In Search of Essence: Constantin Brâncuși
A Romanian peasant in search of essence, Brâncuși set out on his long walk to Paris and arrived in 1904 to a place bustling with art and literature. It was one of the most effervescent periods for art in Paris, the place to be, and it continued to be so for many years. Years after Brâncuși’s arrival, Marcel Duchamp even bottled the air of Paris in a conceptual artwork to give as a gift to a man who had everything money could buy.
After attending École des Beaux-Arts, Brâncuși was invited to join the workshop of Auguste Rodin, but soon left, famously declaring, “no other tree can grow in the shadow of a great oak”. He started developing his own style, departing from the figurative tradition and turning to the direct carving technique. Mimicking nature in great detail held no interest for Brâncuși, although one of his early works, the Écorché, a human figure with its skin removed to show the anatomy of the body, was accurate enough to be used by medical students in Romania.
“I compelled stone to sing – for Humanity.”
Brâncuși’s circle of friends included Henri Matisse, Eric Satie, Guillaume Apollinaire, Amedeo Modigliani, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Henri Rousseau, Francis Picabia and Tristan Tzara. They were often invited to eat Romanian peasant fare, cooked with enormous pleasure by Brâncuși at his place, where almost every household object was made by his own hand.
Man Ray became his mentor in photography, since Brâncuși decided he needed to photograph his art and his workshop. He studied them from different angles and photographed everything extensively. A series of self-portraits was also a result of his using this medium.
“I am not Surrealist, nor Baroque, not Cubist; I am nothing of that kind; with my new style, I come from something very old…”
In creating works like The Prayer (1907), followed by The Wisdom, and the Wisdom of the Earth, Brâncuși streamlined his style to reflect his evolution towards simplified forms.
His earlier Sleep was a figurative sculpture of a feminine head emerging from the matter, as if sleeping on a cloud. In 1909 he started a series of Sleeping Muses, some fashioned in marble, others in bronze, resting peacefully their heads, now essentially free of extraneous details.
Later many versions of The Kiss and The Bird in Space will go through successive transformations to embody the essence. The Kiss will transition from being a cubist embrace between a man and woman to becoming a double circled pair of eyes in The Gate of Kiss. The Fish and Maiastra, a magical bird of Romanian fairy tales, had also been subjects of other series of sculptures. The pedestals become an integral part of the sculpture or, as in the case of Adam, the base of the work as it transitions later into Adam and Eve.
“All of my life I searched only for the essence of flight! Flying – the happiness of it!…”
In 1914, Brâncuși had his first solo show in Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery in New York. In 1926 Brâncuși travelled for two solo shows in the United States, at the Wildenstein and at the Brummer Gallery in New York. A now historic trial in the United States had to determine whether Bird in Space, with its dynamic design of a modern airplane wing, was liable for duty as an industrial object. The court decided the sculpture was a work of art.
In 1920 a controversy surrounded Princess X when it was exhibited in Paris and it was subsequently removed on grounds of obscenity. Brâncuși insisted the sculpture was a representation of the feminine ideal.
“The elements of my Infinite Columns are nothing else than human breathing, its rhythm…”
The monumental complex in Târgu Jiu, which was dedicated to World War I heroes, is comprised of several works: the Table of Silence, connected through the Chair Alley to the Gate of the Kiss and the Infinite Column rising at the end in the middle of a park carrying the artist’s name. The Table of Silence may be seen as a contemplation of the passage of time with its twelve chairs shaped like hourglasses, the “circle that brings closer and unites people,” as Brâncuși used to say. The Gate of the Kiss symbolizes the transition from life into the realm of death, and it’s a representation of love. The Infinite Column celebrates life and death, the eternal aspiration towards the absolute.
Photo: Eric Rosenbloom
Colorization: Florin Roștariu,