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Brancusi and the Space of Modern Sculpture








This Spring, we’re pleased to offer the course Brancusi and the Space of Modern Sculpture with art historian Roni Feinstein. The class will include lectures, as well as a trip to the Norton Simon Museum to view their exhibition on the artist.

In case you’re not familiar with Brancusi, we asked Roni a few questions about the artist, his influence, and what students can expect from the class.

1.   For those who aren’t familiar with his work, can you introduce Constantin Brancusi?

Constantin Brancusi, who was born to a family of Romanian peasants in 1876, made his way to Paris on foot in 1904.  After seeing a few of his early sculptures in an exhibition, the great sculptor Auguste Rodin, best known for The Thinker and Burghers of Callais, invited the young artist to become an assistant in his studio, a position Brancusi held for only about a month.  He later explained his departure by saying, “Nothing can grow in the shadow of a great tree.”  Although Brancusi’s art was in some ways indebted to that of Rodin, it was in myriad ways its polar opposite.  If Rodin was the quintessential sculptor of the 19th Century, Brancusi played this role for the 20th Century, his influence extending from Henry Moore to the American Minimalists of the 1960s to the artists of today.   Brancusi died in 1957, but his influence lives on and it is remarkable how often artists continue to create work specifically in homage to Brancusi and his accomplishments.

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Constantin Brancusi, Self-Portrait in the Studio, 1933-34.
Photograph, 5 1/16 x 3 9/16. Musee National d’Artmoderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.


2. Can you talk a bit about his influence?

Although Brancusi created a few highly important abstract sculptures, most of his subjects were drawn from the natural world.  Whether the head of a child, a bird or a fish, he reduced forms to their most basic and essential shapes, a purity of form being a hallmark of Modernism.  He also exploited the inherent properties of his materials, whether wood, stone or brass.  With regard to wood and stone, he reinstated the ancient technique of direct carving as a tool for modern artists, employing both smooth surfaces that evoke classical traditions and rough-hewn surfaces that look back to primitive art and the folk art of his native Romania.  The two types of carving were often seen within a single work in the contrast between the sculpted object and its base, Brancusi conceiving of the base not as a neutral resting place for sculpture, but as integral to the work as a whole.   (Several artists have in fact made a career working in the legacy of Brancusi’s bases.)  Brancusi was immensely concerned not only with the relationship of the sculpture to its support, but also to the architecture and surrounding space.  His interest in presentation and display–in installation–has had a long heritage in modern and contemporary art.

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Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space, 1931. Polished bronze, 73 in. The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.


3.  What pieces in the Norton Simon exhibition are you looking forward to viewing with students, and why?

Brancusi’s polished bronze Bird in Space, 1931, which is installed not in the Beyond Brancusi exhibition on the museum’s lower level, but with the display of Modern Art on the museum’s first floor, is a remarkable piece.  It offers not just the image of a bird, but of a bird in flight, the form of the piece charting the trajectory of its skyward movement.  Positioned directly below a skylight, the gleaming bronze surface dissolves in the light from overhead in a manner the artist would have loved.  Although it has a dematerizalized aspect, it will be fascinating to have students compare and contrast this work with Rodin’s mighty Balzac sculpture that stands in front of the museum, which has a similar upward-thrusting quality.  It may also be noted that Brancusi’s Bird in Space is an object with an amazing history, as in 1926 the US Customs Service imposed a tax on a slightly earlier version of the sculpture on the grounds that it was an industrial object and not a work of art.

4.  What do you hope students learn to appreciate in the class that they might not have without the context you’ll provide?

The Beyond Brancusi exhibition at the Norton Simon is made up of about 20 sculptures by an assortment of artists drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, but it does not make clear exactly how these works relate to Brancusi, nor does it present any actual pieces by Brancusi or offer his work in the context of the time in which it was made, which is something that the class intends to do.  A more specific example might be that in the exhibition, sculptures by Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Robert Irwin all make use of the repetition of a single modular unit.  These works are indebted to Endless Column, which is perhaps Brancusi’s most famous and influential sculpture, but this is not explained or examined in the Norton Simon show.

