Art Dictionary

Constantin Brancusi

Biography

Constantin Brancusi (* 1876 in Hobita, Romania, † 1957 in Paris) came to Paris in 1904, where he studied until 1907 at the École des Beaux-Arts, forming friendships with Modigliani, Archipenko, Duchamp, and Cocteau. In 1906 he exhibited at the Salon d' Automne, and met Rodin. He had his first solo show in New York in 1914. May Ray introduced him to photography in 1921. Became a French citizen in 1952.

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Book related to this subject

Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra

Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra
A Handbook of Possibilities

out of print
ISBN 978-3-7757-2821-8
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Striving to Achieve the Perfect Form

“Simplicity is not a goal, but an unavoidable approach to the true meaning of things.” (Constantin Brancusi)

Besides Rodin, whom he knew and admired, Brancusi was one of the most important of the classic modern sculptors. After starting out in a traditional, academic way, he discovered the path to his own style in 1907, shortly after he finished his studies. He primarily made use of themes from antiquity and elements of African and Romanian folk art, developing them into long-term series of works, and working on some of them for decades. Brancusi would take a theme and make it more and more abstract, working out what he considered the essence of his subjects, and thus coming closer, step by step, to a quintessential statement.

Characteristic of his serial work method are series such as The Kiss, Bird in the Room, Princesse X, Négresse blanche, Infinite Column, and works titled Head of a Sleeping Child and The Sleeping Muse. His motifs were rendered in stone, bronze, plaster, and wood. Brancusi’s constant search for an artistic ideal manifested in his formal variations of just a few motifs, as well as the way that he played with different materials and surfaces.

Like other avant-garde artists, Brancusi was also influenced by industrialization and the technological innovations of his time. A crucial experience was his visit to the air show at Grand Palais in Paris in 1912. From then on the artist approached the industrial form, which he considered perfect, through his polished sculptures.

In the 1930s Brancusi took a stronger interest in the link between architecture and sculpture. He was commissioned to create a war memorial in Tirgu Jiu, Romania, which was realized in 1938. With individual works titled Infinite Column, Table of Silence, and Gate of the Kiss, the memorial forms a perfect axis along a distance of about one-and-a-half kilometers. This work contributed considerably to Brancusi’s reputation as the most important sculpture of the avant-garde. During the last decade of his life, the sculptor worked mainly on large architectural projects and planned, among other things, to realize Infinite Column as a skyscraper in Chicago.

Brancusi was also in step with the times when it came to persistently using all available media possible in order to present his work, primarily through his design of the pedestal, to which he paid special attention, and which, as far as he was concerned, served “to unite and animate all forms into one form.” He designed his studio as a total work of art, with colorful curtains, lighting, homemade furniture, and variations on his own objects, from the raw block to the finished sculpture. By photographing his own works, he had the last word on their interpretation and visual documentation. Hence, Brancusi was artist and curator, exhibition designer and interpreter at the same time. Just before his death in 1956, he decided to leave his studio to the French state, under the condition that it only be exhibited as a total work of art. In 1997 architect Renzo Piano reconstructed the studio space next to the Centre Georges Pompidou, according to Brancusi’s directions, and thus provided an interested public with some insight into the artist’s oeuvre.

May 16, 2011 Monika Wolz

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