October 14, 2019

Belgium - Brussels - Sublimation of Form Exhibition

For me Constantin Brâncuși was a genius, so expect a very, but very subjective post.
The Sublimation of Form Exhibition is the flagship event of the Europalia in 2019. An art festival in essence, Europalia celebrates every two years a country's cultural heritage. Established in 1969 in Brussels, the festival has events in all the neighbouring countries from October to January. The festival expenses are shared between Belgium and the invited country, and in 2019-2020 that is Romania.

The Brâncuși Exhibition is the main event of the festival and it is hosted by Bozar - Centre of Fine Arts in the heart of Brussels. It is the first time a solo exhibition will be part of the festival in Brussels as the last Brâncuși retrospective was organised in Paris, 25 years ago.
Although known as Brancusi, even he spelled his name like that when writing in another language, we as Romanians spell his name, Brâncuși. So if you stumble upon this post and think I'm talking about someone else, no Brancusi and Brâncuși is one and the same person, Constantin Brâncuși.
I have to admit as a Romanian you feel a bit proud when you see these posters all over Brussels and although I had two attempts to visit the exhibition since it opened, I went to see it with my friends last Sunday. 
The ticket is a bit on the expensive side, 17 euros, but thinking of the massive effort this exhibition must have taken, I would say the price is reasonable. Also the catalogue of the exhibition is 40 euros and compared to others in the museum shop is a bit unattractive.
From the little I've read about Brâncuși, I know he was the master of perfection. His works of art are exhibited on pedestals he created and the art piece and the support form a whole image, he took photos of his sculptures from all angles to see which ones could best showcase the art and his workshop in Paris is left unchanged to present exactly that, he shaped his own imagine, by controlling all the photos of him that made it to the press and by taking something we today call selfies in order to be sure his image was the exact right one. That is why when you see a sculpture by Brâncuși, you don't see just the shaped material, you see a whole concept. So I advise you in Brussels to go around the sculptures and see them from all the angles, you will be surprised that the art pieces are exquisite all around. 
The Brussels exhibition is thought by its curator, Doïna Lemny, from Pompidou Centre, Paris as a parallel between Brâncuși and other artists that lived and created during his lifetime. A way of including Brâncuși in his own time, of understanding him and his art in report to art currents. Along Brâncuși's sculptures there are exhibited pictures of similar entitled works of art created at almost the same time by different artists. To understand this I strongly suggest that you buy the exhibition catalogue, or read very carefully all the labels of the art or get a free audio guide.
Known as The Wisdom of the world, (we call her Cumințenia Pămantului) was part of the biggest public collect of founds done by a government to buy a piece of art own by private collectors. In 2016 the Romanian Government tried to raise 6 million euros from the population that together with their own founds would buy the sculpture. The campaign was unsuccessful and I saw the sculpture in Brussels belonging to the Romașcu family, the descendants of Gheorghe Romșcu who bought the sculpture from Brâncuși in 1911.
The Kiss (Sărutul) is a sculpture I really wanted to see up close. The sculpture in Brussels was one of the first carved by Brâncuși as little by little the forms of the two characters intertwine and their arms and facial features are only suggested by the artist. This art piece along with others were part of a trial intended by the Romanian artist to the United States of America. As the story goes, Brâncuși send by post many of his sculptures in 1913 to be exhibited in USA, but the customs workers opened the crates and considered the abstract sculptures as kitchen utensils and hospital equipment and not art works exempted by custom fees. To free his art, Brâncuși had to pay the equivalent of 2500 dollars in today's money and he sewed the American state. The trial was eventually won by the Romanian sculptor in 1928 and the judge declared the sculptures as modern art and thus exempted from custom fees. Brâncuși vs USA shaped the art of that time and is even today given as example. 
Mademoiselle Pogany, another famous sculpture I was fortunate to see up close in Luxembourg in 2013 in marble, is exhibited in bronze in Brussels. This is one of the five sculptures baring the same name. 
Danaïde sculpture linked with the Greek Mythology, was first carved in limestone and was very different from the piece exhibited in Brussels. Brâncuși rethinks the shape of the sculpture after the Pogany series giving it the distinctive eyes and also a hair bun similar to the first Pogany sculpture. It is sculpted or shaped in bronze and exhibited on a limestone base.

The Sublimation of Form exhibition has many more art works by Brâncuși, but I only focused my article on those four that really impressed me. You can of course see the Măiastra or Bird in Space, Prometheus, Prayer and some early works, you will find difficult to imagine they belong to Brâncuși.

A few words of advice

Do not visit the exhibition on Sundays or during the weekend. Despite the steep ticket price, the exhibition is packed and you will not enjoy it as it should be. Of course coming from Luxembourg it is a bit difficult to visit it on week days, but I have to hope it is less crowded then. 

Buy the tickets from the ticket office on the opposite side of the road from the exhibition location, don't make the same mistake we have, of reaching the middle point of the exhibition without a ticket and having to get back our coats from the dressing room, exit the building, cross the street and purchase the tickets.

The entrance of the Brâncuși exhibition is in front of the name sign from the first picture of this article and not at the end of the hallway. Poorly organised, if you reach the People's Palace shaped of Carpați cigarettes boxes you are on the wrong way and have to go back. You will better understand once you visit the exhibition.

As a personal note, I would have liked that the explanations of the art-works or pictures were written in Romanian alongside Dutch, French and English. It may be me learning about linguistic landscape, but I totally think that Romanian should be present. 

Finally, after seeing the exhibition in Brussels and all the work that must have gone into putting it together, I consider myself fortunate to have seen the 2013 Brâncuși exhibition in Luxembourg. Organised by a small Romanian association, the Luxembourg event, was more intimate, better structured and showcased different art-works. It is great that the Brussels exhibition exists, it is different, but to my opinion, something missed. 

But do go and see it for yourself, it is a great accomplishment for the organisers and for Romania as a country, a different way of showing who we were and maybe still are.

As always if you enjoyed my article as much as I've enjoyed writing it, you can find me and get the conversation going on Instagram @mademoiselle.ralu

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