BILBAO.- From October 8, 2011, through April 15, 2012, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is hosting Serra-Brancusi , the most ambitious exhibition to date on the work of Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) and Richard Serra (1938), two of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century.
Organized by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in co-operation with the Fondation Beyeler Riehen/Basel, the show examines the connections between these two pioneers of sculpture through nearly fifty works, offering a unique overview of the period of over one hundred years in which modern sculpture developed.
Brancusi, born in Romania and a resident of Paris from 1904 onwards, reduced sculptural forms to their bare essentials and, in so doing, laid the foundations of abstract sculpture. Half a century later, American artist Richard Serra redefined the effects of sculpture by creating minimalist steel pieces which literally draw the viewer into the work.
This show, a joint initiative of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Fondation Beyeler and curated by Oliver Wick, brings the work of these two artists face-to-face, allowing them to strike up a free, open dialogue. Both artists have made a dynamic, indelible mark on the history of art and forever altered the course of modern sculpture.
The work of Constantin Brancusi had a powerful influence on Richard Serra’s artistic career. In 1964–65, the artist received a grant from Yale University to study in Paris, where he spent several months visiting daily the reconstructed studio of the master, who had died seven years earlier. There Serra sketched, contemplated, and strove to understand everything around him, an experience that would have a profound effect on his artistic mindset and guide his career path towards sculpture. Brancusi’s studio, filled with three-dimensional forms and activities, spatial qualities and working processes, had an effect on Serra which he would later describe as something akin to “a handbook of possibilities”.
The American sculptor’s work also allows us to view Brancusi’s unique sculpture style from a new perspective and to appreciate his works and his pioneering contributions—for example, multi-component pedestals, serial production, piles, and cut lines—from a different angle, as a type of sculpture that is much more profound and significant than any merely lovely form could ever be.
Overview of the exhibition
The sculptural volumes and curving galleries of the building designed by Frank Gehry offer a seemingly infinite space that interacts beautifully with the selection of major works by these two artists.
Thirty pieces arranged in thematic groups trace the essential aspects of Brancusi’s sculptural output, comprising a retrospective of his oeuvre unlike anything ever seen in Spain before. The selection, which spans forty years of the artist’s career, reveals the keys to Brancusi’s unique sculptural universe through some of his most important creations, including several variations on the monolithic piece The Kiss (Le Baiser ), the poetic Children’s Heads (Têtes d’enfant ), Sleeping Muses (Les Muses endormies ), and the renowned Birds in Space (Oiseaux dans l’espace), as well as works which sparked a degree of controversy in their day such as Princess X (Princesse X), Adam and Eve (Adam et Ève), and the iconic White Negress (La Négresse blanche). Brancusi’s “mobile group” entitled The Child in the World (L’Enfant au monde ) has also been reconstructed from the original wooden sculptures Cup (II ) (Coupe [II], 1917–18) and Little French Girl (Petite fille française , ca. 1914–18).
The exhibition reveals Brancusi’s quest for an artistic ideal, which he pursued by experimenting with the qualities of his materials, their different surfaces and their ability to reflect or absorb light. His marble and bronze sculptures are interspersed with pieces in plaster and wood throughout the second floor, allowing visitors to perceive the essential qualities of his work and of his main sculpture groups.
The concept of an ideal presence in space and the issue of the essence of sculpture are addressed in the show through nine sculptures and a new series of works on paper by Richard Serra, offering a unique review of the career and evolution of this renowned American sculptor over the last forty years. The selection ranges from early pieces in rubber and lead, such as the seminal Belts (1966–67) or House of Cards (1969), to characteristic steel sculptures like Circuit (1972), which divides a square space from its four corners, or 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 (1987), a piece which playfully inverts the definition of a central point in space.
The theme of the curve is omnipresent in the torqued ellipses and torqued spirals of Serra’s monumental installation The Matter of Time, a sculptural landmark regarded as the most complex and ambitious expression of formal language produced by this artist in the past 25 years. This installation has occupied the Gallery 104 ArcelorMittal at the Museum since 2005 and is one of the pivotal elements of the exhibition.
Many of the works featured in Serra-Brancusi were loaned by prestigious private collections and international museums, including: the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Sheldon Museum of Art (University of Nebraska – Lincoln); the Art Gallery of Ontario; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Muzeul de Artă, Craiova; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; the Stiftung Wilhem Lehmbruck Museum from Duisburg; and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.