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A Brancusi Sells at Record Price
"Bird in Space" Fetches $27.45 Million at Christie's
By Souren Melikian
Constantin Brancusi's "Bird in Space (1927)," cast bronze, 184 x 45 cm, base: 18 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
NEW YORK, May 6, 2005 — Christie's conducted the most successful art auction so far this year in any field, setting a record Wednesday (May 4) night with the sale of a Brancusi. Within two hours, 52 Impressionist and Modern works of art sold for a huge $142.9 million.

Three major icons of a type hardly ever seen in today's market helped give the sale a very high profile.

The most spectacular of them was a marble sculpture carved by Constantin Brancusi around 1922. Despite its title "Oiseau dans l'espace" (Bird in Space), the piece is an exercise in solid geometry. A conical base supports an elongated shape that resembles a giant skein, 121.9 centimeters, or 48 inches, high. The sensation it caused was enhanced by its discovery a few months ago. According to Christie's, the marble turned up in the attic of a Northern European mansion where it had lain forgotten since the mid-1920s. An old photograph taken around 1927 shows the marble "bird" in an Art Deco setting, when it was still in Paris.

Estimated to be worth $8 million to $12 million, plus the sale charge to buyers, the abstract "bird" flew to a breathtaking $27.45 million. The marble thus set a world auction record for the artist and became the most expensive freestanding sculpture ever auctioned.

Constantin Brancusi's Muse,1918, Portland Art Museum, OR
The next major icon was a landscape painted by Cézanne in the grounds of his country house at the Jas de Bouffan in the mid-1880s. Handled with the faceted effects seen by some as the prelude to early Cubism, the picture was part of a group of works consigned by the Maspro Art Museum in Japan. This happens to be one of the French master's most beautiful landscapes. At $11.77 million, the Cézanne was comparatively inexpensive and could be called a billionaire's bargain.

A third work, equally rare and magnificent, was a pastel view of the inside of a theater drawn by Degas in 1880. Called "La Loge," a word that describes a box in a theater, the boldly composed drawing was already much admired in the painter's own lifetime. It realized nearly $4.5 million.

Add a large portrait of a woman painted by Picasso in 1921 during his so-called "Neo-Classical" phase that sold for $13.45 million, and one of Alberto Giacometti's elongated bronze figures, "Femme Léoni," 167 centimeters high and cast in 1960, which made $8.4 million, and the sale had enough to command the attention of all major collectors in the field, private or public.

About a dozen extremely fine paintings further bolstered the sale. These ranged from an enchanting early interior scene by Matisse that dated from 1904 to one of the most subtle and moving portraits ever painted by Balthus. Last seen at the New York Fine Art Fair of 1995, when it hung on the stand of the Parisian gallery Hopkins-Custot, the "Study for a Portrait of Thérèse" done in 1939, sold for $1.8 million, almost matching the middle estimate.

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957)
Together, the major icons and the fine paintings built what might be called the critical mass required to induce in connoisseurs a kind of feverish excitement. The estimates, which were generally realistic, helped. In contrast with Sotheby's evening session the day before, there were few failures to sell at Christie's.

In a few cases where estimates were too high, the auctioneer Christopher Burge apparently had enough latitude to allow the works to sell substantially below the lower end of the estimate. A view of Picasso's Boulevard de Clichy was knocked down to $1.5 million, below the $1.8 million low estimate.

This gave the attendance the feeling that not everything was set in concrete. It greatly stimulated the interest and zest displayed by those taking part in the action and undoubtedly contributed to the overall success of the sale.

As they left the room, many professionals made no secret of their satisfaction. The Christie's staff looked jubilant as well. The unnamed collectors who bought the admirable Cézanne and the wonderful Degas must be celebrating by now. One of those privileged days in the art market arena had just gone by.

The above article is from IHT.

Review: Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957)

By Anca Toader

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) resting at his place of work.

Tate Modern in London showed the first major UK exhibition of work by the groundbreaking Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. "Constantin Brancusi: The Essence of Things" ran at Tate Modern from March 1 to May 23, 2004.

Brancusi is widely regarded as one of the founding figures of modern sculpture.

His landmark carvings introduced abstraction and primitivism into sculpture and were as influential in the development of modern art as Picasso's paintings.

Brancusi's originality was seen in the Tate's exhibition Constantin Brancusi: The Essence of Things.

The display was jointly organised by Tate Modern and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and consisted of around 30 sculptures in 10 rooms, arranged thematically.

The show included three bronzes but otherwise the works are in wood, stone and marble.

They displayed Brancusi's pioneering technique of direct carving, one he used from 1907 onwards.

He broke away from the established method of modelling in clay and sent the resulting model to be enlarged in marble by specialist craftsmen.


Constantin Brancusi's Alvó múzsa (1910), bronz. The egg-shaped sculpture is a popular Brancusi trademark.

The exhibition opened with one of Brancusi's first attempts at the new technique, The Kiss.

It represents two lovers carved from a single block of stone, in a tender, loving, respectful embrace.

From The Kiss, the exhibition moved on to the series of single heads which was gradually evolved into simple egg-shaped works.

This is exemplified in the sculpture Beginning of the World, carved in marble, resting on a base of polished steel and a limestone plinth.

There were also torsos, wood sculptures inspired by Romanian folklore and African art, and photographs taken by Brancusi himself.

Essence of flight

Constantin Brancusi's group of Bird sculptures focused on flight.

The show ended with some of his most famous works, collectively entitled The Birds.

The first to meet the eye was Maiastra, a bronze from 1912 that alludes to the figurative tradition of sculpture.

Bird and Yellow Bird, both carved in marble, belong to the next stage of Brancusi's reduction process, in his search for the essence of flight.

The process ended with the Bird in Space, showed alone in the last room of the exhibition.

The 'phallus'

"The Kiss" by Constantin Brancusi (Romania: 1876-1957) is made from a single block of stone.
Brancusi's obsession with purified forms led to some famous misunderstandings, as it happened with the sculpture Princess X, present at Tate Modern.

This is the portrait of a woman with an egg-shaped head and a long, elegant, swan-like neck, resting on a hand reduced to a round, breast-like form.

In 1920, when it was exhibited in Paris at the Salon des Independents, Brancusi's friend Picasso, yelled: "Look at the phallus," which led to the removal of the sculpture from the exhibition.

Brancusi claimed to have never thought of any similarity. Due to Picasso, the confusion persists to this day.

The above article is from BBC.






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