Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cubist Tree

Maquette for Arbre Cubiste (Cubist Tree), 1925
Jan Martel (French, 1896–1966); Joël Martel (French, 1896–1966)
Painted wood H. 31 1/2 in. (80 cm), W. 15 1/8 in. (38.4 cm), D. 15 in. (38.1 cm)

The twin brothers Joël and Jan Martel were avant-garde sculptors best known for their four concrete Cubist "trees" designed for a garden setting at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. Although the exhibition was intended to feature the best examples of contemporary decorative arts and design, most of the works shown were stylistically rooted in tradition. The small number of uncompromisingly modernist displays, including the Martel trees, was derided in the popular press of the day: one cartoon depicted a baffled gardener debating whether to water them. More than fifteen feet high, the trees were destroyed when the exhibition closed, and this maquette is the only nonphotographic record of them. Each had a cruciform trunk supporting quadrangular planes attached vertically and at angles, suggesting foliage; their abstract modern sensibility clearly derived from the polemics of Cubism.