Miss Pogany’s thoughts

May 19, 2014 § 2 Comments

Brancusi display - MoMA

I am in New York for work, so naturally, on one of my free days, I headed straight to… a museum. The Museum of Modern Art, to be exact. I went to see Gauguin: Metamorphoses, which was extraordinary (and on which more, perhaps, in another post) but decided to go for a wander afterward in the permanent collection galleries.

I was drawn toward the Brancusi display as if I had a magnet in my forehead pointing toward true north. I’ve loved his sculptures since I was a child (the Art Institute of Chicago has an excellent collection of them) but if pressed to choose one favourite, I would, with very little hesitation, choose Mademoiselle Pogany.

Constantin Brancusi, Mlle Pogany, 1913

Constantin Brancusi, Mademoiselle Pogany, 1913

Quite apart from its innate beauty, I think what draws me to it is how it gives physical form to that most inward of character traits – extreme shyness. Of course I could be projecting, but I’ve always felt her to be a kindred spirit for that very reason. The story goes that the model – a young Hungarian art student named Margit Pogany – sat to Brancusi multiple times and he ended up destroying all the clay studies, before carving the first version (in marble) from memory after she returned to Hungary. Memory and the imaginative distortion of her features – the huge, blank eyes that, despite the way they project from beneath the fine arches of the brows, seem to gaze in rather than out; the tiny mouth; the hands like a pair of doves – seemed to capture her personality (or Brancusi’s idea of it?) better than hours of close study.

There are numerous versions of Mademoiselle Pogany in different materials – white marble, coloured marbles, and bronze. Looking at the bronze version at MoMA two days ago, I noticed for the first time the reflections of the nearby paintings and other visitors rippling across her smooth forehead. I’ve no idea if this was Brancusi’s intention, but it seemed to me as if I was watching thoughts pass through Mlle Pogany’s mind – fleeting and intangible and ever-changing.

I did something I seldom do in a museum. I took out my camera, stepped forward and captured myself, one more thought passing through Mlle Pogany’s brain, before I too disappeared from the gallery.

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