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Quiet Spaces 

Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra converse at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts

When in need of an explanation for the inexplicable, ask a poet. Those crafty wordsmiths have a knack for distilling the ineffable into beauty.

Take Rainer Maria Rilke, for instance. In 1903 Rilke attempted to define what great sculpture should be. Writing about Rodin, Rilke attested that: "It [sculpture] had to be fitted into the space that surrounded it, as into a niche; its certainty, steadiness and loftiness did not spring from its significance but from its harmonious adjustment to the environment."

Rilke's statement presaged a sea change in sculpture; by the end of the decade, modern sculpture had moved beyond accurate portrayal of human form into the terra incognita of abstraction. Near the forefront of this movement was Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

Brancusi's work, hewn from wood, limestone and marble, was as concerned with the manipulation of the space around the art as it was with the material the art was carved from. He assembled clusters of sculptures in his studio, examining the transformations that occurred in the spaces between pieces as different pieces joined the cluster. Brancusi's "mobile groups" honed his belief in the importance of the spatial relationships, the need for empty space in relation to his work.

Now, in 2005, Brancusi's work explores the open space of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in the exhibit Brancusi and Serra in Dialogue. The show, which couples Brancusi's work with a selection of pieces created by Richard Serra, offers a new opportunity to appreciate the Pulitzer's space. Both artists' sculptures fulfill Rilke's mandate, existing harmoniously in the environment: Serra's pieces leaning against the wall, Brancusi's on their rudely carved pedestals. Modern poet Lisa Simpson once noted that, with certain musicians, you don't listen to the notes played but the notes not played. So it is here, as the space around the pieces embodies the main of the dialogue.

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