Digital Artists Celebrate Revered Sculptor Brancusi with Groundbreaking Exhibition and Open Call
At a time when the NFT market is at its nadir—so very different from the heady days of 2020 and 2021—it’s inspiring to write about HOMAGE, an exhibition offering leading and emerging digital artists the opportunity to engage in artistic dialogue with the work of Constantin Brancusi, one of the foundational innovators in modern sculpture.
Born in 1876, Brancusi began life as a peasant with an aptitude for woodworking. He left his village as a young boy to enter domestic service but was sent to the Craiova School for Arts and Crafts when his carvings caught the eye of a wealthy industrialist. From there, his journey took him to the Bucharest School of Fine Arts, and then to Paris, where he worked and learned in the workshops of Antonin Mercié and Auguste Rodin.
The result of these years of toil, study and honing of skill began to emerge after he had spent two months in Rodin’s studio: the beginnings of his own technique, which takes a bold step past the representative realism of Western sculpture towards a focus on the simplified, geometric essence of an idea.
When I look at Brancusi’s work, there is a sense of recognition in my head and heart. Here is the alphabet, the elements of visual language that we see all around us today, in public art, in commercial design, and in the three-dimensional virtual spaces known as the metaverse.
Brancusi’s impact on sculpture and art as a whole is so ubiquitous that, from where we stand, it takes a little bit of thinking to imagine what the world was like before his work. One of Brancusi’s most famous pieces—a form which he returned to again and again—depicts a bird. It’s a simple, elongated, smooth form, without the details of beak, feathers, eyes or claws. The bird could be an osprey leaping into flight, a penguin jumping out of the water, a sparrow launching itself from a branch. It captures the motion, the spirit of a bird.
Imagine growing up in a world of statuary and sculptures that looked, more or less, exactly like what they were supposed to depict, and then seeing something like Bird in Space. Perhaps its celebration of movement needed the advent of photography, and then of motion pictures and animation, to make sense. In a sense, the revolutionary developments in technology made it possible for an artist like Brancusi, using the most meticulous and ancient of techniques and the finest materials, to capture the essence of a leaping bird, or a voluptuous woman gazing at herself. Only a few decades before his birth, the aesthetic experience of motion was personal, subjective, recordable in words and music, or, very occasionally, in paint or sculpture. Now, technology could capture movement for all—and Brancusi was among the first to prioritise movement over form.
After Brancusi left Romania for Paris, he returned only a handful of times. During much of the Soviet era, Brancusi was seen as a bourgeois artist, deprecated while Socialist Realism was celebrated. But now he is a seen as a hero throughout Romania, with his large public works rescued from slow decay and his name everywhere, from subway stations to a dedicated museum in Craiova.
There are many parallels between the life and work of Brancusi and those of the community of digital artists. He started from a life of deprived marginalisation, and his skill was recognised and rewarded—but not seen as part of the elevated realm known as culture. It was viewed as an industrial talent, despite his use of traditional tools and methods; in 1927, a customs agent refused to recognise his Bird as something other than an industrial object and tried to impose the 40 percent tariff levied against items like kitchen utensils. His Princess X, depicting a glamorous Bonaparte princess, was banned by his own salon for ostensible obscenity, but its elegant, radically simple way of evoking the human shape has its echoes everywhere today, such as in the work of Keith Haring.
So, too, have digital artists been misaligned and miscategorised by some critics and peers. So, too, have they been seen as adjuncts to an industrial process, creating the flavour for an advertisement or the look and feel of a website.
But while the world has overlooked them, digital artists are making their mark on global culture. Like Brancusi, they have taken their tools and techniques and used them to create works of dazzling originality, challenging the boundaries of what art can be.
That is why Accelerate Art (A2) decided to partner with Art Bees and be part of HOMAGE, a first-of-its-kind exhibition in which some of the leading lights of digital art, alongside emerging digital artists, will create and exhibit original pieces in conversation with the works of Brancusi.
From June 1 to 5, the Constantin Brancusi Center of the Craiova Museum will host the exhibition, which will include specially created works from 18 featured artists including Charli Cohen, Claire Silver, Hafftka, Patrick Amadon, and Rik Oostenbroek. They will be joined by emerging artists, who have been invited to contribute works in an open call that closes on the 14th of May.
“The upcoming exhibit in homage to Constantin Brancusi is a perfect example of how traditional art and digital art can coexist and thrive. It will be both retrospective and prospective, challenging contemporary artists to find inspiration in Brancusi’s work while acquainting audiences with new artists from all over the world. The digital art created for this exhibit in homage to Brancusi will project his legacy onto the digital realm,” said A2 Executive Director Spumma (@SpummaLab).
Each of the 18 featured artist has approached the exhibit in a different way. Jaen (@Jaendoart), an accomplished artist and art director who has worked with top firms such as Disney and has displayed and directed an exhibition on the International Space Station, created The Digital Newborn, an interactive work in conversation with Brancusi’s own Newborn:
“Le Nouveau-Né Numérique (the Digital Newborn) starts as soft version, loved, warm, fuzzy, and gradually gets more and more glitchy, alone in a cold digital world, until they reach a threshold of pain and loneliness and utter a strange synthetic cry while stuck in the most aliased, glitchy and erratic loop. If the viewer feels enough empathy, they can touch the screen long enough for the newborn to feel loved and accepted. Upon the release of the touch, the newborn will revert back to their loved and warm state, for a new cycle,” he explained.
Zhannet Podobed, whose powerful work often combines bold colour with the elegance of the human form, finds inspiration in Brancusi’s distillation of natural shapes to their essence: “Brancusi’s sculptures were notable for their simplicity and geometric shapes, which were influenced by his interest in the natural world and his fascination with primitive art. His work often blurred the line between abstraction and representation, capturing the essence of his subjects while stripping away unnecessary details. This is what really moves me—I began by researching Brancusi’s life and work, studying his sculptures and exploring the themes and techniques that he used. However, I created an artwork based on my own personal experiences and artistic style, incorporating my own unique vision into the homage,” she said.
The mission of A2 is to bring emerging artists into the foreground, and HOMAGE’s open call is an opportunity to do just that. Digital artists have until Sunday, May 14th to submit artworks created in homage to Brancusi in a dedicated twitter thread with the hashtag #A2Homage. A2 co-founder Claire Silver will curate entries and around 30 artists will be included in the exhibition.
ArtBees Gallery, founded by young emerging Romanian artist @NONE32x32, is the organizer of the exhibition. “We absolutely miss events like this in Romania—educational meetups and digital exhibitions are happening all over the world,” he told us. “I felt the need to familiarise the local public with the digital art evolution and the digital scene with Romania. An avant-garde revolution by a digital society is happening, and I knew that Brancusi couldn’t miss it! 67 years later, the first digital exhibition tribute is taking place in the same yard of the Art Museum where Brancusi's first personal exhibition was opened back in 1956,” he said.
One of the event’s sponsors is Metacampus (@MetacampusAI), an organisation that works to bring people into the Web3 space via education. “We aim to empower people to thrive in the fast-changing digital society and make the exponential world more accessible and inclusive for everyone,” said Metacampus director Pere Peréz Ninou.
“Supporting HOMAGE goes beyond a simple sponsorship—it is about making a beautiful dream come true, giving confidence to emerging creators that anything is possible if you’re willing to put in the effort. It has been amazing to witness this journey and we’re extremely thankful for all the renowned artists who are participating, curating, displaying their work and essentially making this dream a reality,” he said.
If you are interested in submitting work to HOMAGE, feel free to ask questions in the entry thread or to direct message the team at Accelerate Art.