Jacques Lipchitz

Jacques Lipchitz
Figure, 1926–1930
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Jacques Lipchitz
Figure, 1926–1930

Figure, 1926–30
Bronze, cast 7/7, Modern Art Foundry, Long Island City, 216 x 98 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Working in Paris around the middle of the 1920s, the Lithuanian-born sculptor Jacques Lipchitz explored the relationship between space and matter and produced a series of sculptures collectively called ‘transparents’. Figure is one of the key works of this period. Two interlocking elements, their shape reminiscent of tongs, rise from a round plinth. The notches on the narrow face of one of the pairs of ‘tongs’, and the head with two ‘eyes’ crowning the sculpture, indicate that we are looking at the stylized representation of a woman. Figure is undeniably anchored within the sculpture of Modernism – we need only think of works by Constantin Brancusi – and yet closely resembles African sculpture in its understanding of form, as shown by a comparison with the deble figure (ritual pounder) from Mali, also in the Fondation Beyeler.

1891, Druskininkai (Lithuania, then part of Russia) – 1973, Capri

The Russian-born French sculptor began studying art in 1909 at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian in Paris, where his encounter with Picasso and other members of the Cubist circle had a profound impact on his work. His first Cubist sculptures from around 1913 were followed by works carved in stone in the period up to 1925, in which figures and heads were reduced to simple, block-like forms and partly rendered in colour. In 1925 Lipchitz began working on a series of “transparent”, open-spaced sculptures using the ‘lost-wax’ technique, thereby distancing himself from the formal idiom of Cubism. His angular structures gave way to an unconstrained sculptural style, expressed in the free play of natural shapes that assumed an increasingly organic appearance. When Paris was occupied by German troops in 1940, Lipchitz fled to Toulouse and from there he emigrated to New York. The artist twice participated in the documenta in Kassel (1959 and 1964).

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