The Sleeping Muse: Primitivizing Modern Sculpture as “Nomadic” Sculpture

Historian Amelia Jones described an artist as a conceptual construction that is intimately dependent on economic, social, and political formations. Brancusi, on the other hand, was an avant-garde artist who majorly used primitive sources of art to create his abstraction.  He is among the most influential sculptors of the 20th century, who is also considered a pioneer of ‘modernism’ in art. One of his most famous sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the Sleeping Muse. According to Kraus, modern art that bears certain distinctive faces can be termed as nomadic in both function and meaning. The Sleeping Muse along with other famous Brancusi sculptures have fallen victim to this ‘primitivization’. Furthermore, Krauss notes that the logic of the sculpture has been gradually failing in tandem with that of the monument especially since the 20th century (Foster 33). In essence, avant-garde artists of this period including Brancusi played a crucial role in the loss of the logic of the sculpture.

The Sleeping Muse exemplifies the concept of nomadic sculpture in more ways than one. Brancusi’s proficiency was especially evident in his portrait and head sculptures. The Sleeping Muse was initially a marble sculpture modeled against Baroness Renée Irana. Eventually, Brancusi refined the sculpture to be cast in bronze. This art piece was the first time that Brancusi explored the characteristic theme of a sleeping head, representing only the disembodied head of its sitter, – a theme that would eventually occupy sculpture artists for the next two decades (Janson and Janson 549).

The facial features of the Sleeping Muse including the lips, hair, and closed eyes are very pronounced, whereas the rest of the sculpture is very well polished achieving a high gleam. Suffice it to say a sculpture is a commemorative depiction that should be a symbolic exemplification of its meaning or location. The Sleeping Muse lacks logic, is placeless, and largely self-referential. It is important to note that modern art rarely conforms to this singular definition of sculpture. The sculpture’s curvilinear quality gives it a distinctive sense of elegance and the fine metal finish effectively turns it into an autonomous and modern art form. However, the Sleeping Muse in this case only serves as a representation of the essence of lethargy, and just like its name, lacks a symbolic tongue and presence. The ‘doorways’ of the sculpture have been ripped out, and Brancusi’s pursuit of a modernist take on the sculpture has left the Sleeping Muse in a ‘negative condition’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Krauss describes this ‘negative condition’ as a “kind of sitelessness, or homelessness, an absolute loss of place” (Foster 35).

Question Two
Krauss’s description of sculpture as a historically bound art form is largely due to the fact that sculpture already has its set of rules that are not open to change. This observation was due to the correlation that Krauss insisted existed between the logic of monuments and sculpture (Krauss 33). In this regard, a sculpture artist has to achieve an understanding of their work’s place in the culture that fashioned it. The historical logic of sculpture includes its role as a commemorative piece, often figurative, vertical, and includes a pedestal that reconciles the sculpture’s actual site and the allegorical symbol. Any deviation from this ‘conventional’ definition leaves an incomplete art piece, in spite of any other artistic achievements. Krauss also added that this artistic logic should be the source of inspiration behind sculpture as it had been for centuries before a modernist approach towards sculpture was taken up.

I believe that Komar and Melamid would agree with Krauss. Their conception of restyling the Soviet-era monuments to fit in with the contemporary realities is in line with the ideologies of Krauss on historically bound art. In 1993, proposals from 160 artists led by Komar and Melamid in the Monumental Propaganda argued against the destruction of Soviet-era monuments by noting that, “neither the monument nor the meaning it assigns to memory is really everlasting” and “We propose neither worship nor annihilation of these monuments… but a creative collaboration with them – to leave them at their sites and transform them, through art, into history lessons” (Young 242). Komar and Melamid believe in the importance of the logic that soviet-era monuments observed. The sculptures were commemorative, had a symbolic tongue, and deeply engrained with the culture that fashioned them. The artists did not want society to lose this authenticity, and were inspired the most by the logic that was always a constant source of the Soviet-era sculptures.

In an interview with the New York Times, Melamid pointed out that, “I don’t believe in ‘revolutionary’ art or politics… all the ‘revolutionary’ Russian avant-gardists were terrible… they were anti-spiritual and anti-cultural.” Komar would add, “They depicted nothing and they produced nothing” (Milbourne 21). The two artists painted a surprisingly similar picture on the logic of monuments to that of Krauss. Furthermore, the two artists believed that the revolution in art ‘destroyed everything’. It is clear that Komar and Melamid are also believers in the logic that was previously described by Krauss. Furthermore, they believed that the art should have an intimate relation to the current social formations, and deeply infused with symbolic tongue.

Works Cited
Foster, Hal. The Anti-Aesthetic. Port Townsend, Wash.: Bay Press, 1983. Print.
Janson, H. W, and Anthony Janson. A Basic History Of Western Art. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education, 2006. Print.
Krauss, Rosalind. ‘Sculpture In The Expanded Field’. October 8 (1979): 30. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Milbourne, John. ‘TWO SOVIET EMIGRES WHOSE ART IS OVERLAID WITH IRONY’. The New York Times 1984: 21. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.
Young, James. Critical Terms For Art History. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Print.