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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 09:57 GMT
Review: Constantin Brancusi
Anca Toader
BBC World Service

Brancusi's Muse
The egg-shaped sculpture is a popular Brancusi trademark
Tate Modern in London is showing the first major UK exhibition of work by the groundbreaking Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi.

Brancusi is widely regarded as one of the founding figures of modern sculpture.

His landmark carvings introduced abstraction and primitivism into sculpture and were as influential in the development of modern art as Picasso's paintings.

Brancusi's originality can be seen in the Tate's exhibition Constantin Brancusi: The Essence of Things.

The display has been jointly organised by Tate Modern and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and consists of around 30 sculptures in 10 rooms, arranged thematically.

Brancusi's The Kiss
Brancusi's The Kiss is made from a single block of stone

The show includes three bronzes but otherwise the works are in wood, stone and marble.

They display Brancusi's pioneering technique of direct carving, one he used from 1907 onwards.

He broke away from the established method of modelling in clay and sent the resulting model to be enlarged in marble by specialist craftsmen.

Egg-shaped

The exhibition opens with one of Brancusi's first attempts at the new technique, The Kiss.

It represents two lovers carved from a single block of stone, in a tender, loving, respectful embrace.

From The Kiss, the exhibition moves on to the series of single heads which have gradually evolved into simple egg-shaped works.

This is exemplified in the sculpture Beginning of the World, carved in marble, resting on a base of polished steel and a limestone plinth.

There are also torsos, wood sculptures inspired by Romanian folklore and African art, and photographs taken by Brancusi himself.

Essence of flight

The show ends with some of his most famous works, collectively entitled The Birds.

The first to meet the eye is Maiastra, a bronze from 1912 that alludes to the figurative tradition of sculpture.

The Bird by Brancusi
Brancusi's group of Bird sculptures focused on flight

Bird and Yellow Bird, both carved in marble, belong to the next stage of Brancusi's reduction process, in his search for the essence of flight.

The process ends with the Bird in Space, showed alone in the last room of the exhibition.

The 'phallus'

Brancusi's obsession with purified forms led to some famous misunderstandings, as it happened with the sculpture Princess X, present at Tate Modern.

This is the portrait of a woman with an egg-shaped head and a long, elegant, swan-like neck, resting on a hand reduced to a round, breast-like form.

In 1920, when it was exhibited in Paris at the Salon des Independents, Brancusi's friend Picasso, yelled: "Look at the phallus," which led to the removal of the sculpture from the exhibition.

Brancusi claimed to have never thought of any similarity. Due to Picasso, the confusion persists to this day.

Constantin Brancusi: The Essence of Things runs at Tate Modern until 23 May 2004. BBC Four will show a documentary on Brancusi on 10 March at 2030 GMT.


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