– Spring/Summer 2019

Reconstruction of a Reconstruction: Constantin Brâncuși in Multiple Historical Frames

Daria Ghiu

Dan Er. Grigorescu, rutul (The Kiss), published in the album Brâncuși ou l'anonymat du genie (edited by Dan Hăulică, Meridiane, Bucharest, 1967), reproduction. Courtesy Galerie Negropontes, Paris

In November 2018, art historians gathered at the National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC) in Bucharest for a conference on archives, one floor above the remnants of the exhibition ‘One Monument Later’ (26 April–30 September 2018) about Constantin Brâncuși’s monumental ensemble Calea eroilor  (The Avenue of Heroes). The next day they met for a roundtable discussion on the future of art, and to reflect on the last century of art in Romania in celebration of its centenary. Romanian authorities dedicated large amounts of time and budget to commemorate the 1918 unification of Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina with the Romanian kingdom:1 from cogent understandings of the centenary (publications, websites, radio and TV productions dedicated to Romanian history, personalities, music and powerful women, as well as art exhibitions, conferences and debates, etc.) to superficial perceptions of the time that had elapsed (after all, 100 years are almost nothing in terms of the grand scale of history). The nationwide celebrations seemed to impress upon the public that anything goes under the umbrella of the centenary. ‘Tradition’ was the key buzzword, with ‘folk’ and ‘national’ closely alongside it. Festivals were abundant with stages installed everywhere,

  1. For more information in English see http://romaniancentenary.org/ (last accessed on 19 November 2018).

  2. All these narratives generate alternative discourses about the artist. For exhaustive research into this topic, see Alexandra Croitoru, Brâncuși: An Afterlife (ed. Cristian Nae), Berlin: Archive Books, 2016.

  3. Launched in 2016 under the title ‘Brâncuși Is Mine’, the campaign’s purpose was to collect donations in the amount of 6 million euro from the Romanian people (and the state would match funds adding an extra 5 million). The work was Romanian heritage since 1957, and had recently been recovered by the heirs of the initial owner. The purchase price was settled at 11 million euro. Artist Dan Perjovschi organised the performative exhibition at Salonul de proiecte in Bucharest, 6–9 September 2018, under the name ‘Reverse Donation', bringing to light the problem of political capital gained by authorities after the Brâncuși case.

  4. Ion Frunzetti, ‘A XL-a Bienală internaţionalăde artă plastică de la Venet¸ia, 1982, la ora închiderii. Recurs la lecţia lui Brâncuși (The 40th International Venice Biennale, 1982, at Closing Time. Call to Brâncuși’s Lesson), Contemporanul, 1 October 1982.

  5. AICA is the acronym for Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art, founded in 1950 to revitalise critical discourse after World War II.

  6. Romanian artist (1917–90) who settled in Paris in 1974. He published numerous books and collaborated with art magazines. There is a particular link between Dan Er. Grigorescu and Romania’s fate during the First World War. The photographer was the son of General Eremia Grigorescu, whose defeat of German field marshal Anton Ludwig August von Mackensen in Mărășești turned the First World War in Romania’s favour.

  7. Three years after Brâncuși’s death, the 30th edition of the Venice Biennale in 1960 organised another retrospective in the Central Pavilion in a display with rather poor insight into his art.

  8. See Brâncuși Filme – Lumière / Matière / Espace, a DVD released by Centre Georges Pompidou in 2012 featuring films made by the artist in 1938 with a 35mm camera given him by Man Ray on occasion of the installation of the monumental ensemble in Târgu Jiu.

  9. Collection Istrati – Paris and Basel; Centre Georges Pompidou; Collection Manzù; and Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.

  10. In the correspondence related to the organisation of the retrospective in 1982, a letter from William Rubin, Director of Painting and Sculpture Department, Museum of Modern Art, New York, relates the impossibility of sending the artwork The Newborn I, bronze, first version, 1920, to Venice. Due to its fragility, it is never allowed to leave the building. ASAC – Archivio Storico della Biennale di Venezia, Constantin Brâncuși, folder 2896, 13 June–12 September 1982.

  11. See Sidney Geist, Brâncuși: A Study of the Sculpture, New York: Grossman Publishers, 1968, p.168. Using Geist in his analysis, Brian O’Doherty writes about the pedestal’s vital role in transforming the exhibition space from a ‘utilitarian support’ to ‘an aesthetic zone’. See B. O'Doherty, Studio and Cube: On the Relationship Between Where Art Is Made and Where Art Is Displayed, New York: FORuM Project Publication, Columbia University, 2007, p.37.

  12. In the folder dedicated to the organisation of the retrospective there is a list of works from the National Art Museum of Romania, Bucharest and the Craiova Art Museum. There is no correspondence between the Romanian institutions and the biennial; the latter’s intention to include important works is understandable. For further details see ASAC – Archivio Storico della Biennale di Venezia.

  13. In 1982, Romania still had a national pavilion in Venice, but after this the country was absent from the Biennale until 1988, when Romanian artist Napoleon Tiron, almost by accident, organised an art exhibition inside it.

  14. The first time Romania was present at the Venice Biennale in 1924, the artist participated among an eclectic selection of paintings and sculptures, including two versions of Cap de copil (Child’s Head, polished bronze and stone). The art press ignored his presence. In 1938 his works didn’t suit the taste of the organisers of the Romanian pavilion. In 1948, at the 24th edition he was included in an exhibition organised by Peggy Guggenheim with works from her collection for the Greek pavilion. From 1949 to 1951, Giovanni Ponti, general secretary of the Venice Biennale, tried to organise a solo show of Brâncuși's work but the artist refused. He initially accepted the proposal and suggested bringing his studio to the biennial. In the end he didn’t go, claiming health problems. See my ‘In the
    Name of Brâncuși: Complexes, Projections, and Historical Symptoms’, kunsttexte.de, no.3, 2014, available at https://edoc.hu-berlin.de/handle/18452/8218 (last accessed on 19 November 2018).

  15. Such as Les carnets de l’Atelier Brancusi (ed. Marielle Tabart, Doina Lemny), Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1998. The issue is dedicated to the technical conception of The Endless Column or Arta, no.10, 1978.

  16. Ioana Vlasiu interview with Adriana Oprea, ‘Romanian sculpture after Constantin Brâncuși, Arta, no.8–9, 2013. Miliţa Petrașcu (1892–1976) was a Romanian modern sculptor, a student and close friend of Brâncuși. Arethia Tătărescu (1889–1968), wife of Gheorghe Tătărescu, Romanian prime minister from 1934 to 1937 and 1939 to 1940, had been involved in promoting art and cultural activities as president of the League of Gorj women. Dem. I Dobrescu was mayor of Bucharest during 1929 and the beginning of 1934.

  17. Quotes from the curatorial statement of the exhibition.

  18. Ibid.

  19. This text was supported by a grant from the Romanian Ministry of Research and Innovation, CNCS – UEFISCDI, project number PN-III-P1-1.1.-TE-2016-1369, within PNCDI III.