To date, Brâncuşi’s contribution to ideas of modern sculpture in Britain has been understood chiefly through the tradition of direct carving, formal simplicity, and ‘truth to materials’, confining much of the discourse on his work to a narrow set of practices and philosophical concerns centred on sculpture’s relationship to the natural world.
This conference seeks to complicate and expand such narratives with reference to a broader range of practices, concepts and interpretations of how Brâncuşi’s work signifies. In doing so, we want to explore how the considered application of critical theory, historiography and object-based study to seemingly well-established figures, histories and practices can support contemporary efforts to rearticulate the position of modern British sculpture in a global context – mapping its depth as well as its breadth, and salvaging a renewed sense of its complexity, relevance and radical intent.
The study of Brâncuşi’s work since his death in 1957 has benefited from continuous reassessment by artists, theorists and academics in the UK and internationally. Art historians including Rosalind Krauss, Anna Chave and Alex Potts have employed a range of theoretical tools to reframe the sculptor’s work, teasing out its dynamics of difference and repetition, transience and permanence, abstraction and embodiment. Studies into Brancusi’s use of photography, film and the relational environment of the studio have articulated a more complex relationship between subject and object at the heart of his practice, and positioned his work at the intersection of symbolist, surrealist and Dadaist thought. Over the same period, artists working in Britain – from the New Generation sculptors to Rasheed Araeen and Simon Starling – have cited Brâncuşi to engage not only with questions of sculptural form, language and philosophy, but with the legacies of modernism, modernity and globalisation.
For this one-day conference we invite new contributions on Constantin Brâncuşi’s reception in Britain, its wider resonance in modern and contemporary art and the impact it has made on changing definitions of modern sculpture in Britain.
The conference marks the conclusion of the Henry Moore Foundation’s research season Brâncuşi and Britain, organised to coincide with the major exhibition of Brâncuşi’s work at Centre Pompidou, Paris in spring 2024.