Seen While Running

What’s the story behind this objet d’art that graces the lawn between Green Library and Crothers Hall on the Stanford campus?




I’m glad you asked.

It seems that Alexander Calder and Constantin Brancusi were commissioned – few art historians know this – to make a statue of Franz I of Liechtenstein, to be installed atop the Grauspitz (2599 m).

From here it looks like a doggie.

The story was first revealed by an assistant of Brancusi’s during an interview with Heinz Kellerassel, professor of modern art at the University of Goethingen, included in a 1936 monograph published by Deutscher Kunstkriechverlag (Berlin).

Alexander Calder

After completing their labors, Calder and Brancusi chatted idly in the workshop over a cold beer.

Brancusi, a tidy fellow, said, “Well, Sandy, that’s that! But what are we to do with those hunks over here – they’re too large simply to throw them away.”

Calder took a sip as he gazed thoughtfully at the formless chunks. Then he burped and chuckled softly, making a sound like freight cars being shunted in a distant switching yard.

“I know, Connie. We’ll call ’em ‘The Archangel Gabriel Admonishing the Walrus’ and we’ll sell them to an idiot art collector.”

Brancusi uttered a nasal giggle.

“Oh, yes, Sandy – I do believe you have a concept! I think a university would do – an American university! They have the least taste, the greatest pretensions, and simply oodles of money! It’s brilliant!”

Constantin Brancusi

And that’s how Stanford, filthy-rich and with a depthless inferiority complex for not being Harvard, came to acquire this wonderful sculpture.

At least, I think it’s a sculpture. Before I heard the story, I imagined it was something forgotten by a crew from Facilities Maintenance after a plumbing job at the library.

(Apologies to Jack Zajac, creator of “Big Ram Skull and Horn.” I’m sure it’s a fine sculpture and I’m a hopeless philistine.)

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