Cubism as an artistic style and movement began as a revolt against the traditions and the artistic norms of previous centuries. Cubist painters and sculptors like Picasso rejected many of the formally accepted elements of art. These elements included texture, color, subject matter, light as a means of determining form as well as movement and atmosphere. The rejection of representation was also a major aspect of the reason for the development of Cubism as a style and theory in painting and sculpture.
Cubism is characterized by the fragmentation of the image plane and form. In place of conventional perspective and depth, Cubism tends towards depictions of shallow planes that overlap and which are even transparent. One of the essential characteristics of Cubism was its attempt to interpret visual reality form multiple points-of-view. This predilection for multiple and non-consecutive points-of-view was not only a rebellion against formal artistic rules and against the norms of representation and realism but was also indicative of a deeper need within the artistic sensibility of the time. Cubism is essentiality a manifestation of a deeper desire to break with an entire world view and progress to new views of art and reality
The following is an incisive view of the importance of the Cubist movement.
As revolutionary as the discoveries of Einstein or Freud, the discoveries of Cubism controverted principles that had prevailed for centuries. For the traditional distinction between solid form and the space around it, Cubism substituted a radically new fusion of mass and void. In place of earlier perspective systems that determined the precise location of discrete objects in illusory depth, Cubism offered an unstable structure of dismembered planes in indeterminate spatial positions. Instead of assuming that the work of art was an illusion of a reality that lay beyond it, Cubism proposed that the work of art was itself a reality that represented the very process by which nature is transformed into art. (Rosenblum 1961, 9) vital aspect of Cubism was its sense of the relativity of vision and reality. It also provided expression for the Nietzschean and Modernist theories of uncertainly and the loss of definite meaning in man's perception of the world. A central aspect is that,
No fact of vision remained absolute. A dense, opaque shape could suddenly become a weightless transparency; a sharp, firm outline could abruptly dissolve into a vibrant texture; a plane that defined the remoteness of the background could be perceived simultaneously in the immediate foreground. Even the identity of objects was not exempt from these visual contradictions. " (Rosenblum 1961, 9)
Cubism was a philosophy and style of art that questioned all established values of art as well. It also "created an artistic language of intentional ambiguity." (ibid) In order to understand Cubist sculpture beyond just its formal and technical innovations, it is important to understand something of the background to the modernist era of artistic re-evaluation.
Cubist work of art is intended to be "confusing." A sculpture in the Cubist style defies any easy and single interpretation. A sculpture such as Picasso's Female Head (1910) is a composition of fluctuating shapes, textures, spaces and objects. Cubist art attempts to produce a feeling paradox and indeterminacy. A single work can be described in a variety of ways and is in fact the visual equivalent of the aesthetic and philosophic experience of the Twentieth century.
The prevalent Modernist mood in the early years of the Twentieth Century was one of intense questioning and rebellion against the status quo. This did not only take place in the Arts, but in almost every discipline. There are a number of historical factors that are important in understanding of Modernism. One of the main factors that precipitated this radical change in thinking was the First World War. This war was so devastating and, with the introduction of modern technology, tanks and planes, it changed the perception of Europeans towards their authorities and led them to question the powers that be and the "establishment." Coupled with events like war were discoveries in science and other disciplines which overturned centuries of belief and convention. One needs only think of Einstein and relativity theory and Freud and the theory of the unconscious, in this regard. Freud's theory of the unconscious opened up a new world of previously unimagined human experience and led to anew perception of the self as well as new art and art forms. There are many other historical, philosophical and scientific changes during this period. The common factor here is that all these events led to a deep and radical questioning of the status quo. The world and the view of reality that had been generally dominant in western society for centuries were questioned and overturned. New disciplines and particularly art forms emerged as a reaction to the old ways of seeing things. One of the most important was the development of Cubism, from a style to an integral part of the Modernist movement.
While the origins of Cubism in general are usually often attributed to Picasso, many see the origins of Cubist sculpture in the works of Raymond Duchamp -Villon.
The well-known art critic and writer Herbert Read states that Cubists sculpture had a separate development, associated with the names of Brancusi, Duchamp-Villon, Gonzalez, Archipenko, Lipchitz, and Henri Laurens," (Read 1959, 98).
He also states that there is an intimate connection between painting and sculpture when it comes to the development of Cubism.
While the first sculptor to use the Cubist style and theoretical perspective was Raymond Duchamp-Villon,
Alexanader Archipenko also began to show works at the Salon d'Automne of 1911. This was followed by the works of Brancusi and Lipschitz - all artists who continued the development of the Cubist experiment in style.
However "Duchamp-Villon was the first to work out the implications of a Cubists sculpture" ((ibid). There are also an intimate connection between his work and developments in architecture.
Duchamp-Villon was according to Read "undoubtedly the first to work out the implications of a Cubist sculpture and to see immediately that it implied an identity or at least confusion with the principles of architecture." (Read 1959, 98)
Duchamp-Villon's work was closely associated with new modernist concepts and ideas that were emerging in ideas of architecture as a non-utilitarian art form. In other words, this related to abstract sculpture that was not dependent on function alone for its artistic value.
Duchamp-Villon had this titanic conception of architecture. A sculptor and an architect, light is the only thing that counts for him; but in all other arts, also, it is only light, the incorruptible light, that counts." (Read 1959, 99)
He is renowned for bringing sense of dynamic movement to static sculpture.
This is particularly evident in his work The Horse (bronze, 1914; Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Musee National d'Art Moderne, Paris)
The same quality of movement suggested by static form can also be found in another sculptor who is known for his works in the Cubist mould; namely. Alexander Archipenko. Archipenko's work Boxing Match (synthetic stone, 1913; Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice) is also a dynamic sculpture that breaks for the static past and creates a sense of movement within space.
However, Archipenko is not often acknowledged for his role in the development of Cubist sculpture. As read states:
Archipenko (b. 1887), who came from Moscow to Paris in 1908, first made contact with the Cubist group in 1910, and was much the most inventive of the pioneers of modern sculpture, a fact which is not often acknowledged. " (Read 1959, 100)
Archipenko was the first sculptor to introduce different materials such as wood and glass into the same construction. More importantly, he is known for a very important sculptural innovation. He was the first sculptor to realize the importance of negative space "He was the first sculptor to realize the expressive value of the pierced hole as a contrast to the boss, or as a connecting link between opposite surfaces" (ibid)
However, while both Duchamp-Villon and Archipenko are essential to the history of Cubist sculpture, an understanding of Cubism must start with the essentials impetus that Picasso provided in his work Les Demoiselles D'Avignon. The revolutionary aspect of the painting was the execution of a work which was radically different to traditional means of representation.
Rather than the traditional means of representation, he exploded the figures, then pieced them back together in dramatically disjointed ways. Various views and perspectives were depicted simultaneously, sharply angled limbs appeared ready to jettison in all directions, and faces were reduced to wild-eyed masks. It was from the wombs of these geometrically splintered and drastically altered femme fatales that Cubism was born.
(Cubism; Sculptural forms give shape)
Picasso's painting Les Demoiselles D'Avignon also included sculptural elements and inspiration that he had appropriated from Iberian and African sculpture.
In their search for alternative styles and means of expression, artists were attracted to the unusual and exotic. African art was one of the areas that…