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MoMA, New York: Constantin Brancusi and the art of modern sculpture

publicat in: Uncategorized // Publicata pe 25.10.2018





1. The beginning: Constantin Brancusi Biography

2. 2000 km – Walking to Paris

3. The Works of Constantin Brancusi – transforming the art of sculpture

4. MoMa, New York: Constantin Brancusi Exhibition


When you think about abstract sculpture, what is the shape that first comes to your mind? What about when trying to visualize the man behind the abstract, how do you imagine him? Perhaps wearing working clothes / jumpsuit, having gypsum and dust all over, wrapped in a strong odour of cigarettes, in a world with restricted access. A visionary person who displays confidence, yet humble at the same time? Inquisitive and obsessed with perfection? Perhaps you might find it a bit poetic and too much, yet this perfectly describes Constantin Brancusi – creator of modern abstract sculpture. The act of displaying volume in space with an abstract feeling was almost unheard when Brancusi began to express himself through sculpture. As a pioneer in sculpture, Brancusi detached it from the usual instinctive replica of nature, denying the symbolic depiction of reality, while creating a unity between sensitive and spiritual. With his works, influenced by childhood and the world in which he was born and raised, he represents the way Romanian peasant is perceived by the people. Brancusi revealed to the Western world the sacred dimension of reality.


"There are idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things." – Constantin Brancusi


1. The beginning: Constantin Brancusi Biography


Brancusi converted the Romanian peasant into an absolute God of abstract sculpture, from national to universal symbol and from Hobita to Paris. Born in 1876 in the village of Hobita, Gorja, near Targu – Jiu – a little piece of heaven, with constant traditions and habits, always preserved by Constantin Brancusi in his soul and later his works. Since it was normal during those time, little Brancusi did not attended any school, but was involved in household chores. Because of his miserable childhood, he attempts to flee his native village a couple of times. At the age of 9, he finally leaves home, with a first stop Targu Jiu, working for a dye house. All this time, he discovers the pleasure of working with wood and starts to get involved in sculpture projects,  year 1894 finds him at the School of Arts and Crafts in Craiova – where he was born the second time and learns to write and read alone. The year 1903 marks a premiere: public monument commissioning for the bust of General Physician Carol Davila, later mounted at the Military Hospital in Bucharest. Besides, this is the only public monument of Constantin Brancusi in the Capital.


2. 2000 km – Walking to Paris


In 1903, after completing his military internship, Brancusi is attracted by the fame of sculptor Auguste Rodin, who already became famous in Bucharest, after Paris. Rodin's daring theories were disputed in every cultural background of the time, by both avant-garde citizens and academics. Rodin's example awakens Brancusi's curiosity to see what happens in art beyond the borders of Romania. He Leaves for Munich, Germany, where he stays until the spring of 1904. Then, he decides to go to Paris, an expensive journey for a man with a modest income. Today, his expedition could be a fragment from some sort of adventure film. A large part of the trip involves backpack walking. For example, because he could not afford to pay the boat for crossing Lake Konstanz, Brancusi had to sell his watch.


3. The Works of Constantin Brancusi – transforming the art of sculpture


In 1906, Constantin Brancusi makes his debut at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and Salon d'Automne in Paris, but is far from being satisfied although the French newspapers were already raising him to the skies. Even Rodin, Brancusi's mentor, who mastered the sculpture world at that moment, participate at this 1907 opening, hosted by National Society of French Arts. In here, three works were introduced: a bust, a baby head and "Pride".


By 1907 he completes, perhaps one of his most controversial works – Cumintenia Pamantului – from Crinoidal limestone (limestone). Shaken by Paris movements, he begins to reflect on the universal, occurring to him while contemplating the stone block. Then, perhaps for exorcising the Earth, he created "Cumintenia Pamantului". A statue depicting an imbalanced female face – on the left side we have primal raw features and in turn, everything is civilized and humanized on the right side. Could she actually represent the universal symbol of being, at least for Earthlings, as a reminder of so many faces?



