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BEGINNINGS: RECOGNITION AND REJECTION

Having completed an academic fine arts education in Bucharest in September 1902 and locally lauded for his talent as a sculptor, Brancusi decided to uproot to Paris in May 1904. Legend has it that he made the voyage primarily on foot, reaching the French capital on 14 July. He enrolled at the École nationale des beaux-arts on 23 June 1905 and studied under the French sculptor Antonin Mercié. Brancusi exhibited his work for the first time in Paris the following year at the sixteenth Salon de la Société nationale des beaux-arts (15 April– 30 June 1906), which took place at the Grand Palais. Several months later, three of his plasters were included in the fourth Salon d’automne (6 October–15 November), again at the Grand Palais, which also featured works by Duchamp’s two older brothers, the painter Jacques Villon (born Gaston Duchamp) and the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon (born Raymond Duchamp). Auguste Rodin, one of the honorary presidents of the sponsoring organization, took notice of Brancusi’s submissions and soon after invited him to work as one of his studio assistants. Brancusi, however, spent merely a month in his employ (24 March–27 April 1907), retrospectively proclaiming: “Nothing grows in the shadow of tall trees.”1 Such an experience nonetheless proved formative and inspired Brancusi to forge his own artistic path, which led him to commence carving fragmentary forms directly from stone or wood. After graduating from high school in Rouen, Duchamp followed his two older brothers to Paris in November 1904, only four months after Brancusi’s arrival, and enrolled at the Académie Julian, a private art school. In spring 1905, he failed the entrance examination for the École nationale des beaux-arts and decided to become an ouvrier d’art (art craftsman), which enabled him to fulfill his military service in one year instead of two. Duchamp returned to Rouen and apprenticed in a local printing house, where he learned engraving, etching, and typesetting. He voluntarily enlisted in the French army in October 1905, was discharged a year later, and settled in Montmartre. Five of Duchamp’s humoristic drawings were included in the inaugural Salon des humoristes (25 May–30 June 1907) in Paris, which

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Marcel Duchamp Femme nue aux bas noirs (Nude with Black Stockings), 1910


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50 THE OBJECTNESS OF THINGS, SCULPTURE AS OBJECT


Constantin Brancusi Colonne sans fin Ă Voulangis (Endless Column at Voulangis) (1926?), 1927

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crocodile back to his studio, it joined his cherished oak spiral winepress screw and his many sculptures. Lydie Sarazin-Levassor, Duchamp’s first wife, remembered the importance that both Brancusi and Duchamp assigned to the object enthroned inside the sculptor’s studio: “There hung suspended from a beam a two-metre length of wood with the bark still on. With a little imagination, it looked like an alligator. We called it The Crocodile. We would consign to its jaws whatever deserved to be destroyed, according to the precepts laid down by Brancusi and Marcel. The crocodile played an important role in our conversations.”78 In the last two decades of his life, as he adamantly questioned the viability of painting, Duchamp also turned his attention to sculpture. On 25 May 1964, he signed a contract with Arturo Schwarz, a Milan-based art dealer long interested in his work, to produce an edition of eleven of his readymades and two related objects—3 Stoppages étalon (3 Standard Stoppages) (1913–14) and Fresh Widow (1920). A twelfth readymade, Apolinère Enameled (1916–17), was added to the edition somewhat later. Contradicting his original approach to the readymades, Duchamp envisioned the objects in the edition as traditional sculptures. Such a decision may have been motivated in part by the progressive assimilation of the readymades into the history of art. By the early 1960s, in fact, they had attained the venerable status of icons, much to Duchamp’s chagrin. The American artist Robert Morris recalled an exchange between Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Duchamp during a roundtable discussion at the Museum of Modern Art on 19 October 1961 in conjunction with the exhibition The Art of Assemblage (4 October–12 November). On the subject of the readymades, Barr inquired: “But, oh, Marcel, why do they look so beautiful today?” Duchamp candidly countered: “Nobody’s perfect.”79 With patent stupefaction, he admitted to the French documentary filmmaker Jean-Marie Drot in 1963: “Even this good old Bottle Rack….Everyone adores it today. In all the sculpture books, it is listed as a sculpture. You must admire it.”80 Interrogated as to whether choosing a readymade was “an act of art,” Duchamp replied: “I wouldn’t say so, no. The fact that they are regarded with the same reverence as objects of art probably means I have failed to solve the problem of trying to do away entirely with art.”81 Based on technical blueprints that Duchamp reviewed and corrected, Schwarz called on various craftsmen to fabricate by hand the fourteen replicas, each in a series of eight copies, a classic number for a sculptural edition. Two sets of artist’s proofs also were produced. Each sculpture or its accompanying box was fitted with a copper plaque on which Duchamp had incised his signature, the date, and the edition number, distinguishing it from an ordinary, industrially produced object. He also countersigned and/or numbered many examples by hand. When asked in an interview on 5 June 1968 what would have happened if his readymades had been mass produced and readily made available for little money, he insisted on their relationship to sculpture: “No, no, you have to sign them. They are signed. They are signed and numbered….In edition[s] of eight, like any sculpture. So it’s still in the realm of art in the form of technique, you just make eight, and you sign them and number them. So that’s the end of it.”82 Sculpture enabled Duchamp to circumvent what he termed “the cult of uniqueness, of art with a capital ‘A.’”83 “Sculptors differ from

