In seventh grade, Ms. Hearey, my art teacher, showed our class this piece and immediately and forever changed my understanding of Modern art.
Bird in Space, 1923.
She put up a slide of this sculpture on the first day of class, without telling us the name or giving any introduction, and asked what we thought of it. As twelve and thirteen year-olds with no particular artistic leanings, we stared dumbly and were unable to offer anything of substance. I remember actually thinking the classic non-Modern-art-lovers' comment, "I think I could have done that."
Then she told us the name, and showed us more examples of Brancusi's style of reducing and abstracting ideas to their simplest form-- in this case, a flying bird represented not by beak and wings and feathers, but by a fluid, graceful form encapsulating the essence of a bird in flight-- and it all clicked.
The Kiss, 1916
Brancusi (and these two pieces in particular) became a favorite, and Katy Hearey, if you're out there, I think I have you to thank as starting me on a path that would result in my majoring in art history and generally loving art history for life.