The List Visual Arts Center recently loaned Cénotaphe, a sculpture by Jean Robert Ipoustéguy, to be installed on the grounds of MIT’s Endicott House.
Ipoustéguy began making sculpture in 1949 and worked almost exclusively, and most notably, in that medium for the rest of his life. His early work was often characterized by a core abstract form that was seemingly surrounded by a fractured shell. He spoke of “breaking Brancusi’s egg,” in reference to the elegant forms and uninflected surfaces of Constantine Brancusi’s sculpture. Cénotaphe represents the artist’s earlier work, before his shift to various representations of the human form. Its geometric, planar quality reflects Ipoustéguy’s affinity for open and penetrable sculptural spaces. A cenotaph is an empty grave, a funerary memorial to a person whose remains are elsewhere. Austere and calm, Cénotaphe evokes its subject as a meditative, elegiac metaphor.
Born Jean Robert in Dun-sur-Meuse France on January 6, 1920, Jean Ipoustéguy began his training in Paris under the direction of artist Robert Lesbounit in 1938. When he began to exhibit as an artist, he took his mother’s maiden name, Ipoustéguy, as more memorable than the common “Robert.” After a decade of independent work in a variety of media, including painting, glass, tapestry and lithography, Ipoustéguy devoted himself primarily to sculpture in 1949. He described one of his early bronzes, Split Helmet, 1958, as the “breaking of Brancusi’s egg.” From this point forward, Ipoustéguy’s sculpture has been described as the unique consolidation of two strongly opposing dualities such as fragmentation and unity, tradition and contemporaneity. Ipousteguy’s works muddle the boundary between figuration and abstraction and rely on this ambiguity for their full meaning. In the 1960s, he integrated human and architectural shapes, as in one of his most famous works, Man Passing through the Door (Homme Poussant la Porte), 1966, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. Jean Ipoustéguy’s first solo exhibition took place at the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris in 1962. At the 1964 Venice Biennale, he was awarded the David E. Bright Prize, and in 1977 Ipoustéguy was awarded the Grand National Prize for art and made a chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1984. His work has been displayed in solo and group shows at institutions in Europe and the United States including the Hanover Gallery, London, the Leverkusen Museum, Germany, the Odyssia Gallery, Rome and the National Gallery of Berlin. Until his death, the artist resided in Choisy-le-Roi, France, a suburb of Paris.