dive into the sculptor’s workshop

Constantin Brancusi, The True Thing

by Doina Lemny

Gourcuff Gradenigo, 240 p., €59

Who would have imagined that this peasant from the Carpathians would upset modern sculpture? Constantin Brancusi, born in 1876 in a lost village in Romania, never cut himself off from his roots. The Neolithic sculptures of Hamangia, the magic bird “Maïstria” from the tales of his childhood or the sculpted porches of Romanian houses have nourished his inspiration. And it is undoubtedly this openness to non-academic forms that allowed him, after the School of Fine Arts in Bucharest and a passage through Rodin’s studio in Paris, to invent an absolutely unique style.

Amply illustrated, the monograph by Doïna Lemny, honorary curator at the Center Pompidou, takes us into the making of the work. Thanks to the photographs taken by Brancusi, we measure his work of outline, cutting and his games of assembly. How an inclined woman’s bust gradually changes into a phallic form Princess X. How he doesn’t hesitate to saw off a sculpture at the bottom to keep only the ovoid head. How by piling up his geometric caryatids, he gives birth to The Endless Column…

Brancusi, eternal lover

Thanks to a meticulous analysis of Brancusi’s archives, the author sheds light on the artist’s friendship with composers Erik Satie and Marcel Mihalovici, a compatriot, with writers James Joyce and Ezra Pound or photographer Edward Steichen. It shows the key role played by Marcel Duchamp, who actively promoted his work in the United States and helped him win his famous lawsuit there against customs who wanted to tax his bird in space like a common piece of metal.

Exhibited at the Armory Show in 1913, then soon after in Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery in New York, supported by wealthy American collectors, then hailed by a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 1955, Brancusi found much greater recognition across the Atlantic. early than in France where its Princess X was withdrawn in 1920 from the Salon des Indépendants by the Prefect of Police.

Throughout the pages, we also discover that the sculptor of the Kiss hid an eternal lover. A jovial bear who liked to surround himself with young women dancing in his studio and maintained a secret affair with his secretary Marthe Lebherz from whom a son was born, never recognized. In the last fifteen years of his life, when the old man had become the guardian of his own museum, he did not hesitate to receive young foreign students. Very attentive to the staging of his works, he bequeathed his studio in Impasse Ronsin entirely to the National Museum of Modern Art, on the condition that it be reconstituted as it was.

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