56 THE OBJECTNESS OF THINGS, SCULPTURE AS OBJECT


painters,” he maintained, “they are not required to make unique works; their originals can be multiples.”84 Duchamp’s philosophy concerning the medium of sculpture was diametrically opposed to that of Brancusi, who tenaciously defended each and every one of his sculptures as a unique creation. Referring to the general misunderstanding of his Birds in Space, he explained to Duchamp on 7 February 1927: “They think that all the birds that I exhibited…are all the same and that it is only the title that differs. To put an end to this misconception, they all should be exhibited together in public__ only then will they see the mistake__, they then will see that it is an outgrowth of legitimate work and not that the goal was not to churn out mass-produced goods for profit.”85 The Schwarz edition revived interest in Duchamp’s readymades, particularly among younger neo-Dada and pop artists like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol. At the very same moment, minimalist artists, including Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Richard Serra, seized the liberating potential of Brancusi’s work. In 1968, the British art critic and curator Christopher Finch published Pop Art: Object and Image in London and New York. In this survey of the three-dimensional and photographic found object in twentieth-century art, Duchamp’s readymades figured prominently. “On behalf of the visual arts,” Finch stated, “the first to grasp the new strategies at work in the language of objects—as so much else—was Marcel Duchamp.”86 As the frontispiece to the opening chapter titled “Illusion and Allusion,” he reproduced an example of Fountain from the recent Schwarz edition. A certain Maurice—perhaps Maurice Henry, a French poet, painter, and illustrator who had joined the surrealist group in the early 1930s, or Maurice LefebvreFoinet, Duchamp’s longtime unofficial shipping agent and banker in Paris—clipped the reproduction from a copy of the book, collaged it to a piece of card stock, and requested that Duchamp sign it, which he gladly did. The same year that Schwarz and Duchamp collaborated on the edition of the readymades, the latter conceived and had cast in lead a drain stopper for the bathtub in the apartment that he and his wife rented in Cadaqués, a Catalan enclave on the Costa Brava. He easily could have purchased an inexpensive, factory-made version but decided instead to fashion the object by hand, perhaps in light of his ongoing work on the Schwarz readymades. This homemade drain plug lacked the necessary weight to function effectively, so Duchamp had a second one Marcel Duchamp Untitled (Fountain), 1968

cast in lead in 1965 in nearly the same diameter but twice as thick.87 Associated

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Left and opposite: Constantin Brancusi Henri-Pierre Roché, May–June 1922 Following spread: Constantin Brancusi Le Nouveau-Né [II] (Newborn [II]) (before 1923) and Tête d’enfant endormi (Head of a Sleeping Child) (1906–7), ca. 1923 (printed 1930s)

