Constantin Brancusi, or art at court

For his first solo work, Arnaud Nebbache returns to an incredible trial: the 1927 trial of the sculptor Constantin Brancusi against the American state. A great and historical reflection around art between the two.

It is an album whose subject and main character, Constantin Brancusi, a balancing sculptor of sorts, whose philosophy inherited from Auguste Rodin calls us to “see and create more”. playing with the laws of gravity.

In the center, here, first of all, there is the question of art of the beginning of the 20th centurye century, a real revolution begins, which is determined to be free from the description of reality. Around him, his ardent supporters fight against the misunderstanding of the public and critics. More generally, against the “ignorance” of a world with conservative foundations.

So, as Fernand Léger says in the book, it is necessary to fight to displace and break the lines “with all artistic ideas established since the Renaissance”. This trial, no matter how “lunar”, is a clear proof of that.

Then we are in 1927. Constantin Brancusi, a scruffy beard from Romania, is already a star in Paris, where he creates and invents a new language with his delicate works of accentuation and voids, maddeningly masterful at Ronsin 11’s Dead End. . His willingness to shake up tradition, as at the first exhibition in New York in 1913, will not please everyone, especially on the other side of the Atlantic.

The question of the boundaries of art

But the new world holds so much promise (success) that it must be insisted on at the invitation of his sculptor friend Marcel Duchamp (the iconoclastic inventor of the “ready”).makes”) and the Brummer Gallery.

Among the works sent across the ocean, there is one that is more emblematic than the others: Bird in Space, a thin and tapered abstract sculpture in bronze, the result of several variants of a series begun in 1919 (to be completed in 1941). Because what Constantin Brancusi is looking for, according to his confession, is “the essence of theft”.

However, the aesthetic approach will leave American customs officials speechless: for them, it is an industrial object, not art, and should be taxed at $4,000.

The demands are high, even “fundamental”: beyond the financial aspect, it really raises the issue of defining the boundaries of art, finally, for its defenders, the “infinite freedom that allows for general creativity” already granted to artists. . So, this is the whole point of this trial, which will last for about two years, with two opposing sides, one representing modernity and the other representing traditions.

A real tour by Arnaud Nebbache

At the wheel or in the workshops, celebrities, collectors, designers, museum directors and, of course, artists parade: Edward Steichen (it was he. Bird in Space), Jacob Epstein, Peggy Guggenheim, Man Ray, Alexander Calder, Eric Satie, Jean Prouvé…

Constantin Brancusi, who remains in Paris, thinks about this issue, which is too heavy for a man, “sad and obsessed”, and it raises many questions: what is a work of art? ? Does it have a useful function? Did the artist make it? Is it unique? How to evaluate the one who does this? How does the subject relate to the title? Not forgetting the last, important question: who can rate it?

This experiment, known as “modern art”, had the merit of replacing the judgment of taste (“this is beautiful”) with an affirmation: it is art – and this despite fierce opposition (it is, for example New York Daily Mirror “If it’s a bird, shoot!” (If it’s a bird, shoot!)).

Arnaud Nebbache, who until now has been devoted to children’s literature, achieves a real journey for his first comic strip. In addition to remembering this history where law and aesthetics are mixed, he applies a style that can approach that of Constantin Brancusi: both simple and effective!

This can also be seen in his narrative, which is deliberately simplified to lighten the subject and treated as a questionable investigation. In his paintings, he plays with delicate colors and shadows, sometimes freed from the frame.

A gesture reminiscent of the whole philosophy that animates the controversy: yes, to exist, art must break free from boxes, embrace space, and avoid being caged like a bird.

Brancusi v. United States,
By Arnaud Nebbache.

The story

1927. A trial is held everywhere in New York. Lawyers, witnesses, experts and artists debate whether Constantin Brancusi’s work is considered art. Repeating this, the sculptor and his contemporaries in Paris were skeptical.

Is his work equal to the genius of craftsmanship and industry? Does the new continent have the shoulders to play the central role in contemporary art that history has now assigned to it?

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