Constantin Antonovici (1911-2002) sculptor, woodcarver, metalworker
Born in Neamtz, Romania in 1911, Constantin Antonovici took his surname from the family that adopted him at age 17. He studied at the Yassy Fine Arts Academy of Romania, graduating in 1939. The following year Antonovici left for Zagreb where he’d accepted an invitation to work under the prominent Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrovič. Six months later Meštrovič was arrested by the Fascists, and Antonovici was deported to Germany. Refusing to fight with the Nazis, Antonovici was imprisoned, but the Romanian government secured his release. He then spent the war years in Vienna where he enrolled at Akademie der Bildenden Kunste (1942-1945), learning marble and stone sculpting as assistant to Fritz Behn.
After the War Antonovici studied woodcarving in Tyrol (1945-1947), traveled through Italy, and acquainted himself with Rome’s artistic treasures. In 1947 he declined a scholarship in Rome, instead going to Paris to meet the famous Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Settling in Paris, Antonovici worked in Brancusi’s studio until 1951. Many other famous artists worked with Brancusi at some point - Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Modigliani – but none more closely than Antonovici. Thirty-five years his senior, Brancusi recognized his disciple’s talent, passion, diligence, and versatility. Antonovici could work in marble, stone, wood, bronze, aluminum, plastic, and, like Brancusi, he could stylize and simplify a form to its essential lines and gestures. He was the only sculptor Brancusi granted his own certification to, reading: “I hereby certify that Mr. Constantin Antonovici has great talent in sculpture and arduously works at it.”
In 1951 Antonovici left for Canada, living in Montreal for two years and exhibiting there. In 1953 he moved to New York where he won the commission for the bas-relief lid of Bishop William Manning’s tomb at St. John the Divine Cathedral. Carved from a three-ton block of Carrara marble, the commission was completed in 1954 and is considered a masterpiece. As payment the Cathedral provided the artist with rent-free studio space for the rest of his life. Antonovici also created a 2-meter-high stone cross for the Cathedral’s western facade on Amsterdam Ave. In 1959 he became an American citizen.
From the 1950s to the 70s, Antonovici created some one-hundred sculptures, including busts of Voltaire, Beethoven, Brancusi, Homer, Moses, Mephistopheles, Salvador Dali, Charles de Gaulle, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Brancusi. However, it is doubtless the owl theme for which Antonovici became most famous. Antonovici was fascinated with owls, as much for their appearance as for their capacity to see at night, providing him with the major motif of his work. He sculpted owls in many varied shapes and materials, earning him the unofficial title of “the owl sculptor.” Antonovici's highly stylized owls reiterate the fundamental understanding of essential line and gesture that the artist shared with Brancusi, incorporating his classical training together with modernist influences.
Antonovici’s work won numerous competitions, was exhibited in France, Italy, and Romania, as well as the US, and entered many private collections. He was a member of the National Society of Literature and The Arts, the International Platform Association, the National Sculptural Society, and in 1985 was awarded the Accademia Italia's most important prize. Yet by this time Antonovici had become a recluse, shying away from the New York art world. After his last public exhibition in 1981, he kept his work to himself, refusing to sell it. Like Brancusi, Antonovici had also lived exiled from his native Romania, unable to maintain normal contact with the homeland owing to its totalitarian regime. Yet he never abandoned his roots, and arguably his artistic obsession with owls was partly a symbolic expression of this, owls being a significant figure in Romania’s natural and cultural heritages. Constantin Antonovici died in New York in 2002.
Museums and Exhibitions
Kreeger Museum permanent collection, Washington D.C.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
White House collection, Washington D.C.
Antonovici:1911-2002: Sculptor on Two Continents, Doina Uricariu and Vladimir Bulat, Universalia Publishers.
Constantin Antonovici: Sculptor of Owls, Education Research Council of America, 1975