At the same time many postwar artists engaging in a dialogue with his legacy have read and productively misread Brancusi”s work. Through the violent but fecund gesture of subjective intervention, these artists have extracted from it new practices of far greater critical and historical significance than might have resulted from an objective, historicist approach. After his death in 1957, renewed interest in Brancusi occurred first and foremost in the United States. The Endless Column and many of the artist”s bases and furniture pieces, such as his working tables and stools, proved to be relevant to the concerns of U. S. sculptors who came to prominence in the 1960s.
In particular, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Richard Serra grew specifically interested in the structural makeup of the column based on the cloning of a single, identical unit. Its repetitive, modular, and nonhierarchical morphology provided them with an economical way of circumventing the relational orders of mainstream European art. The public works of Scott Burton and Martin Puryear have contributed not only to the ongoing debate between high art and utilitarian design, but also to a heightened awareness of art”s social function.
Like the Russian Constructivist, Bauhaus, and De Stijl practitioners before them, or the generation of furniture sculptors succeeding them, Burton and Puryear both considered that art should serve society as design and architecture do. Burton”s and Puryear”s mutual interest in Brancusi”s art-cum-craft background is also shared by Richard Pettibone, who has signaled a connection between Brancusi”s aesthetic and that of the Shaker community. Pettibone is a pioneer of appropriation art, yet, unlike other artists of his generation who have denounced the pursuit of ideal form, he has unapologetically extolled it.
He argues that Brancusi”s series of Endless Columns aspire to a perfection similar to a Shaker chair or a candle stand. This statement can be read as the antinomy within Brancusi”s project: that the most significant of his sculptures come close to the economy and integrity of the pedestal. Brancusi”s revolutionary reversal of the base from passive podium to generative element has likewise informed Didier Vermeiren, who is best known for his large corpus of works based on the assemblage of two identical pedestals. In Vermeiren”s so-called pedestal on top of a pedestal, pedestal and sculpture form replicas of one another.
Elevating the element that is ordinarily used for the display of works gauged more valuable, all these artists have cunningly received, aesthetic orders. In the process, they have problematized and restructured the power relations between high and low, aesthetic and functional. Similarly, in different versions of the Endless Column, Brancusi played categories of pedestal against sculpture, and sculpture against architectural unit, until formal and functional elements performed an intricate self-cancellation. Unquestionably, next to the producer of the readymade, Brancusi was a legitimate transformateur Du Champ.
The reversals exercised by Burton, Pettibone, Puryear, and Vermeiren with their point of departure in Brancusi”s works have subsequently been extended by younger artists interested not only in subverting prevailing cultural codes, but also in enhancing the social function of art. Among them, Kcho Alexis Leyva Machado has returned to the social agenda inaugurated by the historic avant-garde to address issues pertinent to the last quarter of the twentieth century, including problems of forced migration and cultural dislocation.
In a series of two- and three-dimensional works, Kcho has taken Brancusi”s Endless Column as the motif of his Infinite Columns. These sculptural works are made of superimposed bentwood floatable frames: canoes, surfboards, kayaks, and rowboats fully equipped with oars. Drawing on the imagery and construction methods of the balsas, the homemade rafts that Cubans use to flee the island illegally, Kcho makes a case for Brancusi”s column as an image of transcendence. In island life, he says, one always thinks to evade the limit of the enclave, and the boat is precisely a trope for escape, freedom, and the mentality of migration.
Brancusi often spoke of his hope to construct the Endless Column in different cities all around the world. At times, he fantasized about various skyscraper versions, whether a residential building in New York”s Central Park, or a Chicago sculpture rising to a projected height of some 329 feet. This was part of his nomadic methodology: to produce work that would have specific transferability, work that included acknowledgments of its movement to different sites and its changes in typology.
The concept of the mobile group, quintessential to Brancusi in both the development of his memorial in Tirgu Jiu and in the setup of his Parisian studio, has played a role in installations by other contemporary artists such as Jason Rhoades and Tom Sachs. For the 1995 Whitney Biennial Rhoades concocted a tongue-in-cheek installation titled My Brother/Broncuzi. Apparently, the idea for this piece occurred while visiting his younger brother”s room in suburban California.
The room is a prosaic, converted garage whose only mark of distinction is the excessive accumulation of consumer objects and family mementos assembled in groupings which involuntarily reminded Rhoades of Brancusi”s studio. Rhoades transformed one room of the museum into an environment that was as much an artist”s studio as it was a mechanic”s workshop. The installation, made entirely of mobile groups, included hardware-store items, small gasoline engines, a modernist minibike, various tools, and a doughnut machine.
The freshly made mini-doughnuts were stacked on tall poles that parodically recalled the Endless Column. On the walls surrounding the room, Rhoades displayed photographs of Brancusi”s studio. Given the way these were lit, the viewer could see not only the photographs, but also reflections of the installation mirrored in their framing glass. According to the artist, the intended effect was to position the viewer between trying to look at something and being inside it.
From that standpoint visitors had no choice but to address the dialectic of the two environments. Trained in the welding tradition at Bennington College in Vermont, Tom Sachs first learned about Brancusi from Lee Tribe and William Tucker. After studying at the Architectural Association in London, Sachs freelanced as a window dresser at Barney”s New York. He also worked with Frank Gehry on prototypes of bent-plywood chairs, and with furniture designer Tom Dixon, whose unorthodox practices have been thoroughly informed by Brancusi”s production.
Presently, Sachs has his own studio, known as Allied Cultural Prosthetics, where he produces painstakingly crafted furniture, firearms, and sculptural installations out of base materials such as duct tape, industrial scraps, and brand-name packaging. Given Sachs”s long-term engagement with commercial display procedures, the Endless Column has become a recurrent pedestal motif in many of his mobile groups. For instance, in Shredded Wheat for Oklahoma City 1995, it supports a model of the Ryder truck Timothy McVeigh used in the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
With a truck made out of a Nabisco Shredded Wheat cereal box and a column assembled from FedEx cardboard, the piece has, in spite of its charged content, a toylike quality. Sachs asserts that fantasy and games play key roles in his work, and that it is precisely this youthful aspect of U. S. culture that is kindred to Brancusi”s antibourgeois, folksy philosophy. Unlike his refined Parisian contemporaries, Brancusi was regarded as an exotic outsider whose work pointed not so much to the European tradition as to the new culture of U. S. skyscrapers, railroads, and jazz.
In a sign of homage, Sachs has even scribbled on the entrance door of his studio Brancusi”s name in white and underlined it with an arrow to replicate the unassuming mark found outside of Brancusi”s atelier in Impasse Ronsin. Before Brancusi”s studio was reconstructed by the architect Renzo Piano and opened once again to the public in 1997, Sachs suggested that it should be re-created with the most advanced technology available and be made as virtual as possible in order to maintain its tenor even in the absence of the artist”s performative acts.
Although “Disneyesque” in spirit, Sachs”s version might in the end have pleased his predecessor more than one thinks. If Brancusi”s perennial experimentation with mobile groups and with the concept of social environment functioned as a source of inspiration for the contemporary situation, then one function of art today is to keep his legacy going. When I say, “keep it going,” I mean by continuously reframing it in relation to the changed conditions of the world and in ways congenial to art”s reflexive strategies, ranging from playful allusion to demystificatory critique.
In conclusion, I was very happy to learn about the strong influences that Constantine Brancusi has had on modern sculptors and their work. I feel that as a result of doing this research paper I have become very knowledgeable on Brancusi’s style. I feel confident enough to say that I may very well be able to recognize Brancusi’s influences on modern sculpture in future visits to museum and galleries. Thanks!