Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 6

HOME > EXPLORE > INSIDE/OUT > A- | A+ Share

JULY 24, 2014 | ARTISTS, COLLECTION & EXHIBITIONS


But Is It Art? Constantin Brancusi vs. the United
States
Posted by MaryKate Cleary, Collection Specialist, Department of Painting and Sculpture
Have you ever puzzled over a work of art that
bears little or no resemblance to its title? In
1926, the disparate relationship between an
artwork and its textural description led to one of
the most significant clashes of art and law in
history: the case of Brancusi v. United States.
Constantin Brancusi (18761957) was born in
Romania, but from 1904 he lived and worked as
a sculptor in Paris. He was preoccupied by the
theme of the bird, culminating in the sculpture
Bird in Space, of which he made 15 versions in
marble and bronze and a number of plaster
casts. (MoMAs 1928 bronze version is shown at
left.) Brancusi sought to convey the essential
nature of a bird, elegantly soaring upward in
flight, without the need for traditional
representational forms.
In 1926, Brancusi created a sculpture of Bird in
Space (now in the collection of the Seattle Art
Museum) and sent it from Paris to New York City
for an exhibition of his work at the Brummer
Gallery (curated by his great friend and advocate
Marcel Duchamp). Although the law permitted
artworks, including sculpture, to enter the U.S.
free from import taxes, when Bird arrived,
Behind the Scenes
Collection & Exhibitions
Events & Programs
Film
MoMA PS1
Viewpoints
Artists
Design
Family & Kids
MoMA Teen Takeover
Tech
This Week at MoMA
Videos
Log In
Does your business need professional PDFs in your application or on your website? Try the PDFmyURL API!
Constantin Brancusi. Bird in Space. 1928. Bronze, 54 x
8 1/2 x 6 1/2 (137.2 x 21.6 x 16.5 cm). Given
anonymously
officials refused to let it enter as art. To qualify
as sculpture, works had to be reproductions
by carving or casting, imitations of natural
objects, chiefly the human form (source:
Rowell). Because Bird in Space did not look much
like a bird at all, officials classified it as a
utilitarian object (under Kitchen Utensils and
Hospital Supplies) and levied against it 40% of the works value (source: McClean). Bewildered
and exasperated by this assessment, Brancusi launched a complaint in court in defense of Bird in
Space.

Edward Steichen. Brancusis Bird in Space. 195758. Gelatin silver print, each 10 3/16 x 10 1/4 (25.8 x 26 cm). Gift
of the photographer
The initial question before the court was whether Brancusis work adequately resembled that
which it was supposed to imitate, as indicated by its title. Passing that test would make it a
sculpture (and therefore art) and exempt it from customs duties. The task of the trial became,
however, how to define sculptureand, for that matter, art. Testimony was provided by a
number of experts, including the sculptures owner, Edward Steichen, an artist and future director
of MoMAs Department of Photography, as well as British sculptor Jacob Epstein and Brooklyn
Museum Director William Henry Fox. During his testimony, the art critic Frank Crowninshield was
MOST VIEWED RECENT POSTS
FACEBOOK TWITTER
FOLLOW US LINKS
on Facebook
on Twitter
on foursquare
on YouTube
on Flickr
on iTunes U
via RSS Feed
Find more in the Archives
Sign Up
Create an account or Log In to see what your friends are doing.
MoMA | The Collection | Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Paris, June-July 1907
252 people recommend this.
MoMA | Museum of Modern Art
17 people recommend this.
MoMA | This May Be the Last Time
140 people recommend this.
Facebook social plugin
About INSIDE/OUT
Privacy Policy
Have ideas or feedback?
E-mail us at inside_out@moma.org.
Does your business need professional PDFs in your application or on your website? Try the PDFmyURL API!
A page from America, March 13, 1927
asked by the court what it was about the object which would lead him to believe it was a bird. He
responded: It has the suggestion of flight, it suggests grace, aspiration, vigour, coupled with
speed in the spirit of strength, potency, beauty, just as a bird does. But just the name, the title, of
this work, why, really, it does not mean much (Rowell).
Ultimately, the court was persuaded that
its definition of what constituted art was
out of date. The decision of Judge J. Waite
read, In the meanwhile there has been
developing a so-called new school of art,
whose exponents attempt to portray
abstract ideas rather than imitate natural
objects. Whether or not we are in
sympathy with these newer ideas and the
schools which represent them, we think
the facts of their existence and their
influence upon the art worlds as
recognized by the courts must be
considered (Rowell).
In the 90 years since Constantin Brancusi
first conceived Bird in Space, our
understanding of what constitutes an
artwork, and for that matter, who can
occupy the role of artist, has become
broader and more inclusive. How do you
recognize what is and is not a work of
art? Does an artworks title help you
interpret an artwork? Is a title necessary
to give the artwork meaning?
MoMAs version of Bird in Space will be
on view in the fifth-floor Painting and
Sculpture Galleries beginning Friday, July
25.
Tags: MoMA collection, Sculpture, Constantin Brancusi MORE
Comments
Does your business need professional PDFs in your application or on your website? Try the PDFmyURL API!
* required information
Name*
E-mail address*
Your
comments*
Spam check*
Submit
JULY 25, 2014, 4:14 P.M.
I love this sculpture because it projects elegance, simplicity and I like the way it cuts the
atmosphere around it with accuracy and uniqueness. It also projects a sensation of being light like
a bird. The color is so fancy and classy; the texture makes it smooth so that it can blend easily in
the air just as a bird would do it.
Thanks for showing this beautiful artwork.
Posted by Marisol Sanmiguel
JULY 26, 2014, 1:07 P.M.
Very good, concise analysis of the legal issues of this case. I like your writing, Mary!
Posted by Nick Connery
Leave a Comment



Please enter the text in the image.
Does your business need professional PDFs in your application or on your website? Try the PDFmyURL API!
11 WEST 53 STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10019 (212) 708-9400 CONTACT US 2014 THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART PRIVACY POLICY
E-News E-Cards Mobile Site Press
Visitor Information Choose a language
Explore German
Expressionism: Works from
the Collection
Every purchase supports The
Museum of Modern Art.
Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963
2010
PopRally
Does your business need professional PDFs in your application or on your website? Try the PDFmyURL API!
MoMA
ABOUT MoMA CALENDAR JOIN BUY TICKETS
Does your business need professional PDFs in your application or on your website? Try the PDFmyURL API!