Constantin Brancusi

Constantin Brancusi was born on February 19, 1876, in Pistisani Gorj, Romania. After finishing school in 1887 he worked as a craftsman, and from 1895 — 98 he visited the Arts-and-Crafts school in Craiova. In 1898 he was accepted at the Art Academy in Bucharest where he received a degree in sculpting in 1902. In 1904 Brancusi left Romania and travelled to Vienna, Munich, Basel and Zurich on foot. He finally reached Paris on July 14, 1904. For one year he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and, due to his participation in the Salon d’Automne, he met August Rodin who lauded his work. At the time, Brancusi was still strongly influenced by Art Nouveau, and its harmonious curves kept their impact on his sculpting throughout Brancusi’s lifetime.
Until 1916 Brancusi had a studio on Montparnasse, close to that of American photographer Ewald Steichen. During the years 1906 and 1907, he concentrated on the sculptures of Rodin. However, while the title of his first abstract sculpture, Le Baiser / The Kiss (1908), still paid homage to Rodin, it was formally influenced by Cubism, by prehistoric sculptures, and by African masks. It was also influenced by Brancusi’s own search for forms of volume that are as simple as possible and at the same time full of dynamic tension. In the years to follow, Le Baiser was done in 14 variations. Yet another basic motif of Brancusi’s work is that he not only searched for and found clear, minimal, often egg-like shapes, but retained his interest in the way these shapes could be worked considering their material-technical aspects as well as their increased expressiveness.
At the time, Brancusi was securely anchored in the Paris Avantgarde through his contacts with Leger and Duchamp. Moreover, he enjoyed a special friendship with Amadeo Mogigliani who portrayed him in Livorno, in 1909. In 1913 Brancusi had his first exhibition at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris and, simultaneously, five of his works were shown at the Armory Show in New York. There he also found patrons who collected his works.

Together with the extensive treatment of surfaces, Brancusi’s reduction of form acquired a meditative character as to volume and space as well as movement and calmness. It is this treatment of surfaces through which he created the tension and suggestion of expression that does justice to the material. Often Brancusi gold coated or polished the surfaces so that his objects are strongly reflective. In the polished surfaces the viewer her- or himself appears in concave or convex distortion and therefore helps to determine the sculptures’ quality of calmness or movement. As to his material, the artist equally worked with marble, wood, bronze or other metals, eventually also with plaster.

Brancusi spent World War I in the French provinces. In the 1930s he thematized the war with a three-part monument installed in his native Romania. In Tirgu Jiu he created Gate of the Kiss which leads him via Table of Silence to the significant work The Endless Column – a more than 30 meter high succession of polyhedrons of equal size. In the 1930s Brancusi travelled throughout Europe, to the U.S., Egypt, and India. Central themes were treated in sculptures such as La Muse endormie /The Sleeping Muse (first version 1909/10) and L»Oiseau dans l«espace / Bird in Space (1923 — 40) where he focused in many variations on the dynamic elegance of flying birds. It is characteristic of Brancusi to use earth-bound sculpture in order to find shapes for phenomena that, like flying, seemingly overcome gravity. To present that which is lightweight through what is heavy, and to transform – through the polishing of surfaces – the sheer material mass into a spatiality of light, represents the paradoxical core of Brancusi’s sculptures.

After World War II, the Guggenheim Museum New York showed a large retrospective in 1955. In 1956 Brancusi officially assigned his sculptures and his studio to the French state. Today a part of Brancusi’s studio can be seen at the Centre Pompidou. Brancusi’s works were shown posthumously at the Documenta II (1959) and III (1964). Until today, numerous international exhibitions have been dedicated to his work, among them exhibitions at the National Museum of Art of Romania in Bukarest (1999), at the Tate Modern, London (2004), at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York, and at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (2005).

Constatin Brancusi died on March 16, 1957, in Paris.

Selected Literature

Cabanne, P.: Brancusi, Paris 2006

Bach, F.T.: Constantin Brancusi – Metamorphosen plastischer Form, 3. Aufl. Köln 2004

Constantin Brancusi: The Essence of Things: Ausst.-Kat. Tate Gallery London, hg. v. C. Ciménez, M. Gale, London 2004

Grigorescu, D.: Brancusi und die moderne Kunst, dt. Fass. H. Liebhardt, München 2003

Brancusi als Fotograf. Ein Bildhauer fotografiert sein Werk. Die Schenkung Carola Giedion-Welcker im Kunsthaus Zürich, hg. v. E. Billeter, Bern 1996

Klein, I.: Brancusi. Natur, Struktur, Skulptur, Architektur, 2 Bde., Köln 1995

Constantin Brancusi – Plastiken, Zeichnungen: Ausst.-Kat. Wilhelm-Lehmbruck-Museum, Duisburg 1976

Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen

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