Saturday, July 23, 2011

Art, legal issues and trials (and errors)


October 21, 1926. Marcel Duchamp is on a ship heading for the USA. Along with Messieur Duchamp there are 20 sculptures made by Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi. At the time import/export laws declared that ordinary merchandise was subject to duty at 40 per cent, while art was not. When the sculptures came to customs check the custom official said: “This is not art, this is some kind of industrial item. You’ll pay the full cost.”
Bird In Space - Brancusi
“That’s not even a bird. Has no wings nor beak”

The whole thing grew up on press and media turning soon into a big, and still today famous, US court case which asked: when is a sculpture not a sculpture? The two contestants were the US government and the sculptor, Constantin Brancusi. Among the expert witnesses were Jacob Epstein and the great photographer Edward Steichen, while also drawn into the dispute were Marcel Duchamp (of course), Ezra Pound, and Henri-Pierre Roché, author of Jules et Jim. The point of the legal issue soon became the eternal question: “what is art?” Well, the trial itself lasted about two years, but in the end the court sentence was: “Yes, it’s a bird”. Marcel Duchamp received his money back.  Today Constantin Brancusi is considered one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century.

Next time you see a contemporary work of art, think twice before saying: “meh, it’s just a gimmicky”.

26 comments:

  1. Hahahaha i would've asked my money back too. That aint no bird.

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  2. Haha, this is great. 'That's not a bird!' Genius.

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  3. If that's a bird, I'm a Tasmanian devil.

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  4. I will never doubt the inclinations of Ezra Pound.

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  5. There was a similar scandal like this that happened twenty or thirty years before where an impressionist painter did this nonrepresentational painting. It kind of looks like fireworks I think, I don't remember his name. But the outcome was the same, he argued that it was art and got off the hook. I don't know if i'm 100% sure about those details but it was something like that.

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  6. If it makes people think, then it can be argued that it is art. I think that the sculpture has artistic merit, I like it

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  7. I'm on the fence about some 'art', but I'm my own worst critic.

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  8. That's pretty interesting, looks like art to me.

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  9. Well I would call that bird a sculpture, I've still seen a lot "art" I wouldn't call art.

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  10. Interesting history lesson

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  11. would have figured it was obvious: if it served no purpose, then it was art.

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  12. cool blog, follow me too: http://popculture11.blogspot.com/ :D

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  13. Ha, Ezra Pound was involved in this? then it IS legendary. Glad someone used his advice when they had the chance

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  14. What is art? I would answer that art could be found anywhere.. Thanks for sharing this story along with the structure i've never heard of before.

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  15. I wish I knew something about art.

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  16. I wonder if it would have been cheaper for constantin to justpay the tax, thus avoiding him the legal fees.

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  17. thats a bird in space, he doesn't need wings there, they would be useless!!!! ;-)
    great post!

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  18. I see a bird in space in it.

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  19. I'm interested in art, especially in literature! I love reading as much I love writing. Sometimes when people read something that I wrote they stuck on the words say to me - Mate, this had no meaning - People still don't know that they do not have to just read the words, they have to read between them! So this is how it goes with the sculpture I think.

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  20. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBc8Oh4kA2U&feature=autoplay&list=ULPePWLlE1RP0&lf=mfu_in_order&playnext=3

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