new-york

Karin Sander

D’Amelio Terras

In 1926, Edward Steichen tried to bring his version of Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space, 1923, into New York on the occasion of the sculptor’s retrospective, only to have the work held up at customs on the grounds that it was not art but a duty-entitled industrial implement—a kitchen utensil. As the story goes, Steichen had to pay a heavy tax, as did Marcel Duchamp when he imported another Brancusi some weeks later. The verdict in Steichen’s case was subsequently overturned when a court decreed that, despite its not looking particularly like a bird, the work was “nevertheless pleasing to look at and highly ornamental,” evidence that it was made by a “professional sculptor.” Redeemed by formalism, Brancusi’s abstraction substantiated technique and harbored intention—a kind of saving grace whether it was manifested expressively or not. Quaint—or just typically avant-gardist—as

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