Skip directly to content

Into the Works of Constantin Brancusi

Sidney Geist was born in 1914 in New Jersey. An author and a sculptor, Geist looked up to the artist Constantin Brancusi and spent much time analyzing his style. Geist wrote several books on Brancusi and his art as tributes. He attended several art schools and graduated from St. Stephen’s college in New York and spent much time teaching art in schools like The International  School of Art in Italy and the Vermont Studio school. Geist’s sculptures were displayed in many galleries and exhibitions and it is said that Brancusi had a real influence on some of Geist’s works. In his lifetime he won the Olivetti award and the Guggenheim Fellowship, and eventually died at the age of 91 in the year 2005.

Our understanding of the art of Constantin Brancusi has been characterized by impressionist ideas and the study of his sculpture. Brancusi is an artist from the early twentieth century and is normally classified as a Futurist artist. In the book Constantin Brancusi: A Study of the Sculpture the author, Sidney Geist, discusses the life and the sculptures of Brancusi. In this book, Geist illustrates Brancusi’s growth as an artist and his style progression over time. Brancusi was considered a successful artist of his time and his art continues to be displayed in museums.

Constantin Brancusi describes his life as having “been a succession of marvelous events.”# Brancusi was born on February 19, 1876 into a peasant family. He came from a big family and quickly developed an attachment to his mother and his sister. Brancusi was strong willed and had a tendency to be alone. He had the ability to learn quickly and graduated from the School of Arts and Crafts in 1898 excelling in woodworking and sculpture. After graduating, Brancusi went on to study art in Bucharest at the School of Fine Arts for 3 years. Auguste Rodin was Brancusi’s first mentor. He worked in Rodin’s studio and his work was later influenced by Rodin. In 1913 Brancusi had five works displayed in the Armory Show and by 1914 he had five more pieces displayed in a Cubist exhibition in Prague and eight works in Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery of the photo-secession in New York. After the Salon des Artistes refused to display his work, Princess X, he vowed to never display his works in Paris again and came to America instead. Brancusi believed that “in art there are no outsiders”# and was outraged that the Salon des Artistes had rejected his piece. It was the habit of Brancusi’s imagination to lift the mundane events of his life to the level of the marvelous by transforming them into works of art. Brancusi died at the age of 81; however, his soul will forever live in his works of art.

The earliest works of Brancusi no longer exist. The very first sculpture of Brancusi is titled “Lankoon;” modeled in clay, the piece is expressive and sculpted in the impressionist manner. He had excellent skill through the years of training. Brancusi exhibits realism in almost all of his works prior to 1910. Brancusi specialized in portraiture; majority of his works being busts. Some of his works were rough in texture, most likely an influence of his mentor, Rodin. By 1907 Brancusi begins to experiment with more tentative forms such as in “Portrait of a Young Woman.” This work depicts a realistic form; however, despite the facial realism, the hair is modeled in a stylistic fashion. By 1910 Brancusi began “conveying moods and altering the anatomical truth”# as the focus of much of his later works.

By 1910 Brancusi started experimenting with clay as a medium. He also began to break away from his realistic style and started utilizing a more abstract and organic form. By using unnaturalistic forms Brancusi was able to portray the essence of the works and focus on the emotional aspects. Brancusi became more focused on simplicity in his sculptures. By 1912 almost all of the artist’s works were stylized and abstract. In the coming years he began to utilize geometric and organic aspects in his sculptures. By 1918 his works were no longer stylized; all of his works were total abstract pieces of sculpture. For example, Princess X, is one of the first total abstract works Brancusi created which displays very simplistic and organic forms. By 1920 his work had become more minimal as can be seen in “Torso of a Girl”. His most famous work from the 1920’s is “Bird in Space.” Made of metal, its curved surface projecting upward provides a sense of motion. It utilizes a simplistic form and is totally abstract; portraying a bird jutting upwards to the heavens is portrayed, but at first glance looks more like just a curved piece of shiny metal. Brancusi’s art had evolved greatly during his lifetime; moving away from realistic portraits to total abstract works of birds, Brancusi’s art grew with him. “I am the cock,”# he said; referring to his work, The Cock, which he sculpted towards the end of his career.  

