Richard Serra encountered the art of Constantin Brancusi for the first time in 1964-65 – by way of drawings. In Paris on a grant, he visited Brancusi’s reconstructed studio every day and gradually acquainted himself with the underlying principles of his sculpture. Serra was intrigued by the way Brancusi constructed sculptural volumes and his ability to capture three-dimensions by means of highly reduced lineatures. We begin our considerations with this biographical moment and key artistic experience in the hope of facilitating an initial understanding of the works on view. Our basic intention, however, is broader in nature. It seemed to us to be a veritable visual necessity to confront Brancusi’s art, which marked the inception of modern sculpture, with a significant contemporary approach. Astonishing traits in common but also intriguing differences come to light in an immediate experience of the exhibition.
Accordingly Brancusi’s and Serra’s works meet in an open-ended dialogue, while both can also be understood as comprising a concentrated retrospective of the two oeuvres. An exemplary selection of about 40 Brancusi sculptures is juxtaposed with a superb ensemble of 10 sculptures and a range of works on paper by Serra. These reflect the development of his idea of sculpture over the past forty years, in a form never before seen in Switzerland. This holds for Brancusi, too, to whom a retrospective had yet to be devoted in our country.
Divided into thematic groupings of works, the exhibition avoids strict chronology. It is more like an open-ended game that plays out in the museum spaces, with moments when the sculptures meet directly, but also sequences of rooms devoted to one or the other artist, but whose visual experience is mutually conditioned.
Serra recently referred to Brancusi’s art as a “handbook of artistic possibilities” – and it is just this, as a sum of possiblities, that the dialogue in the present exhibition is intended to be understood.
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