Brancusi and Sérgio Camargo

Inspired by the Russian constructivism, an avant-garde movement from the beginning of the 20th century led by artists such as Kazimir Malevich and Alexandre Rodchenko, constructivism in Brazil gained strength after the Second World War and developed predominantly through the work of two distinct groups of concretism – the group ‘Ruptura’, from São Paulo, and the group ‘Frente’, from Rio de Janeiro. Despite the constructivist nature of his work, Sérgio Camargo was not part of these groups. Nor can his work be framed within the ‘neoconcrete’ movement, which counts Amílcar de Castro, Franz Weissmann and Lygia Clark among its main representatives. Although his sculptures also deal with geometric shapes, Camargo developed a unique and particular language. As a result, it hardly fits into a specific style, thus acquiring a prominent role in Brazilian modern art.

Despite this independence, Camargo suffered a series of influences throughout his career. In addition to the clear influence of Henri Laurens on his first bronze works, the impact of Brancusi’s work throughout his evolution is evident.

Life and Work of Sérgio Camargo (1930-1990)

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1930, the sculptor began his studies in the world of art at the age of 16, at the Academia Altamira, in Buenos Aires, where he took classes with Emilio Pettoruti and Lucio Fontana. In 1948, he traveled to Europe. In France, he came into contact with the work of Constantin Brancusi, whose studio he visited on several occasions. Camargo returned to Europe in 1961, this time to live in Paris. He lived in the French capital for 13 years, during which he produced some of his most important work and participated in several international exhibitions. After returning to Rio de Janeiro in 1974, Sérgio set up a studio, where he continued working until his death in 1990.

“Relevos” (1963-1975)

Sérgio Camargo. “Relevos” Source:

Camargo was in France when he began his “Relevos” series, in 1963. Although Paris was not an environment conducive to constructivism at that time, Camargo continued his research for more than 10 years. Following a process that the artist himself called “empirical geometry”, the ‘reliefs’ result from a combinatorial and oppositional composition between white wooden cylinders. The cylinders varied in size and were cut at different angles, variations that gave a random and unusual appearance to a regulated process. The gesture of constant contradiction also attributes an element of conflict and tension within the work.

His art does not start from a previously idealized image – it was a consequence of his working method. In his process, Camargo systematically opposed the cylinders, however, after a series of repetitions, he positioned one piece dissimilarly from the previous ones. This break with the absolute rigor and rigidity of the rules pre-established by the artist himself is a determining characteristic of Camargo’s work. In other words, Camargo’s method allowed structuring and at the same time gave room for improvisation. The process is not arbitrary but it is also not a mechanical serialization. The method in Sérgio’s case is not prison – it is liberation.

“Trombas” or mastery over the plane (1970)

Camargo’s “trombas” series is especially significant because it marks the transition from plane to volume. While in his “relevos” series, the compositions used the plane as a base, in “trombas” there is an intention to break with the plane through volume, thus achieving spatiality.

Left. Sérgio Camargo. Source: *.* Right. Sérgio Camargo. n. 311. 1970. Source:

Unlike Amílcar’s work, which explores the plane in its sculptural value through the weight of the matter’s thickness, Camargo seeks to master the plane to finally conquer volume. After an extensive investigation into the “relevos” series, exploring different scales and combinations on the plane, Camargo then felt the need to break with the plane to finally achieve three-dimensionality. This rupture movement becomes clear in the “Trombas” series, where the planes are crossed aggressively by more robust and violent cylinders. To eventually break away from the plan, it was necessary to conquer it first. This brings a new eloquence and drama to the ensemble. There is a latent tension with the ‘trombas’ asking to leave the plane. The ‘trombas’ invade the space with energy and a sense of urgency.


Throughout his career, Camargo experimented with different types of materials. Going through the use of bronze in his first works in the 1950s, Camargo carried out his first experiments with plaster, sand and fabric in the 1960s and extensively explored wood in his “reliefs” and “trombas” series. In the mid-1960s, his first works in marble appeared, which became his main material from the 1970s onwards.

Sérgio Camargo. Untitled. Source:

The choice of such a traditional material, typical of ancient sculptures. For Sérgio, matter was fundamental and deep mass marble is a luminous material that assimilates and radiates light. The material has its own light and therefore does not need any subsequent surface treatment. Furthermore, the natural polished finish of the marble gives the piece a brighter, nobler and even dynamic appearance. Sérgio also considered that one of the great virtues of white marble was its absence. With its natural light and white color, Carrara marble revealed the form in its purity. The choice of marble highlights a certain stability and permanence of the work.

In the 1980s, Camargo began a new series of experiments with another type of marble – Belgian black stone marble. In this series, his research focused on the physical limits of the material, making increasingly sharp and angled cuts, in order to test how much the piece could withstand. These studies resulted in slender and elegant cylinders.

