June 9, 2006

Go For The Cornell, Stay For The Brancusi

brancusi-nortonsimon.jpegNickyskye on Metafilter:

Joseph wrote me love letters in which he couched his sexual interest in metaphors. I was told he used the image of a bird for penis and nest for vagina. His letters were full of birds and nests.
Just when you think there are no stones left to unturn in one woman's firsthand account of being used--as a child, by her mother--to procure art from the pedophilic Joseph Cornell, there's one more eye-popping anecdote. She took her only remaining Cornell to the art dealer, Richard Feigen, to sell, in order to finance a trip to India:
Mr. Feigen said that he too had been in India, to meet with the Maharaja of Indore who owned several sculptures by Brancusi, including the elegantly simple, bronze one called Bird in Space. The Indian government would not allow the Maharaja to export this valuable piece of art, so Mr. Feigen took a risk and decided to package the sculpture as a brass lampstand so it could exit India, which it did. He said that it was his first major art deal and that the sculpture sold for one million dollars.
The perfectly symmetrical irony, of course, is that Brancusi's Bird In Space was the subject of a famous court case when it was first exhibited in the US in 1926. Customs agents, not believing the work was art, had attempted to charge import duty on the machined metal object.

In 2004, The Art Newspaper wrote about the Maharajah's Bird In Space:

What happened to the Maharajah of Indore's Brancusi birds?
In 1973 the Tate wanted to buy Brancusi's black marble "Bird in space" through dealer Richard Feigen. The sale fell through because the trustees believed the work had been "smuggled" out of India.
Seems like the trustees were right. The National Gallery of Australia had no such qualms, because it bought two of the Maharajah's three versions of Bird In Space, even though "the original limestone bases had been destroyed in India." Brancusi, of course, considered the bases as integral to the works themselves.

That brass lampstand, by the way, ended up at the Norton Simon Museum, a 1972 purchase.

Flights of Fancy: Joseph Cornell and his muses [metafilter via tmn]

art | posted by greg at June 9, 2006 10:07 AM