For an old Brancusi hand like me, the dust jacket of Anna Chave’s recent book on the sculptor could only be a bad omen.[1] It shows a long, slender, black marble Bird in Space mounted on a tall base, the whole so slanted as to appear in danger of falling off the book. The typography, too, is slanted every which way off the horizontal; the author’s name is angled down at the title, Constantin Brancusi, with a strong hint of confrontation, even conflict. There follows the book’s subtitle, “Shifting the Bases of Art,” an unsettling formula, because if the jacket layout says anything, it is not “shifting,” but “tipping” or “toppling”—which is another matter. Add to this a doubt about who is doing the “shifting.” Type-size indicates Chave; proximity to the name above, Brancusi. Add also the double sense of “bases,”...


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