more elementary level in the early 1930s. Either lacking proper note paper or simply in keeping with his commitment to recycling, he had cut up a print of a recent photograph of a corner of his studio, featuring the pitched glazed roof and four Endless Columns (before 1925, ca. 1926, before 1928, and ca. 1930–31). Salvaging one section, he inverted it and inscribed Roché’s name and telephone number across the fragmentary image. Throughout the last two years of Quinn’s life, Roché remained in constant contact with Brancusi and acted as the principal liaison between the lawyer-collector and the artist. On 20 January 1923, he signaled to Quinn the completion of “a new bust of wood, of a quite new type…of a great simplicity and beauty” and drew a small sketch of it in his missive.47 On 27 March, Quinn acknowledged receipt of three photographs by Brancusi of this sculpture and sought Roché’s opinion concerning the price, which he found somewhat elevated.48 Roché, who consistently mistook the work in question for a female rather than a male figure, reminded his client that it was a unique piece and that Brancusi had increased his prices less so than many other artists working in Paris in the years following World War I. “The torso is no doubt one of his purest, perfect, poetical works,” Roché proclaimed on 10 April.49 Quinn heeded Roché’s recommendation and purchased Torse de jeune homme [I] (Torso of a Young Man [I]) (maple, 1917?–22) in July 1923. The same month, Roché announced: “He has worked a lot on his new birds, which are glorious, beginning them all over again when they were looking finished. – A thin small simple almost transparent high polished onyx stone, called ‘the fish,’ is a beauty….You will see it first.”50 Quinn and Foster returned to Paris on 19 September for over a month. Roché advised Brancusi on the eve of their arrival: “Mr. Quinn will arrive tomorrow incognito (he does not want us to say that he is in Paris)….I returned home this

134 HENRI-PIERRE ROCHÉ, A GENERAL INTRODUCER


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136 CHAPTER TITLE


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Previous spread: Constantin Brancusi (Left to right) Constantin Brancusi, Marcel Duchamp, and Mary Reynolds, Villa La Marguerite, Villefranche-sur-Mer, 8 September 1931 Left: Constantin Brancusi Chess pieces designed by Man Ray in the 1920s, Villa La Marguerite, Villefranchesur-Mer, 8 September 1931 Opposite: Marcel Duchamp (Left to right) Marcel Duchamp, Mary Reynolds, and Constantin Brancusi, Villa La Marguerite, Villefranche-sur-Mer, 8 September 1931

metal stencils that comprised the letters of the book’s French title and the names of its two authors. He had attached them in three neat rows to two thin wooden or metal supports. The assemblage was laid on top of two stacks of books and positioned over a large piece of white paper or board set on a wooden and wicker bench near the balustrade of the terrace. As the sunlight poured through the hollowed-out stencils at an angle, it fell upon the paper, and the various letters appeared in perspective. Duchamp slightly rearranged the installation as the sun moved across the sky, and Brancusi photographed each resulting image. Before or after the photoshoot, on the same bench, Brancusi and/or Duchamp set up a chessboard with pieces that Man Ray had designed in the 1920s. Brancusi photographed it as an homage to their absent mutual friend whom Duchamp affectionately described as “a wood pusher” rather than a serious chess player.17 Following his collaboration with Brancusi, Duchamp selected one of his friend’s photographs for the covers of Opposition and Sister Squares Are Reconciled. Two strips of black paper were attached to the glass negative above and below the authors’ names and the French title in order to isolate them from their surroundings on the terrace of the Villa La Marguerite and facilitate the printing process. For the one thousand copies in the ordinary edition of the book, the title and authors’ names were printed in red ink on the front and back paper covers. For the thirty copies in the deluxe edition, the title and authors’ names were printed, also in red ink, on separate sheets of beige paper, which were cut into strips and glued horizontally across the front cover, spine, and back cover fabricated from ivory card stock. Published in late summer 1932 by Éditions de l’Échiquier in Brussels, Opposition and Sister Squares Are Reconciled was “an artist’s book for chess players and a chess book for artists.”18 At the end of his 1952 lecture before the New York State Chess Association, Duchamp argued: “From my close contact with artists and chess players

180 CHESS MATTERS


I have come to the personal conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”19 With Opposition and Sister Squares Are Reconciled, he proved that he was both. Even if Brancusi did not play chess, two of his late sculptures appear to allude to the game. Portrait of Mrs. Eugene Meyer Jr. depicts the wealthy American collector who met Brancusi in 1912 through Edward Steichen and became one of his early patrons. More of a totemic presence than a likeness, this black-marble colossus stands over two meters high and displays a slanted feature at the apex of its head, suggesting a tiara or crown, the iconic headgear of a female monarch. Brancusi, who never arbitrarily assigned titles to his sculptures, christened this work La Reine pas dédaigneuse (The Not-Disdainful Queen). Furthermore, in chess parlance, the darker colored pieces are referred to as “black,” no matter what their actual hue, and the individual who controls them is known as “Black.” Portrait of Mrs. Eugene Meyer Jr. brings to mind the black queen in chess, the most powerful piece in the game. With its equally commanding height of three meters, Le Roi des rois (King of Kings) (ca. 1938) represents her royal consort. This towering oak sculpture was first dubbed L’Esprit de Bouddha (Spirit of the Buddha) and originally was conceived for inclusion in Brancusi’s Temple de la méditation (Temple of Meditation), which was renamed Temple de la délivrance (Temple of Deliverance), a private sanctuary that the Maharaja Yeshwant Rao Holkar II of Indore had commissioned in 1936. After the architectural project was abandoned, Brancusi retitled the sculpture King of Kings. With a prominent crown adorning his ovoid head, this mighty sovereign evokes the figure of the king in chess, the most important and coveted piece in the game. As outsized chess pieces, Portrait of Mrs. Eugene Meyer Jr. and King of Kings would have been destined for a giant chessboard, like the one that Lewis Carroll had envisioned in his fantastical children’s novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). In his installation of Brancusi’s 1927 retrospective exhibition at the Arts Club of Chicago, Duchamp disclosed his fixation with chess, when he aligned some twenty sculptures in the main gallery in orderly rows like pieces on a chessboard (see pages 156–57).

