natural likeness; a slanting oval plane represents the head and beak, and a flared footing creates the powerful upward force that lifts the bird "in space." Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 44.


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