Saturday, February 12, 2011

Atelier Brancusi

A museum for the works of Brancusi, one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century, provides a moment of contemplative peace in one of the busiest public squares in Paris, facing the Centre-Pompidou.
The Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), arrived in Paris in 1904, and from 1916 until his death worked in a modest wooden shed in an alley in the Montparnasse quarter.

Brancusi in his beloved "shed"

Modest though it was, the studio space, lit by north light, acquired singular importance for Brancusi. He came to see his works and the spaces around them as a single harmonious entity. Brancusi arranged his sculptures so that their relationship one to another and to the room itself was balanced. In the end, it became difficult for him to envisage the sculptures outside his studio, and by 1950 Brancusi refused to exhibit his works elsewhere. The year before his death, he left the studio and its contents, including his tools, to the State of France, with the request that it be left undisturbed. Accordingly, Brancusi was made a naturalized citizen of France.

The Kiss - 1916

Soon after Brancusi’s death, however, the studio was demolished, along with many other structures, in order to make room for the development of the controversial Tour Montparnasse; in order to carry out the wishes of Brancusi, a replica of his atelier was built opposite the north-west corner of the Centre Pompidou. Faithful to the picturesque scruffiness of the original, it was a quietly poignant place, the more so for being next to the frenetic glamor of the Centre Pompidou’s piazza. The little building was difficult to make secure, however, and was hardly advertised, open only two afternoons a week.
Architect Renzo Piano’s scheme for renovating the Centre Pompidou included building a new Atelier Brancusi on its former site. Now completed, the "new" atelier (1997) is an evocation of Brancusi’s spirit rather than an exact replica; importantly, the replacement building conforms to standards required by modern curators and security.
Observed from the huge piazza in front of the Centre Pompidou, one scarcely notices this simple stone pavilion, which spans a change in level sloping up to Rue Rambuteau. There is just a plain wall of stone blocks with a metallic shed roof. From the steps to the right side, visitors ascend toward the street, then descend another flight of stairs to the left. There is an attractive courtyard with trees to the left of the main entrance (there is no admission fee). Because the building is set below street level, it feels separate from it, and the descent forms a gradual transition from noisy street life to the quiet, contemplative areas found inside.

Photo by M. Denancé

Brancusi’s studio now consists of a wood-framed structure divided into four interconnecting spaces with plain white walls lit by north-facing skylights. The studio itself is isolated from human traffic by glass walls, which visitors circumnavigate around the perimeter. The sculptures and various objects like Brancusi’s time-worn tools are arranged as he would have wished. There is also a small gallery for Brancusi’s photographs.
Open 2-6 pm daily, except Tuesday; free admission!
Place Georges Pompidou (rue Saint-Martin)
Métro: Rambuteau (walk south on Rue Beaubourg, then right on Rue Rambuteau; museum is on the left just before the corner of Rue Saint-Martin.