Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925
December 23, 2012–April 15, 2013
Brancusi made several versions of his Endless Column, this one being the first he fully developed. It consists of a single symmetrical element, a pair of truncated pyramids stuck together at their base, then repeated to produce a continuous rhythmic line. In replicating the same abstract shape, Brancusi emphasized its potential for vertical expansion—it was, he later said, a “column for infinity.” In Brancusi’s work generally the pedestal that traditionally supported sculpture, usually a secondary element, took on a new prominence, often equal to that of the artwork itself: he first used the geometric motif seen here in bases for his sculptures, but gradually realized its value as an independent form. He later repeated the Endless Column on larger scales and in different materials, making it serve as an architectural element and a monument. This version is carved directly in oak, with gouges and cuts in the wood readily apparent, so that it straightforwardly declares its own materials and process of making. Its simplicity, directness, and modularity helped to define the foundational principles of modern abstract sculpture.
MoMA Audio: Collection, 2008
Curator, Ann Temkin: Brancusi originally came from Romania. He lived in the middle of Paris, but wore peasant clothes, cooked on his forge and lived a very, very non-materialistic life.
What makes one Brancusi sculpture work is in fact what makes the whole ensemble of them work: its contrast between what are often very different shapes, textures, and colors.
Brancusi's work was spoken about by critics as very simple. And he, too, liked to speak of it as just the essential. And for this reason, people who took him at his word really misunderstood his work because to make something look simple is the hardest thing of all. To get a cruciform just right, to get the balance of an oval just right, to get the soaring, abstracted concept of a bird right, to get that sense of grace, that sense of balance, is really the work of extreme skill.