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Left and opposite: Alexander Liberman Marcel Duchamp in his apartment, 28 West Tenth Street, New York, standing next to Constantin Brancusi’s Jeune Fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) (Sophisticated Young Lady [Portrait of Nancy Cunard]) (1925–27), 1959

captured the artist bent over a chessboard and moving a wooden chess piece from a set that Max Ernst had designed in 1944, as Cunard’s sculpted visage appears to observe the action over his shoulder. Liberman included one of his portraits of Duchamp (minus the sculpture) and a close-up of his subject’s elegant hands, “moving in a courtly ballet,” in his book The Artist in His Studio (1960), which also featured photographs of Brancusi’s studio taken in 1955 from which the antisocial sculptor was conspicuously absent.56 In two short texts introducing Duchamp and Brancusi, Liberman recorded a number of their comparable reflections on art, life, and the life of the artist. Duchamp argued: “I do not see the need to classify people, and, above all, to treat painting as a profession. I don’t see why people try to make civil servants out of painters, officials of the Ministry of Fine Arts. There are those who obtain medals and those who make paintings.” He also defended the necessity of selfishness and reclusiveness

246 AT HOME WITH BRANCUSI


among artists: “An artist should have no social obligations. If he marries, has children, he very soon becomes a victim. He must earn money to feed his family….An artist must be an egoist. He must be completely blind to other human beings—egocentric in the grand manner…. The life of an artist is like the life of a monk, a lewd monk if you like, very Rabelaisian. It is an ordination.” Brancusi grumbled: “Why do you want to photograph me? I am old. My works are my portrait. They are my children….Don’t write down what I am saying. I don’t like fame. I have known fame. I’m sorry I’m not a bum singing near subway entrances. I love to sing.” He also advised: “One must forget what one learns….If one could create as one breathes. That would be true happiness. One should arrive at that.”57 The cantankerousness that Brancusi progressively displayed with age led Duchamp to deride him blithely in a letter to Roché of 18 April 1956 as “the Queen Mother of the impasse Ronsin.”58 Teeny Duchamp agreed anew to lend Sophisticated Young Lady and her two Brancusi stools to the small exhibition Constantin Brancusi 1876–1957: Sculpture, Drawings, Gouaches (29 November– 31 December 1960) at the Staempfli Gallery, 47 East Seventy-Seventh Street, in New York, which George Staempfli and his second wife, Emily, had opened the previous year. Teeny and Emily were old friends. In the late 1950s, the Duchamps had intervened with Roché on behalf of the Staempflis and negotiated the sale to the couple of several Brancusi sculptures from the former’s collection. Teeny earned commissions on most of these transactions.59 In the back of the gallery, Sophisticated Young Lady was exhibited alongside its marginally taller and narrower twin in polished bronze (1928–32). The two stools sat on the floor opposite the Staempflis’ recently acquired Cariatide (Caryatid) (1914; reworked 1926), an oak sculpture that Duchamp had relinquished to Roché in late May 1934 to finance the production of his Green Box.60 The stools may have been late additions to the exhibition, since they were not listed in the catalogue. The only illustrations inside this modest publication were full-page, black-and-

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Profile for Paul Kasmin Gallery

Brancusi & Duchamp: The Art of Dialogue  

Brancusi & Duchamp: The Art of Dialogue explores the aesthetic dialogue between Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) and Marcel Duchamp (1887–196...

Brancusi & Duchamp: The Art of Dialogue  

Brancusi & Duchamp: The Art of Dialogue explores the aesthetic dialogue between Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) and Marcel Duchamp (1887–196...