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Robert Irwin, Untitled, 1968. Synthetic polymer paint on metal disc and arm, 60 in. diameter. Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

5.  Why did you choose this topic and artist to address during this class?

Constantin Brancusi stands with Picasso as the most influential sculptor of the Twentieth Century, yet his name and work are hardly known.  Gaining an understanding of the nature of Brancusi’s art and influence will greatly expand each student’s knowledge and appreciation of both modern and contemporary art.

6.  Do you have a favorite work by the artist?

I am torn between The Kiss, one of the first works by Brancusi to attract me when I was very young and Leda, a piece I struggled to understand, but once I “got it,” I was awed by its sensuality and brilliance.  Actually, there are so many incredible works that it’s hard to choose.  Brancusi’s photography, which we’ll explore in class, is remarkable as well.

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Constantin Brancusi, Endless Column (version I), 1918. Oak, 6’8″ x 9′ 7/8 “x 9′ 5/8”, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.








Gary Baseman: Pervasion and Play

baseman_pervasion_play_skirball_lgThis spring we have a very exciting opportunity for students. In partnership with the Skirball Cultural Center and their exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door is Always Open, we’re offering a course that starts with a review of the artist’s work and influence, and ends with a tour of the exhibition accompanied by Baseman himself.

Many Los Angelenos (or fans of Cranium) may already be familiar with Baseman’s work. Organized thematically, Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open examines the many facets of Baseman’s creativity and underscores the influence of his Jewish upbringing and American popular culture on his career. The exhibition presents more than 300 artworks and objects from his prodigious output and eclectic collections. Highlights include vibrant illustrations for The New Yorker and Rolling Stone; title card paintings and maquettes for Baseman’s Emmy Award–winning animated television series Teacher’s Pet; iconic artwork for the popular board game Cranium; and many of Baseman’s beloved, limited-edition designer toys.

The class begins with a lecture by Denise A. Gray, Principal Consultant of MUSED, consulting in art and museums. She has worked in the field for twenty years, including twelve spent at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, where she developed and managed community, family, youth, and teen programs. Gray has worked with Gary Baseman since 2007, managing his fine and commercial art projects, producing his art performances, and organizing his exhibitions in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy. She contributed to two 2013 publications related to Baseman’s retrospective exhibition, Gary Baseman: The Door is Always Open and Mono Baseman.

Following the lecture, students will tour the exhibition at the Skirball, and meet and participate in a discussion with Mr. Baseman. This is an unique opportunity to meet with an iconic artist, and we’re greatful to the Skirball and Denise Gray for their partnership!

For course details, or to enroll, click here. 

(image: Gary Baseman, The Door is Always Open, 2012, acrylic on board, courtesy of the artist).

The Strange World of Eric Gill


Are you a fan of the font Gill Sans? How much do you know about the artist behind it? 

Controversial British artist Eric Gill has a number of engravings, typography and writings housed at the Laband Art Gallery. Offered in partnership with Loyola Marymount University, the class The Sensual and the Spiritual: Eric Gill’s Life and Work presents a lecture on the artist’s unusual lifestyle and personality, followed by a tour where students can view his work firsthand.

The class is led by Carolyn Peter, director and curator of the gallery. It’s a great chance to get the inside scoop on this unusual and influential artist.


(images: Eric Gill, “Thou Hast Made Me,” from The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, 1938, The Albert Spierson Collection, University of San Francisco. Eric Gill, “The Lord’s Song,” from The Lord’s Song, 1934, he Albert Spierson Collection, University of San Francisco).


Art in Pasadena with Jay Belloli

This week we have a great opportunity for students to learn about the history and impact of the Pasadena Art Museum. With the acceptance of the extensive Galka Scheyer collection of Feininger, Kandinsky, Klee, and Jawlensky in 1954, the Pasadena Art Museum began 20 years of extraordinary exhibitions and collecting, made possible by exceptional directors and curators. From the internationally celebrated retrospective of Marcel Duchamp to the first Andy Warhol retrospective and beyond, the museum made major contributions to the cultural life of the Los Angeles region.