Sérgio Camargo. Untitled. Source:

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957)

Born in Hobitza, a village in Romania, the sculptor Brancusi studied in his native country at art schools in Craiova and the fine arts in Bucharest, until moving to Paris in 1904, where he established his career and lived for the rest of his life.

Brancusi was one of the first abstract sculptors and became particularly known for simplifying shapes and symbols. He was a great admirer of Rodin’s works and carried out several studies on the simplification of his master’s forms. His research revolved around figures such as fish, birds and heads, simplifying these figures to the point of almost abstraction.

Many critics consider Brancusi to be the pioneer and true Cubist sculptor. Although Cubist artists such as Miró and Picasso produced sculptures in addition to their paintings, these were more a projection of the abstract, deconstructed forms of the canvas into space. They were born from painting and then unfolded in space. Brancusi’s sculptures, however, were volumetric in essence. Brancusi demonstrated a complete mastery of spatiality and three-dimensionality in his figures.

The main characteristic of Brancusi’s work is the figuration of volume. His works are not abstract, but are symbolic, simplifications that represent the figure he seeks to represent. Good examples of this work of symbolism are the sculptures “the witch” or “the flying turtle”, shown in the images below. It is worth noting that the witch’s arms resemble Camargo’s “trombas”.

Left. Constantin Brancusi. The Sorceress. Source: *.* Right. Constantin Brancusi. Flying Turtle. Source:

Comparative analysis between the work of Brancusi and Sérgio Camargo

Work and Process

Brancusi’s work begins from the deconstruction and simplification of signs. In a process that tends towards abstraction, his sculptures always maintain a relationship with the linguistic sign. His sculptures start from a figurative or imaginary idea and, through a process of reinterpretation and reconstruction, generate a new symbol. From an in-depth study of the object in question, the essence of the signs was captured and then created something new that was born from what was already known, from what was familiar. A rigorous process guided by the search for form and meaning.

Camargo’s work, on the other hand, does not start from a previous idea – it was the unexpected result of a combinatorial process. Within a methodology of systematic opposition of parts, broken by moments of randomness, the fate of each cylinder is to meet the other. In this sense, we can say that a step beyond Brancusi was taken, who did not have any randomness in his process. This random component of Camargo’s work, which breaks with the rigor of the method, is close to the American ‘all-over’ movement, due to the lack of hierarchy and an end to the composition.

Despite having different concepts and processes, the artists’ forms are similar:


Left. Sérgio Camargo. Untitled. 1980. Source: *.* Right. Constantin Brancusi, La Muse Endormie, 1923-2010 Source:

Brancusi and Camargo had similar attitudes towards the matter. For both artists, matter was a means to reveal form, not a constraint. Both were averse to surface treatments on the material. Brancusi considered any surface treatment to be suspect. He said that the form must appear on its own, regardless of the characteristics of the matter and the surface treatment.

Although Brancusi worked more in wood and bronze while Camargo focused on marble, their approach was similar. The form was not a consequence of matter, a research into its physical properties, but the artist’s own conception and method. The artist did not submit to the matter – the matter submitted to the artist.

To obtain the desired form or result, Camargo and Brancusi dedicated themselves to studying the properties of materials. Brancusi even studied craft techniques. Just like Camargo, who had to master the plan to eventually conquer it, Brancusi immersed himself in the craft process to overcome it and then develop his very particular forms.

Left. Sérgio Camargo, Untitled, 1970. Source: *.* Right. Constantin Brancusi, Torso of a young man , 1917. Source:

Tribute to tradition

While in the “relevos” and “trombas” series, the base, which in this case is the plane, is essential, Camargo’s marble sculptures were generally designed not to have a base. This gesture of emancipation, characteristic of the modern movement, gave the piece greater freedom. The work did not follow a basis, was not subject to or limited by it.

For Brancusi, the base guaranteed the autonomy of the object and the integrity of the sculpture. She was the guarantee that the work would always be appreciated in its best way. In other words, in the same gesture of seeking autonomy for the work, we see opposite solutions – Camargo abstains from the base while Brancusi embraces it.

Furthermore, Brancusi took advantage of the bases to pay tribute to tradition, reproducing decorative details from other eras. This respect for tradition is also present in Camargo’s work, evident through the choice and use of a material as noble and traditional as marble.


Camargo and Brancusi. Both sculptors of the modern movement who chose Paris to reside at different times. Both were influenced by the context’s creative atmosphere but managed to create their own unique language in this environment.

The formal rapprochement between the works of Brancusi and Camargo is particularly surprising if we take into account the disparities between the their methods and motives. The choice and use of materials also differ between the two, although they follow the same approach to research into the properties of matter and maintain a respect for tradition.

Mariana Magalhães Costa