constantin brancusi

"I really think great art is seductive on various levels. You don't have to be able to understand art. I mean if you're touched by it, if you feel any kind of sensual or cerebral response, it's done its work. I couldn't tell you what Bird In Space means, or what Pollock meant in Blue Poles, it's not necessary."
—Patti Smith

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) is a Romanian-born sculptor who went to Paris at the age of 28, in 1904; he lived and worked there for the rest of his life. Patti is a great admirer of Brancusi's work: she dedicated Radio Ethiopia "to arthur rimbaud and constantin brancusi," she sings about him in "Radio Ethiopia/Abyssinia," and her poem "The Salvation of Rock" (Babel, Early Work) is partly about Brancusi's influence on her concepts of art, rock, and beauty. In terms of Patti's early influences, it's significant that Brancusi was "close to home": the Philadelphia museum has long been the U.S. institution with the largest Brancusi collection.

it was brancusi who had the courage to crack and reconstruct the intelligent innocence of an egg. thru mold and concrete he shot the perfect shape into rock. the hard gold thrust of a feather.
On page 123 of Early Work is a photograph of one of Brancusi's well-known "Bird in Space" sculptures. This series prompted a famous 1927 court case: Precipitated by an American customs official's hasty decision to slap a 40 percent duty on "Bird in Space" because he took it to be a machine part rather than a work of art, the trial caught the public imagination as it wrestled with the question of what constitutes sculpture. After months of impassioned testimony and repudiation, the judge finally concluded that a new school of art was developing "whose exponents attempt to portray abstract ideas rather than to imitate natural objects... [this work] is beautiful, and while some difficulty might be encountered in associating it with a bird, it is nevertheless pleasing to look at."

Patti makes frequent use, in her work, of the notion of "breaking through," and certainly Brancusi can be credited with having broken through to a whole new shape for sculpture.

Some links:

photos of several sculptures, including a different "Bird in Space" from the one in Early Work (~ 50K each)

interesting article on Brancusi, and photo of "The Kiss"

description of (and how to order) Brancusi book from important recent exhibition in Philadelphia

a photo of the sculptor, and bio in French

3 more photos of his sculptures, and a review of the Philly exhibition

a Patti Smith appreciation page with more photos of Brancusi sculptures

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