Pacific Asia Museum’s exhibion 46 N. Los Robles: A History of the Pasadena Art Museum is closing this weekend. On Thursday, 4/5, guest curator Jay Belloli will give a lecture and slide show on the Pasadena Art Museum in our 1010 Westwood Center. Then this Saturday, students will visit both Pacific Asia Museum and the Norton Simon to view works up close and meet one of the participating artists. It should be a fun and informative session for anyone interested in the history of the Los Angeles art scene.

For more details, and to enroll in the class, click here.

Arts at UCLA Extension


The Visual Arts program offers a range of courses for adult students who want to improve their artistic skills, pursue a hobby, or just have fun in the classroom! Click here to view our spring course offerings in studio arts, art history and photography.  Most courses meet in the evening or on weekends, and many are appropriate for students with no previous background in the arts. This spring we’ll be offering courses in Collage and Assemblage, Ikebana, Caravaggio, Photographic Portraiture, and more. Courses are open enrollment, so there is no lengthy application process; students can enroll in any courses that they feel suits their experience level and interests.

Questions? E-mail visualarts@uclaextension.edu or call (310) 206-1422.

Painting by instructor Alison Blickle.

This Spring: Survey of Western Art Part III

This Spring intrepid instructor Mary Beth Carosello will be back to lead Part III of our Art History Survey Series. The lectures concentrate on the masterpieces of architecture, painting, sculpture, and related arts from the late 17th through early 20th centuries. The course begins with the transition from Baroque to the Age of Enlightenment and Romantic-Classicism in the 18th century. Continuing with Realism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism, instruction emphasizes the work of Goya, Monet, Degas, Cézanne, van Gogh, and Rodin. Special emphasis is given to contemporaneous developments in architecture from Jefferson’s Monticello and the Arc de Triomphe to the skyscraper. The variety of movements that ushered in the 20th century include a study of Munch and German Expressionism, Matisse and Fauvism, and Picasso and Cubism, continuing through the work of Mondrian and the architecture of Gaudí and Frank Lloyd Wright.

We’re so glad to have Mary Beth leading this series, and I know students feel the same way. As one student put it “Mary Beth is such an amazing teacher. I have been thinking about taking an art class for some time now at UCLA and signed up because of her. You can tell that she truly loves what she is doing and she makes the class interesting and informative.” Another says “Instructor was one of the best I’ve ever had, in both undergraduate art history courses and graduate courses. Provided valuable supplemental information and activities incorporated into material. Instructor was approachable and friendly, and encouraged valuable discussion in class.”

Class meets on Tuesday evenings at the 1010 Westwood Center for 11 weeks, beginning April 3. There’s also a field trip to the Getty! Click here to enroll.

Survey of Western Art History: Part II

Art History Survey Series begins tonight! Please note that the class will now be meeting in room 415 at the 1010 Westwood Center (not on UCLA campus).
We’re happy to have Mary Beth back, and know she’s excited to start class again. Part II of the series begins in the Proto-Renaissance in Italy and proceeds to a full study of Renaissance art in both southern and northern Europe. The course continues with the study of Mannerism in Italy, Baroque art throughout Europe, and concludes with Rococo. Artists and artworks studied are a select group representing the high points in cultural achievement, including Giotto, Jan van Eyck, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Dürer, Holbein, Rubens, Velasquez, and Rembrandt. There are also two field trips, one to the Getty and one to LACMA.
If you’re interested, check out the details.

Who Are We – Visual Arts

If you’re dropping by this blog but are not familiar with who we are or what we do, here’s a little introduction.

UCLA Extension is the continuing education arm of UCLA. Here in the visual arts program, we offer open enrollment courses in fine art (including drawing, painting, mixed media, etc), art history, and photography. That means that anyone can enroll – you don’t have to be a UCLA student, and there’s no formal application process to go through. We program our own classes, separately from campus (although we do offer courses that carry UC transfer credit), and our instructors are working professionals in their fields.

Most of our courses are offered on weekday evenings, or on weekends, and our students are largly working professionals who have a passion for the arts and want to keep their practice active, or just learn more about figuration, Photoshop, or the masters of the Renaissance.

You can see samples of our students’ work on this blog, and a few instructor images included below. Click here to see what we’re offering this quarter. There are courses appropriate for all experience levels, and we provide a classroom environment that is supportive yet challenging.

Questions about the program? Call (310) 206-1422 to speak with an advisor.

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