Audio transcript

Constantin Brancusi 'Maiastra'

Narrator: Petrine Archer-Straw, the author of 'Negrophilia: Avant-garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s', considers Constantin Brancusi's 'Maiastra', which was inspired by folk myths of a magical bird. Brancusi made it in 1911.

At that time in Paris, artists were exploring not just notions of the primitive as they related to Africa but also as ideas related to European history and their own heritages. I think Brancusi was very much aware of himself as being an outsider in Paris. I think he relied heavily upon his Romanian folk tradition both in his approach to his work and in his subject matter. So the 'Maiastra' in many ways shows two sides of Brancusi's thinking. I think most people will focus on the bird itself and see this gloriously sculpted, precious, highly-gilt form and think 'what about that is primitive?'. And I think it's its essentialism that I consider primitive, in the sense that it harks back to something, but also it's its juxtaposition with its podium, because in a lot of Brancusi's work he takes context into consideration and the way that it is placed, in this instance, on a stand that Brancusi would have formed himself this crudely sculpted form he places this highly refined polished image on top of that. He uses the cruder imagery that we relate to African art as the base and then he takes his more gilt, precious forms and places those on top. That I think relates to Platonic theory and the notion of the ideal being heavenly and elevated.