In 1907 Brancusi attempted to find his own artistic identity. He attempted to go beyond the influences of Rodin and made efforts towards simplicity and emotional depiction. His works were not un-Rodinian but rather, anti-Rodinian. He believed “forms were joined by a continuous skin,”# and that “art [was] not copying nature.” He showed his beliefs in his works by going beyond classical realism that the Greeks had established long ago. He used a unique structural base and his sculptures carried meaning in their shapes. Once his works had become total abstract he focused on communicating the essence of the work rather than showing it. He used the flowing abstract forms of his sculptures to focus more on the essence and emotion that he was trying to communicate. Brancusi was influenced by Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, African sculpture, and artists like Rodin and Henry Bergson.  He was even influenced by his attachment to his mother and sister; we see that in his many sculptures of the female form. Ultimately, Brancusi had broken the classical barriers and created works of art that would set the stage for many artists to come. “There is a purpose in all things. To get to it one must go beyond one-self,” and that is exactly what Constantin Brancusi did.

The thesis of this book is apparent in its title; it reveals how Brancusi’s sculptures evolved into the Futurist style he is best known for. It is also to “redress the lack of formal analysis which has been accorded Brancusi…”# Geist formally analyzed all of Brancusi’s sculptures to give us an understanding of his sculptures. The author takes the reader to a whole new level of understanding in regards to Brancusi’s Sculptures by taking each piece that Brancusi ever sculpted and analyzing each one so that the reader could see exactly how Brancusi’s works evolved over time. It gives the reader a clear understanding of what Brancusi sculpted.

The author of the book, Sidney Geist, had gone above and beyond in supporting his thesis. He believed that not enough attention had been given to Brancusi’s sculptures. Geist put a lot of effort into ensuring that all of the aspects of Brancusi’s sculptures were well explained. He believed that former studies of the sculptures had not done Brancusi enough justice and Geist took it upon his own hands to do his own research and get his own point of view across. He states that the understanding of Brancusi’s art has been based on a “fragmentary knowledge of the sculpture.”# Although his study is mostly formal, Geist manages to clearly communicate the thesis-the evolution of Brancusi’s work-to the reader.

According to the Review of this book by James Ackerman, Sidney Geist did not succeed in executing the topic. Ackerman believes that Brancusi’s sculptures are just meant to be viewed and not interpreted. He states that minimal art should not be considered art unless the canon of the time period is changed. Ackerman goes on to explain that Geist’s book contained “tiny poorly reproduced figures in the margin.”# He describes the structure of the book as “mechanical and insubstantial.”# He goes on to explain how Brancusi’s art had psychological aspects to them and by only addressing the formal aspects, Geist is not fully grasping the genius of Brancusi’s sculptures.

Sidney Geist formally analyzed all of Brancusi’s sculptures but did not clearly explain the emotion attached to the artwork. Geist believed that not enough study was done on Brancusi’s sculpture but not even he could analyze all the aspects of the sculpture. Brancusi created many pieces of sculpture and they are not objects to be stared at rather they are objects that have underlying meaning and emotion. In the book Geist talks about this essence that is attached to the works but never explains it in any detail to the reader. Geist did not grasp the full concept behind the sculpture of Brancusi.

The art of Brancusi reflects American values through the Futurist style. In the early 1900’s modernist art was on the rise in America. Brancusi’s Futurist style was a part of the American stylistic movement whose aim was to express the energetic, dynamic, and violent quality of contemporary life, especially as embodied in the motion and force of modern machinery. He showed these qualities in many of his works post 1910. Brancusi’s art showed the viewer that it was not about how the art looked but about what the art expressed. It was about the essence and emotion that it depicted. The art of modernist America opened up new perspective on the way art was looked upon. The classical realism that the artist used was being surpassed by the Dadaists, Cubists, Regionalist, Futurists, and many other stylistic groups that came from the modernist era.

Brancusi’s art was mostly in the form of portraiture. He started off sculpting realistic sculptures and by the 1910’s broke off into the more abstract form of art. Brancusi focused more on the essence of the sculpture. All in all, Brancusi was most known for the psychological aspects of his art and the message he was communicating.