Despite so little being known about the Cycladic period, modern artists took note of the direct, formal qualities of these works. This lack of historical context was certainly no hindrance; besides, most artists knew little to nothing about the African and South American cultures whose formal traditions they adopted. Modern artists didn’t necessarily need to know much about Cycladic art to borrow from its aesthetic handbook. In fact, their ignorance was paramount to the development of the abstract austerity that characterizes so much modern sculpture: It is known from traces of color preserved on various artifacts, for instance, that Cycladic artists decorated their sculptures with bright colors, just as the ancient Greeks
did. Imagine if Brâncuși or Modigliani had known that the eyes and mouths on Cycladic busts most probably would have been painted in garish colors, rather than the gleaming, pearly precedent they may have admired.
It’s easy to draw other connections between Cycladic art and its modern counterparts. The presumed fertility function of many Cycladic artifacts—a substantial portion of all busts, torsos, and figurines are women, while the occasional male takes the form of music maker, wine bearer, hunter, or warrior—certainly inhabits the sensual sculptures of
, albeit in a secular, rather than religious sense. Arp’s Torso-Kore
(1958) seems to reference the archaic mode of Greek statue in its title, but in execution, it more closely resembles the elongated torsos of Cycladic figurines, their arms traditionally folded around their bellies. His Torso-Profile
from the same year, on the other hand, with its tumescent metal flesh, looks more akin to the ample Venus
from 4500–4000 B.C.E. in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
. Ukrainian Archipenko’s Flat Torso
(1914) and Woman Combing Her Hair (Femme debout)
(1915), take a seductively graceful approach to the female form, the undulating curves of the bronze sculptures hinting at the female shape while never explicitly stating it.