French, born Romania, 1876–1957
“What is real is not the external form, but the essence of things . . . it is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface.”
Born to a peasant family, Constantin Brancusi left home at the age of eleven to study art and furniture-making. Early in his career, he apprenticed as a furniture maker in Vienna, studied sculpture in Bucharest and Paris, and briefly worked as an assistant to the sculptor Auguste Rodin. In 1926 the U.S. Customs Office refused to admit his highly abstract sculpture Bird in Space into the country as a duty-free work of art, leading to a trial regarding whether it could be considered art; the trial was resolved in the artist’s favor two years later.
Let Brancusi inspire your students to:
- Design a form to build from wire and cover in heavy foil.
- Photograph their own sculptures and then analyze how the lighting, composition, and camera settings - alter the appearance of their artwork.
- Reduce an image of an animal to its simplest form and then create it out of self-hardening clay.
- Carve a geometric sculpture out of soap or plaster.
- Write a poem about an object that describes its essence, but doesn’t name it.
- Create a paper sculpture using patterns for three-dimensional shapes.
Constantin Brancusi: The Essence of Things Teacher Kit, Tate Modern
Find out more from The Museum of Modern Art:
The Newborn, audio guide