By The Centre Pompidou in the Place Georges Pompidou Renzo Piano has created a space that is open to the public yet feels hidden, cut off and internalised: the reconstruction of Atelier Brancusi’s studio. It was created, not to be an exact replica of the original studio near Montparnasse, but to communicate ‘the unity that Brancusi created between his sculptures inside that studio space’.
Brancusi valued the studio as much as he did the work inside it. Towards the end of his life he stopped moving works from his studio as he believed he had found the perfect arrangement for them to be viewed in. In the 1920s the studio became his preferred place for the presentation and comprehension of his sculptures. He eventually stopped making new pieces and instead focused on expanding and metamorphosing existing ones within their space. This relationship between Brancusi’s sculptures and the space around them became so important to him that by the 1950s he would replace works he sold with plaster copies as not to disrupt the unity of the studio.
When in the Brancusi museum the individual pieces on display are not what we are meant to focus on; they are all plaster replicas for one, a glass barrier separates the viewer from the studio, and there are far too many of them to zoom in on specific sculptures anyway. In the museums leaflet the say that Brancusi endowed on plaster ‘the importance of marble’; I can’t say this translates effectively when spectating. If the sculptures had been in marble, the dense, weighty and historical medium, might have encouraged us to attempt to zoom in on specific pieces rather than understanding the sculptures as a collective. Perhaps the plaster copies work better in the studio than the originals.
As I write that I realise how my argument simultaneously agrees with and contradicts Brancusi. Showing work in a studio draws to attention the process and materials involved in sculpting. Brancusi saw the role of the artist as one who reveals the ‘cosmic essence of the material’ lying at the very heart of the medium being used. Brancusi wanted to convey the material in its most honest and plasmic form, and display the sculptures in the most organic environment, where this cosmic essence was first unveiled- the studio. All the tools on display at this studio replica remind us of these principles.
As a real fan of Brancusi’s work (he is my favourite sculpture along with Rodin), I do feel there is something sacred about aesthetically appreciating one of his works in a singular way, without focusing too much on the space around it. I am in two minds though about enjoying his work this way though as part of me feels I am being unfaithful to what Brancusi was trying to communicate. Therefore whilst sitting in the museum reflecting over the Brancusi heads and phallic shapes, I realised that this reconstruction gives us the best of both worlds. We get to see the bronze and marble sculptures in other institutions in more singular spaces where we can have more intimate and personal responses; and we get this serene place in the center of Paris to aid our understanding of Brancusi’s body of work as a whole.
BogeArt; Isabella Bornholt