New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 23 June 20 to July 3, 2012

Sculptor with a Camera
Constantin Brancusi
Brancusi: The Photographs
Don Burmeister
Sleeping Muse by Constantin Brancusi. Source:
Constantin Brancusi, "Sleeping Muse" c 1920s

A refreshing intermezzo between the more conceptual exhibitions currently on view in Chelsea, the photography of sculptor Constantin Brancusi now on display at Bruce Silverstein brings us back to the days when content was the primary concern of both photographers and viewers.

Having worked in the studio of August Rodin when Edward Steichen was making his much celebrated images of the older sculptor and his work, Brancusi soon picked up a camera himself and started a life-long project of photographing his own sculptures. Ever the control-freak, he would not allow any one else to photograph his work. Though his photographs (and sculptures) never developed in the highly romantic styles of Steichen and Rodin, he does seem to have been influenced by an earlier photographer of Rodin’s work, Eugene Druet. Druet would often picture Rodin’s sculptures in his studio, capturing both the ambient light and the relationships between the different pieces. This concern with atmosphere and context became an ongoing motif in Brancusi’s own photographs during the next decades. Later, influenced to some extent by Man Ray in the 1920’s, Brancusi began to take photographs in a more modern style, creating images as pared-away and essential as the sculptures themselves. As a photographer, Brancusi did just what he meant to do, disappear, to let the content dominate. (Alas, not a goal shared by many photographers today.)

View of the Studio by Constantin Brancusi. Source:
Constantin Brancusi, "View of the Studio" c. 1933

Again not letting anyone else in on his act, Brancusi was his own dealer, and many of these prints were promotional pictures sent out to prospective clients. As such, they show a range of condition and focus. Although some were carefully photographed, cropped, printed, and suitable for framing, others can best be described as product shots. Some sculptures were carefully lit and placed while others were hastily moved in front of a screen and shot, with lots of incidental details peaking out from behind. Although he was a meticulous sculptor, Brancusi, who of course did all the darkroom work himself, was not a meticulous printer, and didn’t seem be all that interested in spotting either.

But what subject matter! In the best images the sculptural presence of these smooth and sleek objects is breathtaking.

A more than adequate photographer, Constantin Brancusi had the good fortune to share a studio with an absolutely brilliant sculptor. And so, in the end, these pictures have a greater art historical interest than an artistic one. On his death, his estate donated all of his prints and negatives to the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the prints in this current show thus come from interesting provenances.

Constantin Brancusi
Brancusi: The Photographs

Bruce Silverstein
535 W 24th St. Ground Fl
Chelsea         Map

212 627 3930

Thursday, April 26 to
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Hours: Tues-Sat, 10 to 6