Sculpture | Brancusi On and Off the Pedestal

Endless Column,
version 1, 1918
Museum of Modern Art,
New York.
Gift of Mary Sisler.
Photo Thomas Griesel

Constantin Brancusi Sculpture
Museum of Modern Art
New York City | USA
22 July 2018 > 18 February 2019

During the Roman period, when sculpted figures were first elevated on columns, those represented were imbued with ‘untouchable’, divine status, and rendered remote. Albeit his birds are positioned high up, in the early 20th-century, Constantin Brancusi (1876 > 1957) brought sculpture back down to earth; his heads of children and sleeping women are set low down and his portrait pieces are designed for viewing at eye level.

Fish, 1930
Blue-grey marble
on three-part
pedestal of one
and two
limestone cylinders.
Museum of Modern Art,
New York.
Acquired through
the Lillie P
Bliss Bequest
(by exchange).
Photo Imaging
& Visual
Department, MoMA

Pedestal design having remained pretty much the same for 2000 years, the arrival of Brancusi’s revolutionary innovations that transformed sculpture’s relationship to the space it inhabits, and how the viewer experiences it, caused a sensation. Serving simultaneously as components of the artwork and as their support, each of his pedestals – made from wood, limestone, or marble – became an integral element of his finished pieces, raising or lowering them to heights that suit their subject matter.

Young Bird, 1928
Bronze on two-part
limestone pedestal.
Museum of Modern Art,
New York.
Gift of Mr and Mrs
William A M Burden

While, Brancusi generally treated the pedestal as a secondary element, in Endless Column, version I, 1918, it became the sculpture itself. It consisted of a single symmetrical element – a pair of truncated pyramids, one upright, the other inverted – repeated to produce a continuous vertical structure that Brancusi called his  ‘column for infinity.’ He would afterwards repeat the concept at larger scales and in different materials, to serve as an architectural element and for free-standing monuments. Endless Column paved the way for future sculptors to relinquish pedestals altogether and facilitated their taking sculpture in a wide variety of different directions.

With his friend Man Ray, who introduced him to the medium, Brancusi made films that stand as a testament to his desire for his work to be experienced in the round, in relation to an environment and to other things. Rarely seen, a number of his films will be shown alongside 11 sculptures by the artist that form part of the Museum’s holdings, displayed together for the first time, in the forthcoming exhibition Constantin Brancusi Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art.

All works by Constantin Brancusi, © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Images courtesy Museum of Modern Art

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