PRINT May 1970



In his review of the Robert Morris retrospective in Detroit (March), Jack Burnham, commenting on Annette Michelson’s essay in the catalog of the exhibition, says “it is intolerably dense, tough reading.” I find it tolerably dense, tough reading: one man’s ease is another’s exertion. I do have some difficulties with the essay; these are initially of a factual order, and eventually they raise theoretical problems.

Miss Michelson attempts to relate the efforts of Morris and Brancusi at a certain level, and in doing so commits a number of small errors of fact whose correction would seem to affect her position. Since she refers generously to my book on the Rumanian sculptor, I would like to say that her data do not always derive from that book; and I would like to set these matters right.

“The catalog for the Exhibition of Abstract and Surrealist Art held in Zurich in 1921,” says Miss Michelson, “had included Brancusi’s project for the Endless Column (p. 84)”—on which page she illustrates the monumental column of Tirgu Jiu. The exhibition in question took place in 1929; the catalog records “Colonne sans fin fragment.” There is no sign here of a “project,” nor is any project for a monumental Endless Column known to exist by 1929. By the measurements given there is every reason to think that what Brancusi showed at Zurich was a portion of the Endless Column in wood which he had made for Edward Steichen’s garden at Voulangis, and which he cut in two when the Steichens left Voulangis.

“It was presented once again in his second New York exhibition at the Brummer Gallery in 1933.” The exhibition was Brancusi’s second at the Brummer Gallery, his fourth in New York. The catalog listed “Column Without End” three times; beside the listing was the note: “Project of columns which, when enlarged, will support the arch of the firmament.” (Beside the listing “Bird in Space” was the note: “Project of Bird which, when enlarged, will fill the sky.”) One of the three columns, all of which were in wood, is a portion of the Steichen Column, as can be seen in the photograph on page 72 of my monograph. The title “Column Without End” was also used in the Brummer catalog of 1926 for the first, the 80-inch, version carved in 1918. There is no doubt that at some point Brancusi conceived the notion of doing a monumental Endless Column; no real opportunity, however, arose till 1935. In 1930, while in Bucharest, he had suggested raising a column of large—very large—dimensions there; it is possible that as a result of encouragement he made the 10-foot high plaster Column now at the Musée National d’Art Moderne. This was a project for a monumental Endless Column.

Brancusi was not commissioned to execute the ensemble of works at Tirgu Jiu by the premier of Rumania, but by a group of Rumanian women led by the premier’s wife, Mrs. Aretia Tatarascu.

“A model of the Endless Column was sent to Rumania and cast in steel.” Actually, Brancusi went to Rumania where he worked with an engineer to determine the size of the column, then carved a full-size module in wood at the foundry where it was cast in iron enough times to constitute the monumental column.

“Stone cutters reproduced the Table of Silence and the Gate of the Kiss. It was his first venture into the situation of ‘fabrication,’ his first work to be executed by someone other than himself. It was the scale of the works which demanded this.” But if Brancusi had the help of casters and masons and carvers, the three works were not produced from blueprints, by orders given over the telephone, or in his absence. He made, and probably in Rumania, a carefully executed model for the Gate, details of which were altered in the full-scale work. The uncarved Gate a kind of “blank”—was erected from this model and Brancusi’s measurements; he himself drew the designs on the stone from full-size drawings on paper, and he was present while all the carving on it was done.

“The same public park of Tirgu Jiu contains a stone bench . . . and, of course, The Endless Column.” But the column is more than a mile from the public park.

“The bench is composed of what might be two solid rectangular forms juxtaposed so that the back is formed by the larger form, standing on its shorter side . . .” Here Miss Michelson seems, unfortunately, to have been misled by a photograph in which a stain on the side of the bench looks like a space between two pieces of stone. The bench is a single piece of stone; it is created by the removal of a columnar mass from the original block, by means of two saw cuts. Any stone mason might have made these cuts. I enclose a photograph of Brancusi working on a bench; of course I have no idea how much work he did.

I am not at all sure that the information I offer will radically alter Miss Michelson’s position—so much is made of “fabrication” and the help of other hands these days. It should be borne in mind that we are dealing here with a 96-foot high cast iron column made of repeated elements; with large, heavy, regular stone disks arranged to make tables (there’s another beside Table of Silence); with benches and stools by the dozens; with the 17-foot high, 21 1/2-foot wide, 6-foot thick stone Gate and decorations repeated forty times (the Kiss motif) and eight times (the motif of eyes). That objects and decorations repeated in large numbers might necessitate the help of other hands and give rise to the designation “fabrication”—cela va sans dire. Surely no one who has ever contemplated the works at Tirgu Jiu has ever thought that Brancusi did them all by himself; and that he didn’t, hasn’t mattered much. What has always been clear is that he did the art in them.

While I am at this task I note belatedly that in an article on Richard Serra (Artforum, Sept. 1969) Robert Pincus-Witten writes: “When Brancusi made horizontal sculpture, he justified himself by regarding the results not as ‘sculpture’ but as ‘furniture,’ calling such sculptural artifacts ‘Bench,’ ‘Table,’ . . .” Brancusi doesn’t seem to have resorted to such ruses to justify his making of horizontal sculpture. The latter exist in some number, and are easily distinguishable from furniture: Hand, Fish (seven), Nocturnal Animal (my no. 128), Plaster Form (no. 129), Turtle, Flying Turtle.

—Sidney Geist
New York City

I would like this letter printed in reply to a review of my work by Emily Wasserman (March). I request this for I feel Miss Wasserman’s misunderstanding and banal slaughterhouse sensationalist strategy labeled the work quite unfairly. The references to process art and/or environmental concepts are simply assumptions of a New York Art Scene sensibility and make demands contrary to the intentions of the work. My interest is painting—and the painting of materials.

—William Stewart
New York City

In reference to Mr. Pincus-Witten’s review (March) of Nina Yankowitz, I want to clear up some misconceptions that he seemed to have about her work. Mr. Pincus-Witten stated that “the support of the draped works is assisted by small lathe-like sections of wood to which the rough configuration of the piece has first been stapled. As the canvas is draped, prodded and puffed, the patterns are anamorphically distorted.” There is no wood involved in Yankowitz’s process. She merely staples the pieces to the wall directly and just lets the canvas hang or stretch, however gravity requires. There is no “puffing or prodding.” It seems to me that the process in her work is an important issue and that perhaps clearing up a misconception of this process can give new insight into her work.

—M. Silverman
New York, N.Y.