BRANCUSI AT THE GUGGENHEIM

Guggenheim Collection: Brancusi, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA, 2017. © Guggenheim Museum

“God is everywhere, when you totally forget about yourself and, when you feel humble and, when you give yourself. Divinity remains in your work; she is magical…Well, a lady from New York who really felt this thing, cried and kneeled in front of one of my gorgeous Măiestre.“ (Constantin Brancusi)

In 2017, with the occasion of 60 years from Brancusi’s death, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from New York has opened an exhibit section where they presented eight masterpieces by Constantin Brancusi (19thofFebruary 1876, Hobiţa, Romania– 16th of March 1957, Paris, France), which were in some storage and, inaccessible to the public until that date, when the museum did a rearranging of his permanent collection. The exhibit was opened until 2018, and was supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute of New York. It have been shown eight, wood and marble outstanding sculptures by Brancusi: The Sorceress, 1916-24; King of Kings,1938; The Muse, 1912; Adam and Eve, 1921; The Miracle, 1930-32; Flying Turtle, 1940-45; Watchdog 1916; Oak base, 1920. Also, the exhibit included a series of photographs of Brancusi’s workshop in Paris and his art works in situ, taken by Man RayEdward SteichenWayne F. Miller and Brancusi himself.

Brancusi in Paris

In the first decade of the 20th century, the time when Brancusi has lived in Paris, he created a big number of innovative art pieces, which changed the path of modern sculpture. Paris was an “effervescent artistic center, a true international capital of art, where were born and debated numerous modern techniques and concepts.” Brancusi has participated actively to the Parisian artistic life, with other artists, who were his close friends: Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Amedeo Modigliani and Henri Rousseau.

“His aspiration to express the essence of his subjects through simplified forms and his engagement with non–Western European artistic traditions led to new stylistic approaches. In addition, his mode of presentation, which equally emphasized sculpture and base and in which works were shown in direct relation to one another, instead of as independent entities, introduced new ways of thinking about the nature of the art object.” (www.guggenheim.org)

Brancusi in his Parisian workshop (photo by Wayne Miller), 1946

Collecting Brancusi

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has started to collect the Brancusi’s masterpieces in the middle of the 50s, under the direction of James Johnson Sweeney. When he has started his job as the museum’s director, the museum collection was based on “non-objective” paintings, direction imposed by the first director of Guggenheim Museum, Hilla von Rebay. Sweeney has extended in a significant way the museum acquisition’s politics towards other genres and techniques and, in special sculpture; in 1953 he acquisitioned Brancusi’s masterpiece Adam and Eva. The Museum has gotten Katherine S. Dreier inheritance donation and with that the sculpture Little French Girl, created by Brancusi in1914-1918.

In the 26th of October 1955, Guggenheim Museum has dedicated an extensive retrospective to Constantin Brancusi, by presenting fifty-nine sculptures and ten drawings and gouaches. Seven of the masterpieces were coming directly from Brancusi’s workshop in Paris and were shown for the first time in S.U.A. In the press release, Sweeney has emphasized “the importance of such an extensive exhibition for the understanding and correct appreciation of Brancusi’s genius. Only such a crossing of his art can make us realized his love for materials such wood, stone, marble, and the sincere and direct way of the artist’s imagination.”

Guggenheim Collection: Brancusi, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA, 1955. © Guggenheim Museum

 Brancusi and Peggy Guggenheim

The relationship of Brancusi with Guggenheim family was existing long time before the New York exhibit, because the close relationship of Brancusi and Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979), the niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861-1949). The rich Jewish girl has opened in 1938, in London the gallery Guggenheim Jeune, and she wanted to dedicate the first exhibit to Brancusi’s artworks, the only modern artist she has known for sixteen years… But she hasn’t been able to find him, he was not in Paris at that time and she invited Jean Cocteau to exhibit his work.

In 1939, Peggy Guggenheim – “Peghiţa” for Brancusi, well known as the „Mistress of Modernism” – or of Modernists!? (she had love affairs with Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst and Samuel Beckett) – has been in Paris where she started the acquisition of artworks by well-known artists at low prices. Because of the imminent war, a lot of famous artists were prepared to leave the city and they were selling all their “stock” art pieces. For years, Peggy Guggenheim has tried to buy a bronze sculpture from Brancusi, but even she couldn’t afford the price asked by the artist. “It was very difficult to discuss prices with Brancusi and if you had the courage to do that, you had to expect to hear an unbelievable high price. I was aware of this and I hoped that our friendship will make the deal easier. But we fought horribly when he asked four thousand dollars for Bird in Space”. So, despite the relationship with Herbert Read – after she has been the wife of Laurence Vail, and Max Ernst and Samuel Beckett’s mistress – she decided to seduce Brancusi:

“He loved me very much but I have never been able to obtain something from him. Laurence Vail has suggested me to marry Brancusi to inherit all his sculptures. I was thinking about it but I discovered soon that he had other ideas and didn’t want me to be his heiress. He would prefer to sell everything to me and hid the money in his wooden shoes”. (Peggy Guggenheim)

Peggy Guggenheim standing alongside a Brancusi sculpture.

The “Bird…” affair was over in 1940 after Peggy Guggenheim realized that she couldn’t obtain anything from Brancusi – “half a wise peasant, half a true god” – and she has disappeared for few months. When she came back she accepted Brancusi’s price, and by buying francs from New York she managed to save one thousand dollars. Even he has felt tricked by her, the artist accepted the deal with only one condition, to finish polishing the masterpiece. Peggy went to his workshop few days before the Germans entered the city of Paris and she is telling that “on Brancusi’s face tears were flowing. I was really moved. I didn’t ever understand why he was so emotional, but I supposed because he was saying good bye to his favorite bird”. (Peggy Guggenheim) In the same time, she bought for one thousand dollars the sculpture named “Măiastra”, from Paul Poiret’s sister.

Constantin Brancusi during a golf game, with Henri-Pierre Roché, Jeanne Foster and John Quinn (first American collector of Brancusi’s artworks), 1923.

Bibliography:

Peggy Guggenheim, Confessions of an Art Addict, Harper Collins, 1997)

Author: Silvia Suciu

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