Carved directly into oak, the large head, with cut-out eyes and mouth agape, is balanced atop the neck and shoulders, which are slender but nonetheless able to support the mass above. Brancusi said of Socrates, “Nothing escapes the great thinker. He knows all, he sees all, he hears all. His eyes are in his ears, his ears are in his eyes.” This work not only reveals Brancusi’s admiration for the Greek philosopher but also alludes to his friendship with composer Erik Satie, whose opera Socrate had been performed in Paris in 1920. In fact, Brancusi addressed Satie, ten years his senior, as Socrates, and Satie called him Plato. Socrates was the first wooden sculpture by Brancusi acquired by MoMA; Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the Museum’s founding director, doggedly pursued it for years before it entered the collection.
Gallery label from Constantin Brancusi Sculpture, 2018