The Fondation Beyeler
is devoting its large summer exhibition to the art of Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) and Richard Serra (b. 1939), two of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century. Brancusi, born in Romania and a resident of Paris from 1904 onwards, reduced forms to the essentials and thus set the cornerstone for abstract sculpture. The American artist Serra redefined the effects of sculpture by means of minimalistic steel pieces which draw the viewer directly into the work. The phenomenon and presence of sculptural form in space are his prime theme. Taken together, the oeuvres of these two pioneers of European and American sculpture cover the period of over one hundred years in which modern sculpture developed. The exhibition is on view from May 22 to August 21, 2011.
The essential aspects of Brancusis work are illuminated by about 40 exemplary pieces, arranged in the exhibition in various thematic groupings. The selection covers an oeuvre that extends over forty years of Brancusis mature work, revolving around the question of reduction of volumes in space and their transcendence in light an exploration of formal essence and primal form, as it were. The sculptors concentrated, lifelong concerns are reflected in a small range of sculptural motifs.
Among the ensembles of works on view are different variants of the monolithic piece The Kiss, the poetic Childrens Heads, Sleeping Muses, female torsos, and the renowned Birds in Space, as well as the scandal-triggering Princess X, Adam and Eve, or the iconic Endless Column. In addition, Brancusis The Child in the World, a so-called mobile group, has been reconstructed out of the original wooden sculptures. In this form of presentation, Brancusis pieces condense into what amounts almost to a retrospective in its own right.
Special emphasis is placed on the concept of variation and the experience of the different effects of various materials; to this end, marble and bronze pieces are supplemented in the exhibition by a number in wood, cement and plaster. Precisely a play with material qualities, their different surfaces and reflection or absorption of light, are characteristic traits of Brancusis search for an artistic ideal. The sculpture groupings are arranged in separate rooms with ample space around them, in order to make their appearance in space perceptible to viewers as an absolute quality. Also, a photo cabinet contains a selection of twenty original photographs that provide insight into Brancusis own personal view of his art.
The crucial recognition of an ideal presence in space, the question as to the essence of sculpture, is approached in a different if not less compelling way in ten sculptural works from different phases of Serras oeuvre. In addition, a new series of works on paper is on display. The selection of works, again arranged retrospectively, extends from Serras early pieces in rubber and lead, such as the Belts, 1966-67, and Lead Props, as well as his characteristic steel sculpture Strike: To Roberta and Rudy 1969-71 and Delineator (1974/75). The curved piece Olson, 1986, opens up another facet of Serras work. Fernando Pessoas, 2007-08, radical reduction stands for developments of recent years and simultaneously delineates an arc back to earlier works like Strike.
Serra himself has repeatedly emphasized his special interest in Brancusi, whose art he was able to study in Brancusis reconstructed studio during an extended stay in Paris in 1964/1965. Every day Serra made a series of drawings that gave him access to the logic of his predecessors work and enabled him to draw lessons from his sculptural thinking. Later, Serra would even describe Brancusis art as an encyclopedia, a handbook of possibilities, if one that inspired him to quite different sculptural conclusions.
In the exhibition, the aesthetic relationships between Brancusi and Serra are visualized in the form of an open-ended, free dialogue between their works direct juxtapositions that reveal both traits shared in common and striking contrasts alternate with suites of works that reflect the universal force of sculpture and show it in a new light. Especially sculptural volumes that rest in time and space, and simultaneously maintain a precarious equilibrium, link Brancusi and Serras singular oeuvres and point to the universality and continuity of sculpture in general.
Brancusis sculptural work is on view for the first time in Switzerland in retrospective form. Nor has Serras oeuvre previously been represented here so extensively. The installation of Serras sculptures at the Fondation Beyeler was an enormous technical challenge, as the static conditions had first to be established. For the installation of Fernando Pessoa alone, about seventy tons of steel, including the sculptures weight, had to be moved.