Between 1909 and 1910, Brancusi completes the first sculpture that opens the series "Ciclul torsului", namely "Tors 1" – an art work made from white marble. The fragment of female torso is subjected to a double execution techniques / perspectives – the left rib is perfectly polished, with careful eye on the details of the female body, in a way specific for romantic sculpture, gradually passing from the lighted surfaces, to gloomy areas. The other side features marble in the stage of stone block. This artwork proves once again Brancusi’ separation from traditional sculpture. Another aspect that defined the entire life of this sculptor – his constant quest for perfection. Incidentally, marble was among his favorite materials. Maybe because both had something in common – perfection.


During the same period, he created "Sleeping Muse", also from marble, currently in Washington and starting with this piece carved into white marble, he made a gypsum layout to be later used for other 6 pieces of bronze. Brancusi rejected tradition for creating his own modernist aesthetics. A woman's head that conveys depth, tranquility and reasoning besides facial features give you the feeling of melting in an embryonic form.



"Brancusi's works are definite shapes of a mindset in which reality and fantasy coexist in a harmonious synthesis."


"Maiastra" – a series of 30 bronze and marble sculptures, derived from popular legends. Maiastra Bird is the queen of birds, a symbol of freedom, victory and joy. In fact, Brancusi wanted to capture the "essence of flight" in a perfectly balanced static form. Again, his obsession with perfection and aspiration to transcendence and spirituality. The Sculptures of "Pasarea Maiastra" series have a degree of styling and incorporating details, different from one work to another, whose profile goes through a progressive lengthening reaching the limit of defying marble durability laws, until they reach perfection of a symbol. Brancusi features this work alongside "Sleeping Muse (Muza adormita)" and "Miss Pogany" within the International Exhibition of Modern Art in New York, 1913.



"Miss Pogany" – a treasury of the Romanian cultural heritage. "Mademoiselle Pogány" was made in gypsum, marble and bronze and is one of its most famous sculptures. Brancusi offers a new perspective on the portrait.


"... Her eyes bring to mind the eyes of Precistas depicted on ancient Byzantine icons. Model’s hair is wrapped above the neck in a double spiral bun, to look like golden apples and over the descending neck, her hands, extended like two tendrils, rest in a characteristic gesture. Having such an originality, the portrait, just like the model, conveys indeed a fascinating spell. "



And there are many other works that established Brancusi as an artist, turning him into a genius of modern sculpture. He loved to work with stone – as a reconnection with the lands where he was born – yet he mainly used marble and limestone for his works and less travertine. Two other materials highlighted in his works are wood and bronze – his attention, almost obsession, for finishing. He rejected realism for conveying / expressing with his sculptures would the subject from their names rather than a resemblance with their names.


4. MoMa, New York: Constantin Brancusi Exhibition


11 works of the artist were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, alongside installations that include filming, drawings and photographs associated with the influence he had on modern art, but also from his personal life. The honest portrait of an artist who took the risk of tackling this art form differently, but also has changed the course. Moreover, the curators who hosted the event recompiled Brancusi’s favorite playlist he used while working. On 11 March 1914, Constantin Brancusi opened his first exhibition in New York. Hosted by MoMA, the most spectacular work was "Bird in Space" (1928). A bronze, thin, slightly dusty sculpture, which seems to pierce the sky from the cylindrical stone pedestal.



Constantin Brancusi remains a genius sculptor of the 20th century, an artist who conveyed the emotion of Romanian soil into every corner of the world, dressing it in a modern robe defined by natural materials – stone, wood and bronze. He never joined any artistic movement, although he was constantly surrounded by many Dada artists – Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara – he certainly managed to create his own artistic movement and his legacy goes beyond time, perpetual at the vanguard. With his works, Brancusi delivered us pure joy.

MoMA, New York: Constantin Brancusi and the art of modern sculpture
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