140 years of Brancusi
If you are familiar with the modern art, you are probably familiar with who Constantin Brancusi is. Today he is mainly presented, on the international art scene, as French, but Brancusi was born and studied art in Romania. He was born in a family of Romanian peasants, in a village next to my hometown, Targu-Jiu. He left Romania at the age of 27 (1903) and travelled to Munich and then to Paris on foot. After he assisted Rodin for one month, he decided to leave the famous sculptor’s atelier because, as he said, “nothing grows in the shadow of great trees”. He started to develop what some call “abstract art”, term which he didn’t like.
“Some idiots call my work abstract, in spite of the fact that what they call abstract is actually the most real of all — not the outer appearance, but the concept or essence of things” – Constantin Brancusi.
In the context of today’s art scene, is hard to believe he had to fight all his life to prove his work is “real art”. In 1926, when he sent his sculpture “Bird in Space” for an exhibition in New York, his artwork was not recognized as “art” because it had nothing to do with a bird, as the name suggested… it was not a good enough imitation of a real bird, therefore it cannot be qualified as art. US officials classified Bird in Space as (drum rolls….) “kitchen utensils and hospital supplies”. Brancusi, who started a court case to defend his Bird against the state, won the battle, a moment that is considered a milestone in the evolution of modern art.
In 1935, Brancusi receives a commission to create The Sculptural Ensemble Constantin Brancusi in Targu-Jiu, in memoriam of WWI heroes. He completes the monuments in 1938 and refuses to take money for it (proves to be the only gift he could give Romania and be appreciated).
His battle against ignorance continued. In 1951, when Brancusi decided to donate all his artworks to the Romanian state, his donation was refused and his artwork classified as simple carved objects that any peasants in Romania can do. Also, they said his work would not be contributing in any way to the building of socialism in Romania! So the only way to protect his work was to give up his Romanian citizenship and apply for French citizenship, which he receives one year later.
In 1955, when he felt his end is near, he asked the Romanian state to approve his repatriation, and of course, they refused again. With no other choice left, he donated his entire art to the French State.
Hard to believe, but incompetence in dealing with Brancusi legacy lasts to this day in Romania. Only last year, UNESCO rejected Romania’s application for the Sculptural Ensemble of Constantin Brancusi in Targu-Jiu – not because the work doesn’t deserve to be on the World Heritage Site list, but because the application was so poorly compiled and presented, it just didn’t make a strong case (as I have a very good idea about the people in charge with such projects, I can easily imagine how that application must have looked like).
Anyway, some progress has been made, and starting this year, 19th of February is declared a national day, “Brancusi Day”. Hopefully the awareness about the importance of Brancusi’s legacy will raise and more good things will follow.
Below are the monuments that are part of the Sculptural Ensemble in Targu-Jiu (my hometown).
The Table of Silence (Masa Tacerii)
The Gate of Kiss (Poarta Sarutului)
The Endless column (Coloana Infinitului)