Saturday, June 21, 2008

Constantin Brancusi

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), requested by reader Hypatia, was a Romanian sculptor whose works were often categorized as abstract… a categorization that Brancusi refuted, with the argument: “The people who call my work ‘abstract’ are imbeciles; what they call ‘abstract’ is in fact the purest realism…” Decide for yourself as we take a look at Constantin Brancusi’s life and his 1938 sculpture, “The Endless Column.”

1. You could say Brancusi had a hard life. He was born to poor peasants, was bullied by his father and older brothers so much that he often ran away, began herding his family’s sheep at age 7, and traveled to the closest large town at age 9 to work menial jobs. Yet to Brancusi, his life was “a succession of marvelous events.”

2. Brancusi received formal training, thanks to funding from an employer, and then set out for Munich in 1903. From there, he traveled onward to Paris, supposedly traveling most of the journey on foot. While in Paris, he was invited to enter Auguste Rodin’s workshop, after working two years in Antonin Mercié’s workshop. But, although he admired Rodin, he left after only two months, because “nothing can grow under big trees.”

3. Like many artists of the time, Brancusi lived a bohemian life with the likes of Ezra Pound, Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Henri Rousseau. Described as “short and lively,” he enjoyed cigarettes, good wine, and the company of women, though he never acknowledged the child he had by one of those women.

4. “The Endless Column” is part of an ensemble in Targu Jiu, Romania, that commemorates the courage and sacrifice of young Romanians who fought off a German invasion in 1916. The column, 17 rhomboidal cast-iron modules stacked almost 100 feet high, is inspired by the symbolism of axis mundi and the funerary pillars of southern Romania. In the 1950s, the piece was declared a bourgeois sculpture by the communist government, but their plan to demolish it was never executed. Today, it’s depicted on Targu Jiu’s coat of arms.

5. Though he lived in France for more than 50 years, Brancusi only became a citizen in 1952, so that he could make his caregivers, a Romanian refugee couple, his heirs, as well as bequeath his studio to the Musée National d’Art Moderne. Part of his collection was only bequeathed on the condition that his workshop be rebuilt as it was on the day he died; the workshop was demolished shortly after his death but wasn’t rebuilt for nearly 20 years.

6. Brancusi enjoyed fame during his lifetime, but it was post-mortem that he really hit the big time. First, he was elected to the Romanian Academy in 1990. Then, he set an auction price record for sculpture when his “Danaide” was sold for $18.1 million in 2002. Just three years later, though, he broke his own record when a piece from his “Bird in Space” series sold for $27.5 million on auction at Christie’s.

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