One of the things I love about Paris is that it simultaneously manages to be both conspicuous and coy. In a sense, it’s the world’s most obvious place—glaringly gorgeous and positively popping out of its Haussmannian dress. And yet, it’s a city that keeps plenty secret, holding you slightly at bay which, of course, keeps you perennially interested.
I was reminded of this on a recent trip when I discovered a cultural gem that had been hiding from me in plain sight for years. Everyone knows the art-on-the-inside, architecture-on-the-outside Centre Pompidou, n’est ce pas? With its skeletal structure hulking over the 4th arrondissement it’s pretty hard to miss. But what about the discreet and diminutive Atelier Brancusi sitting quietly less than 50 feet away? Maybe I’ve been living under a rock or blinded by the City of Light, but I’d never heard of it.
Part of the appeal of the Atelier Brancusi is that it feels more like a workshop (atelier is the French word for workshop) than a museum or gallery. Though not actually the workshop of Constantin Brancusi, it’s an authentic facsimile of the sculptor’s original cluster of studios in the Montparnasse district of Paris. Starting in 1916 Brancusi formed, cast and chipped away in his studio for over 40 years, creating a phenomenal body of work—fluid and blocky sculptures in stone, wood, bronze and plaster. Lucky for us, Brancusi became something of a hoarder of his own art and as the years progressed decided to sell less and keep more, essentially turning his studio into a spatial sculpture of sculptures.