One hundred years after the Romanian-born, Paris-based sculptor Constantin Brancusi burst onto the international art scene at the 1913 Armory Show in New York, Paul Kasmin Gallery is celebrating the artist’s enduring influence and importance — as well as his decades-long love affair with the New York art world —with a show opening 7 Nov, 2013.
The small but visually powerful selection of Brancusi’s black and white photographs and sleek, polished bronzes on limestone pedestals — five in all — was curated by Jérôme Neutres, former cultural attaché of the French Embassy in New York. The idea for the show came from a newly published book that Neutres worked on for the past several years, Brancusi New York: 1913-2013 (Assouline). “New York was the place where Brancusi’s career unfolded,” Neutres said.
Quinn, who visited the sculptor in Paris and frequently corresponded with him, acquired 33 Brancusi works over the course of his life. After Quinn died in 1924, Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roché, who had been sometime art consultants to him and were concerned about dispersal of his works, arranged to acquire all his Brancusis (with the blessing of the artist) for $8,500, even though they had to borrow money to do it. In the ensuing years, most of these works were sold off to distinguished collectors and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, which purchased a “Bird In Space” sculpture in 1934.
Beyond Quinn, Brancusi supporters “comprised a small circle of the most important collectors of the era, most of whom lived in New York,” Neutres writes in the book. These included Louise and Walter Arensberg, who amassed the second-largest collection of the sculptor’s work — 22 pieces — which was bequeathed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1950. And through Duchamp, Brancusi met Katherine Drier, an heiress whose first of five Brancusi purchases was “Little French Girl,” now in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum.
Brancusi’s success in New York continued, and in 1926 — a year when he traveled to the city twice — his works were presented in five exhibitions there, including a large retrospective that Duchamp organized for the Brummer Gallery. While the show was being installed a fracas erupted after U.S. Customs officials seized Brancusi sculptures that Duchamp was bringing into the country, demanding an import tax because they thought the pieces looked like industrial objects and not tax-exempt artworks. According to Neutres, Brancusi sued the U.S. and the trial “prompted endless debate about the definition of and criteria for a work of art.”
Brancusi, who also had a keen interest in architecture, described Manhattan as “my large-scale studio”: “How is it similar to my studio? Because nothing is static. Nothing is fixed. All these buildings, all these forms, are interchangeable and can move as experience evolves and changes.”
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